Suicidal Christmas Sweater: Short Story Conclusion

{Continued from Part II}  or go to the  {Beginning}  

James was busy cutting down the blue spruce tree.

"I did Mark. I gave Jake your number, and I'm not sorry."

"I just ran into Jake at the grocery store. It was...odd to say the's been so many years. I wish you wouldn't have given him my number."

"I'm done making excuses for you Mark. Jake isn't a fake. In fact, I feel like I might know Jake better than you now."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, Jake and some of your other friends have called, written, inquired repeatedly over the last ten years...sometimes I lied for you, other times I was honest. Most times I didn't know what you were doing. There were years where I wondered if you were dead."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize now, I'm just so happy to see you here, now. But there's hurt there, for you and for me...and your brother and Jake, and Mel...others."

"You've talked to Melissa too?"

"It's a small town. And it's been a decade. I have piles of mail for you. Letters, college inquiries, things that look like warrants, bill collectors, but mostly, it's people wanting to talk to you. When your father passed, we all got to kind of say our goodbyes. We could see the end coming. But with was like, you almost died...and then you ran off, and nobody got any answers, or closure, or even to sympathize with you. You closed us all off."

"I know. I was young. And selfish. I can see that now. I didn't think anyone cared. There's really been letters? I didn't know my generation knew how to write letters?"

"Just 'cause you don't write, doesn't mean others don't," his mother said with guilty implications.  And seeing him ready to apologize again, "No, don't...I'm kidding...kind of."


Mark helped James compress the wide tree through the front door as the three girls non-obediently squeezed underneath to get to the ornament box first.   

"Girls, that was rude. It's going to take us some time to get this mounted and trimmed. There's no hurry!" 

"Sorry Dad!" "Yeah, sorry Uncle James!"  

"Haha, don't get mad James, they're just excited for Christmas. We used to act like that." 

"Did we? Those Christmases seem like so long ago. This house has so many memories. That's why I didn't want Mom to sell it. But those memories have been melancholy, mostly, lately."  

"I'm sorry James. Of all the people, you didn't deserve any of this. Nobody ever feels sorry for the prodigal son's brother who stayed loyal."  

They found the tree stand and fought with the screws and branches to get the tree standing up straight.  

"You don't need to make Biblical parallels to our life, Mark. I've tried to make my own happiness. But there's always been a hole. A gap. You little brother, and I needed you at times. I didn't have a best man at my wedding.  Just a blank space that was where you were supposed to be. I don't want that blank space anymore. I'm afraid you're going to run off and leave us again...and I..." 

Mark, with tears in his eyes, "Damn it James. I'm soo sorry. I needed you too. I needed Mom, and wanted Dad...I just  wasn't strong enough. I can't change the past...I'm sorry I've caused so much drama. I hate drama. I'll be around. I'll probably end up apologizing a thousand times, and making Mom cry a bunch, and stuff, but...I hate Canada anyways..." 

"I knew it. Nobody goes to Canada...especially after South America."  

"Haha...yeah, and I can't go anywhere near Columbia or Peru...too many people want my head down there."  

"It looks great, boys," Mom said, as she returned with a pizza. "Sorry for not cooking tonight, but I thought this would make up for it."  She saw the tears on both Mark and James' faces. Healing is such a long process. "You still like pizza, right Mark?" 

"Are you kidding me? I haven't had good pizza since, I don't know. I have learned to appreciate guinea pig, though."  

"Gross. Stay away from my hamster, Uncle Mark," said Jenny.  

"Haha. They hear everything don't they."  

"They hear only what they want to hear..." laughed James.  

"Yeah, I guess I've been living that way too," Mark replied.   


"Are you sure, I'm sure there going to be some uncomfortable words in some of these..."  

"I'm sure Mom. Thanks for saving them for me."  

Mark closed the door and trembled as he flipped through the stacks of mail.  Army recruiting services and college informational letters he put in a discard pile. There was stuff from the selective service, the IRS, and Social security that he figured he'd have to read at some point. 

But mostly it was the letters that concerned him.  

He stacked them into piles. Two from Jake....One from his cousin Rodney...One from his high school Math teacher (weird)...One from Brandon...and he nearly lost it...Melissa.  This continued on.  She wrote three total. Four from Jake. Sixteen total letters from friends. Some thicker than others. Most were postmarked at least five years ago.  

