Suicidal Christmas Sweater: Short Story Part II

"Hey honey, how was the grocery store? You know you forgot your wallet, it's sitting on the dining room table, I tried to tweet you to let you know..." Mary said before she saw the look on his face.  

Wow. I'd even sew in this room. I could be the next Betsy Ross
"It's texted, mom, and it's fine anyway.  I shoplifted your precious cranberry sauce, it kept me company on the ride home, Melissa is a whore now, and everyone in this town still thinks I'm nuts. I don't know why I even came home, I should've never left Canada."  

He slammed the door in which used to be his room.  Now it was a sewing room with quilts and other various projects taking up large portions of the space. A futon was already made up for him, and he flopped down dejectedly.  

In the living room, an emergency meeting took place.

"Nobody wants to stay in Canada. Not even Canadians," James said in an attempt at humor. 

When people are angry at Obama, what
they really are angry at, is Canada.  
Mom didn't bite. "James, it's taken 10 years to get Mark comfortable enough to come home. I will not have you making jokes at the expense of your brother, or the work we have all done to get him to this place." 

"Sorry, mom, but that's what Dad would've said. He always broke through Mark's defenses with humor."  

"Don't you think I wish John were still here too." 

"Hey, I'm sitting right here,"  Andrew said.  

"I know you are, Drew, honey.  You've been a great companion, a great husband to me for the last few years, but you aren't the father of my sons. You hardly know Mark. You hardly know how long I've cried and desperately sought to pull him out of his shell. Do you know what it's like to nearly lose a son at his own hands? I lost my husband and nearly my son in the same year. And I've been fighting like hell to get him back...healthy...included...loved."  

"I'm sorry Mary, I didn't mean it like that...I know there's stuff here from before my time. Me and the girls can take off for a while if you want..."  

"No," James said, "You're family now. We need you and the girls."  

Ashley and Gracie giggled at being mentioned, the conversation was over their head.  They went on playing Barbies with their step-neice Jenny. Together they looked like cousins.  James had to remind himself that these grade school girls were also his step-sisters.  

"Thank you James. Yes, Drew, you are family now. You helped me convince Marky (she hadn't called him Marky since he was in the hospital) to come home. You paid for the plane ticket. You have a right in all matters of this family, even if this junk comes from before your time."  


Mark laid in his old room and felt an awkward comfortableness.  Memories mixed in with the now. It was like drinking from a Pepsi can that somebody had filled with Dr. Pepper. The brain is easy to trick. Perceptions, based on expectations, that are not met are sometimes called illusions.  And illusions, based on interpretation from the brain, can either be pleasant or horrible.  Mark didn't know what to expect from this trip home he was on. He used to take drugs to trick his mind. But the last two years he had committed himself to accepting reality.  Even if that reality was a bad trip.  

He cried a little, thinking how his selfishness (for that's what he attributed it to, now) had destroyed his life and hers. Of course, that was his intention. She hurt him. He wanted to hurt her. She embarrassed him, he wanted to haunt her.  

That was his 18-year-old self thinking. He was a better person now. He had suffered. He survived two years of therapy. Two brief stints in prison. Two years of heavy addiction. Had traveled throughout most of South America. Just avoided a hostage situation in Columbia. Nearly married a beautiful but ornery Peruvian woman. Got involved with smuggling. Nearly got killed getting out of it. Moved to Canada to start over, yet again, in his mid-twenties. Was homeless for most of a year. 

For when you totally relied on your
roommates for everything good.  
Heavy living leads to aging, and Mark showed every bit of his 28 years. He had nothing to show for those years, though. No house, car, wife, child, degree...just enough belongings to fit a trailer U-haul. 

He was running from emotions and apologies and forgiveness. He was angry at God for taking his father, his future wife, his senior year of high school, and his dignity in one year.  ONE YEAR!  

And even though he thought he was better, he was still running.  Even the Cranberry Sauce knew it.  

