I have to move her reading chair today because that is where the tree goes so that passersby can see it from the street. It’s something I do every year, and every year she hates it.

Actually, this is not about erecting the tree. That’s a move for another column. This is about where we came from, two strangers who became best friends and fell in love on Christmas Eve long ago, and where we started, and how we finally paid off this house that’s too big for us … and a few related stories.

In 1956, I graduated from Cleveland’s Playhouse Academy of Drama and Theatre. I had been there for two seasons and was now poised to really become a major player in their regular program.

But then I wanted to go to New York and get on Broadway. That was the game we all played.

It was a week from that Christmas that my classmate Dom Deluise had left for a job in New York and promised me he would meet me at the train station when I arrived. I was ready to go.

The directors didn’t want me to leave, but when they saw I was determined, they replaced me with a young actor named Alan Alda. You know what happened to him.

Good for Alan. I hope he liked my dressing room and April, the lighting tech I was in love with.

At a Christmas party that year, April came with little lights in her hair and, when full of Grand Marnier, confessed in whispers and tears that she was gay.

Everyone seemed to know that but me. When I asked them, they all said, “It wasn’t our place to tell you … and besides, you both looked so darling together.”

The following year, weary of sharing six or seven different places with crazy actor roommates, I found my own place, the first of many, a tiny room on the second floor over the Polish Seamen’s Bar and Grill on what is now Lincoln Center, but then was a street littered with dead and discarded trees.

It was a tiny room, more like a holding cell in a small-town prison. It was maybe 10 by 5 with a toilet and washbowl in the same space, a 1943 Coca Cola calendar on the wall and a tiny refrigerator.

At night I would put my portable radio in the window and use the great disc jockey William B. Williams’ “Make Believe Ballroom” to drown out the street noise until I went to sleep. It was cold. I had little cash and a picture of April and the Christmas present tie she gave me. But I was in New York, and I was happy.

The first night, about 3 in the morning, the man in the next apartment, whom I never saw coming or going, made a huge racket, bouncing against the wall, groaning, “Oh God, Oh God.” I figured he brought someone home, and that it was none of my business.

In the morning, I opened my door to see two cops and an emergency crew hauling a body in a black bag down the stairs.

“Your neighbor died in the night, massive heart attack. You can go back to sleep, buddy,” a big cop told me.

When they left, I peeked into the dead man’s room. He had left a half bottle of coffee brandy and a tiny fake tree. I kept the tree.

Merry Christmas, New York.

It was Christmas of 1958 when I met She, who worked with me at Bloomingdale’s Department store on Lexington Avenue. She had a nice apartment on the very expensive upper East Side and, after hearing of my sad tales of multi-roommates and feeling sorry for me, allowed me to move in, providing I would go to Mass with her on Sundays and sleep on a rug in the far corner of the room, plus clean the bathroom each week.

I accepted. It’s a long love story I’ve told many times before.

We were married in 1961 and now, in 2017 and after six apartments with fake trees in various sections of Los Angeles, we’re in this big house in Waterville, Maine, and I have to move her reading chair and lamp away so I can put up the 57th Christmas tree of our lives.

I thought of April while writing this, so I asked She, who had not heard that story, “Do people think we’re darling together?”

“Of course they do,” she said. “Now where did you put my chair?”

Goodnight, April, wherever you are. We were darling together.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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