I guess they gave up. I don't blame them.  

He put Melissa's in its own pile. Not tonight. Too many emotions tonight.  

He tore open a few. The words were both kryptonite and revealing. So they had cared. His family cared. His friends cared. The letter from his teacher was signed by seven other teachers. More tears formed. People apologized. They prayed. They cried. They wanted to see him.

What was I searching for---out there? His middle school youth pastor had mailed a letter exactly four years after his attempt on his own life.  It ended with a verse that sent chills down his spine: 
 Jer. 29:13-14--You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 'I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'…
He never thought about his being gone as being in exile. How nice it was to be home again, even with all the tears and emotions. The word redeemed flooded his thoughts. That was a Christian word, right? It was nicer than 'being sober' or ' in remission', phrases that seemed temporal and like dams holding back sickness.

He slept untroubled and awoke to the smell of pancakes. Amy, apparently, made legendary pancakes.


The house was atwitter with the excitement of the holidays. The girls played with toys that would soon be abandoned for whatever St. Nick brought this year. Drew was making jokes reminiscent of his own father, and his bloodlines were smiling and laughing with cheer. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Everyone seemed to be absorbing Mark's newfound contentedness.  

"So what's the plan for tonight, Mom?"  

"I thought maybe we could sew you up a nice ugly sweater."  

"Wow Mom. Aren't you making your legendary dinner?"  

"I am. But I think you should go, honey. It's not like we haven't got used to having our Christmas Eve dinner without you."  

"Mom's pulling no punches, today," James scoffed.  Even he was surprised at Mom's bluntness.  

"Well, I think he should go. He needs to have fun with good people. We'll get him on Christmas, anyway. It's not like he has in-laws to run off to."  

Mark sat silently and in awe. It was like the opposite of déjá vu. His family was so different than he remembered them. 

"Next thing you know, she'll tell you you're betrothed to some woman she thinks is appropriate, haha," James half-whispered.  

"I heard that," Mom said.  

"I don't know Mom. I don't know if I'm ready to go to a party with old faces. It's one thing to..." 

"Tear the band-aid off!" She interrupted.  

"Jeez...okay...If you don't want me..." he joked.  

"There's no need to sew any ugly sweaters. I graduated in 1984. My generation invented the ugly sweater, and if I didn't wear it in high school, I did in college or shortly after. I kept them all," Drew offered.  

" graduated the year I was born?" Matt realized.  

"Yep. My first wife was six years younger than me, and she was a ...(looks around to see if his children were listening, they weren't)... head case, so I thought why not find a cougar, hence your mom."  

"Ra-ar" Mary growled back at him.  

"Gross," everyone else said in unison.  


"Holy Crap, and Merry Christmas...when you texted back I thought you were still going to bail!"  Jake smiled.  

"Well, If it gets Mother's Toyota Tercel is ready to get me out of Dodge..." 

"Don't worry, the orgies are on Tuesdays.  Sweater parties are just sweater parties," Jake said with a wry smile.  

Jake looked into the surprisingly spacious home. It wasn't filled with faces, but enough that his entrance was the newest attraction. Jake's humor was the only welcoming factor so far.  

"Amber, can you get this guy some ' took us ten years to get him here, we better butter him up...(then aside to Mark), "You are okay with alcohol, right?  I mean, you don't need to get drunk or anything, but the eggnog has rum in's good..." 

"Yeah, I'm fine. Alcohol was never my drug of we're cool.  Besides, my brother makes some monster eggnog with lighter fluid..." 

Jake smiled. They loved that movie.  But Brandon looked at him dumbfounded.  "Did I hear you say that your brother mixes lighter fluid into his eggnog? Wouldn't that kill somebody?"

Mark was about to explain, but Jake cut him off.  "Brandon, before Seth Rogan movies, there was real comedy. It's called Better Off Dead.  I don't expect to you like it, cause there's no F-words or pot humor."

"Hey man, Fu.. Screw you, I watch normal stuff too."  "Mark don't listen to him. I'm not a stoner. I like Two and a half Men."  

"Good to see you Brandon, been a long time.  Yeah, I've heard of that show, but don't know it well. Unfortunately in Canada we get mostly MacGyver reruns and Orphan Black.  Continuum is another..."

"We should totally do a MacGyver night Jake!" Brandon blurted.

"Yeah, that would be pretty epic."