He heard voices in the other room. Oh yes, the ventilation.  Dad (oh how he missed his dad) had installed the HVAC system in the house, and it wasn't to code. Mark had been able to hear everything in the living room which was separated by the hallway, because the ventilation split both ways.  The morning conversations always woke him up. The evening conversations always kept him informed. He once interrupted his brother's make-out session after prom by yelling "Don't do it James, she's NOT THE ONE!" James never forgave him for that one.  

They call it a living room. I want to do my living there.  
He also heard his father's last year through coughs and wheezes and hacking up of lungs. Dad moved into the living room when his cancer progressed during Mark's senior year. A hospice nurse and mom carefully monitored him day and night...and while Mark seemed distant that year, he really had heard enough suffering for a lifetime.  

When his dad went, he was almost happy. No more coughing, no more noises. No more suffering.  

But he also felt guilty. James, two years into college, had returned all the time to help out. James eventually quit college (to both his parent's chagrin), and got a full time job to help the family with bills and medical costs not covered by medicare.  James researched alternative medicines, and consoled mom after bad days. Most of the last few months were bad days. Mark knew the end was near, but didn't know what to do. 

So he invested everything into Melissa. At first it was wonderful. The love was mutual. Everyone thought they were the cutest couple. He wanted to marry her. She wasn't sure. She wanted to travel, and explore, and go off to college. He wanted to stay near home for his father. His father could go at anytime. As his father declined, he became even more clingy to her. On some days it could be called needy. His codependency scared her.  

She wanted space. They broke it off.  They got back together. They fought. It was a tumultuous year of break ups and make ups.

She had kissed other guys during their breaks, which always made Mark angry, but it was when she supposedly hooked up with the star point guard from the rival high school, that Mark lost it.

He was a blubbering mess. He spied on her. Called her on the phone incessantly. She refused to answer. She threatened to have a restraining order put on him. Then Dad died.

She showed up to the funeral. She treated him okay, but not like old times. It was pity. She pitied him.  He didn't know how to mourn for his father, or his ex's patronizing behavior, so he acted out. Got suspended for fighting (a guy he thought Melissa had kissed once), and got an MIP at a crazy college party because he thought she'd be there. She wasn't.

As June neared. She had drifted away for real. She smiled now, and her apparent happiness without him made him angry and depressed.

He wasn't serious when he tried it.  He wanted to make a statement. It was a cry for help. He just wanted her to feel like crap.  He used an Exacto blade. The cuts were clean. He his mother would be home soon. It would be a night in the hospital and he would be visited by everyone. It would be a party, or so he thought.

He hadn't planned on passing out from blood loss and falling on the blade.  It pierced his intestines and he developed a sepsis infection. The hospital stay was long. The psychiatric stay was longer.

Mom used all of dad's life insurance money to get him treated longer. She wasn't ready to nurse another human back to life. It was tough on everyone.

He was an embarrassment to the family, he thought. Instead of dealing with the ramifications and the pain, he ran. It took him South. Trouble with the law forced him even further South, and then the story gets blurry.

He spent half a decade on a bad trip in South America. No cell phones, no social media, off the radar, even from his family.

Sobriety hit him in a old Catholic Church in Cabanaconde, in Southern Peru. He wasn't Catholic, still isn't, but the spirit of God hit him so hard in the midst of a service he barely understood, that he knew it was authentic. He cried like a baby. For his father, for his mother, for his brother, for his life gone astray. He felt like the prodigal son, and God had not said a word about his past indiscretions, he merely felt, love. Real love like he hadn't felt since before dad got sick.

He broke off his engagement and tried to start over in Canada. But vices and old demons kept haunting him. He knew he had to go home and confront his past, yet embracing pain is easier said than done.

He listened through the vent and heard the majority of the "family meeting."  He was tired of feeling sorry for himself now. He needed "out."  The meeting was put on hold as mom answered a phone call.


"I'm sure there have been too many of these type meetings held in my honor. I'm sorry for that. I can't change the past. But please, while I'm here, however long that will be, let's not have any more interventions on my behalf. I'm 28 years old. I've taken care of myself in the past, and I'm only here because I'm tired of being alone in this world...I believe we have a Christmas tree to go get, am I right?" 

"YEAH, lets go get the tree!" yelled the kids almost in unison, who quickly abandoned their make-believe world of toys and exchanged them for gloves, jackets and beanies.  

"Are you sure, I mean, we can do it another time?" replied Amy (James' wife).  

"Yeah honey, we don't need to do anything rash.  Why don't I just make dinner and we can talk about it."  

"Please, stop treating me like a burn victim. I ran into an old friend, and was confronted with my stupid choices...I wasn't ready for it. Yet, in a weird kind of way, I wanted that too. I'm sorry when I got home I acted like a teenage girl. I'm fine now. -----Hey, we need a tree, let's go get a tree!"

"I wanna go with Uncle Mark," yelled James' daughter.  The other girls started a similar chant, "Uncle Mark!"  

James looked down at Drew's girls, "technically, girls, Mark is your big brother...well big step-brother."  

"It's fine, James, they can call me Uncle Mark. It's weird enough that mom's married again. Toddler sisters are just too..."

"We aren't toddlers.  I'm 9 and Gracie is 6 and a half!"  The older one said, who Mark thought was named Ashlyn.  

"Oh, is that so...Pardon me, young ladies."  

"Haha...they're going to torture us just like real sisters," James said.  


"Does anyone in this town give you crap for owning a Toyota Tundra?" Mark asked his brother in the cramped confines of the extended cab truck.  The girls giggled about nothing in particular in the back seat.  

And after age 30, nobody cares. Well, mostly nobody.  
"It's a truck, Mark, and a damned good truck too. This Christmas tree will fit in the payload, that's enough. I'm not towing a 30" travel trailer with it. Besides we aren't in high school...nobody cares about what brand shirt or truck or if your shoes match your socks. In the adult world..."  

"I live in the adult world, James. I'm sorry. I've just been out of the states so long. I mean, Obama?"  

"Well, black or white, our government is still pretty much stupid."  

"What we need is a woman, like Hillary,  to shake things up," Amy said half-joking.  

"Sarah Palin would've shaken things up..." James joked back. He noticed Mark wasn't laughing.  "Oh, uh Sarah Palin was the vice-presidential nominee for the Republican..." 

"I know who she is, James. They have the internet in all parts of the world now."  

James turned the truck down a side street and then down a long driveway filled with trees of every stage of development. It was the same tree farm they had visited from when they were kids.  Although the price of the U-cut had risen from $10 to $25 since the last time Mark had visited.  

"Kinda expensive for twenty minutes of annoying labor."  

"Yeah, well, try and find a decent burger for under 10 bucks...things change."  

They exited the vehicle with Mom and Drew parking right next to them.  

Gracie ran to her dad and yelled, "That was fun, but James said the D-word, dad."  

Drew and Mary looked at James and faked an "unacceptable" face.  

"Sorry Mom. Sorry Drew," James said.  

The kids then ran off looking for the perfect tree or squirrels.  James and his wife were already looking a 8-footer that Mom would no doubt disqualify for limb disfigurement.  

Mary creeped close to Mark and grabbed his arm with her mittened hands.  "I'm so happy you're here with us, Marky. You don't know how many years I've wanted this..." before her motherly instincts gave way, and tears glistened down her cheeks. "So many years we've lost, Mark..."  

"I'm sorry Mom. I was broken and embarrassed. I thought I needed time. I didn't want to burden you guys with my problems."  

"Let's not talk about the past. You're here, now. Remember this place? We used to come here with Dad and you boys would always try and convince us to take home the ugliest tree."  

"Haha. Yeah. We always tried to get your perfectionist eye all frustrated."  

"Perfectionist? I don't..."

"Oh come on'll take you looking at 100 different trees to pick one you like. Haha. It's cool." 

"Well, when you're paying $25 dollars..."  

Drew and the rest of the family waved them over to look at a filled-out blue spruce. 

"You go ahead, Mom. I just need a few minutes to myself."  

"Okay, honey."  

When the arguing about the tree's merits started, Mark walked the opposite direction. Again, that weird sensation of knowing a place, but having everything in the wrong place, overwhelm him.  

Put that in a fancy pot, and it's worth like $600.
He saw an especially ugly tree, sparsely branched and looking like it would fall over if not rooted into the soil.  

"Oh, poor Charlie Brown tree, will anybody ever pick you?"  

"Charlie Brown? I'm no midget tree! I'm just a full grown bonsai."  

"Oh...sorry Mr. Tree."  

"Call me Miyagi."  


"If it was up to you, you'd pick me, right Mark?" 

"Yeah, I probably would, Mr. Miyagi. As a joke." 

"It wouldn't be a joke to you. You always show empathy to creatures that nobody else would dare like or love. It's part of who you are. It's why you are so sensitive. Because if the world was nicer to the obviously hurting people of the world, maybe we would be more conscientious of the people who aren't as obvious in their pain."  

"God damn, if everything aint a guru. Haha."  

"HEY! No reason to take the Lord's name in vain.  And we aren't all gurus or philosophers, some of us are merely sherpas, helping people find their way."  

"Sorry Mr. Miyagi...I'm guessing you are the sherpa-type then..."  

"Uncle Mark?  Why are you talking to that odd-looking tree?" said Ashlyn out of the blue.  

"Wha...oh, uh...well, I was just thinking how many people probably think it's ugly. I was just, uh, complementing it on its nonconformity."  

"Well, I think it's beautiful if you do."  

"I do, Ashlyn, I do."  

"My name is Ashley.  My middle name is Lynn.  That's why my Daddy calls me Ashlynn.  But you can call me that too."  

"Oh. I didn't know. Thank you. I'm having to learn a lot quickly. I've been away for a long time."  

"I know. I only ever saw a picture of you before this week. And Mary cries a lot while looking at your pictures in the photo album."  

"She does, huh. Well, I am kinda like a unicorn."  

"No you're not. But why didn't you come to my Daddy's and your mommy's wedding? We're you mad at them? I'm not. Not anymore. My real mom doesn't hardly want to see us. She got remarried too...I don't like him...not like I like Mary. Mary's like my mom used to be."  

"Wow Ashley...Ashlyn that's really deep. I'm sorry. I guess I'm like your mom a little. Sometimes things happen that make us hurt really bad. They kind of break us for a little while. I guess I liked being broken. I liked being a victim. It allowed me to hurt others and not feel guilty about it. Sometimes we don't even realize we are hurting others. I thought I was helping my mom by not being a burden to her...I didn't realize that I was hurting her by being...away.....I bet your mommy doesn't realize she's hurting you...she's just doing her thing...she'll figure it out (hopefully)."  

"Well, at least I have this family now."  

" too. Me too, Ashlyn."  

"I'm going to go see what Gracie and Jenny are up to.  Bye Uncle Mark...bye Mr. Miyagi."  

"You heard me say that?" Mark chuckled to himself.  

"Yeah. Wax on; Wax off. I know the Karate Kid. I've seen it like four times on Netflix on my iPad. It is kinda weird that you called that tree Mr. Miyagi though."  

"It because it's like a bonsai tree...nevermind. Go find your sister and cousin."  

"Niece. Jenny is my niece."  

"Oh yeah."  

Mark felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He was surprised to get service this far out in the country. 
Pt. 1: Hey man, this is Jake. I got your number from your mom. Hope you don't mind. I felt like crap after that situation in the grocery store. I'm not really good at communicating, and I was so caught off guard running into you there. I have so much I want to talk to you about. And a lot of apologies.   
Pt. 2: We aren't 18 anymore, and I think we could at least try that conversation over again. I can do better, haha.  Anyway, the offer still stands for tomorrow. Would love to see you. So would everyone else. Text me back if you want directions or whatever.  
 Are you kidding me? "Mom, did you give my number to Jake Callow?"  Mark yelled across the farm.  


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