"Speaking of epic, I love your sweater Mark, did you order that online?" Ashley interrupted.

"No, believe it or not, this is my father-in-law's sweater," Mark said and took a drink of his rumnog. His eyes opened wide. "Wow, this stuff is stout..."  "Uh yeah, my new dad was a regular Dr. Huxtable in the 1980s."

"Ugh...Don't bring up Cosby..."

"Yeah, lets change the subject."

"I just meant the sweaters. He had or has tons of sweaters."

"So your mom remarried?"

"Yeah. He's alright. I have two sisters-in-law in grade school's taking a little getting used to..."

There was another knock on the door and then Matt made his way in.  There were hugs and high fives and Mark had to find a spot for his bottle of rum in the kitchen.  He didn't see Mark off to the side of the pellet stove.

"Hey Jake, guess who I ran into at the liquor store. Melissa. (pause) Martinez.  She's back in town. I told her what we were up to, and she's totally coming over.  Just had to stop at home and find an ugly sweater.  I had to stop off at home too. Forgot my cell phone. She should be here any second...I hope that's okay? Nobody would care, right?"

The whole room fell silent. The casualness and niceties of a minute ago were slaughtered. The eeriness of death filled the room.

"What?" Matt said in he gazed around the room and at the eyes that were half directed at him, and half to someone else by the stove..."What?" and then he recognized behind the stove and behind the hard years was his old friend Mark Black.

"Oh, God...I'm sorry guys...Why didn't somebody tell me Mark Black, of all people, was going to be here.  I mean...Great to see you buddy, but geez...isn't this something you tell people..."

"I wasn't sure he would show up, so I didn't..." Jake started, but before he could finish, another knock on the front door, followed by it slowly being pushed in.

"Hey all, I'm crashing your party...sorry my sweater isn't better," said Melissa.

The room feel into an even quieter state.

"Wow...quite the welcome. Who died? Haha..."

"Uh...I did, almost. A decade ago."  Mark heard himself say.

Melissa walked past the entrance and looked to where the voice came from.  She then looked at Matt and said, "What is this, some kind of intervention? Did you plan this?"

"No, I promise, I didn't even was..."

"It was all coincidence..." Jake said.  "I ran into Mark yesterday...."

"Maybe it's fate..." Amber said from the barely exposed kitchen. She marched across the war field and handed Melissa a rumnog. "You might need this."

"Fate...says the girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Nice." Melissa said as she downed the drink.

Everywhere somebody looked to somebody else for something to break the tension. If only Seth Rogan were here, thought Brandon, He'd do something funny or awkward.  

Mark gripped the keys to the Tercel inside his hoodie pocket. He'd have to push past the crowd and right next to Melissa to exit. It would not be subtle. This was his worst nightmare.

And yet. It was a band-aid. Rip it off. Rip it off.

"Well, there appears to be an elephant in the room. I did not come here to wreck this little get-together, and I'm sure Melissa didn't as well. I've been a lot of things in my life. Mostly an ass. I was an ass to many of you guys the last ten years. I was an ass to Melissa as well. I guess that's some sort of apology. I'm sorry for how I didn't treat you the last ten years. You can call me ass when I leave. But I'll not be an ass and an elephant in the room. It's too much stress."

"Here's to elephants and asses!" Jake said as he raised his cup

"Here, here," shouted the rest and they drank up.

"Here's to Democrats and Republicans, may they not continue to make a mockery of our country!" shouted another...and they drank to that toast.

"Obama," shouted another.  They took a drink.

"I blame Obama," shouted yet another.  They took another drink.

"Here's to Mark and Melissa in the same room," shouted Amber from behind Jake.  Everyone looked at her in awe. It was an odd toast, but they drank up anyway.

As the silo cup lowered from Mark's lips, he caught Melissa looking at him the same way.  It was going to be an awkward night, but courage had been lubricated by the rum.

Conversations started again. The room swelled away from Mark and Melissa, knowing that they had unfinished business.

Slowly she walked toward. The room pretended not to notice.  Mark fiddled with the keys even more so.  He didn't know what he wanted out of this scene.

"I meant it. I'm sorry for the last decade. I was a wreck."

"I've been a wreck too, Mark, only I didn't cut my wrists."  (The room cringed at the word wrists...)

"I know."

"They told you? All those rumors? Well, some of them are true. Most of them are true."

"I don't care. I mean, about the rumors. Who am I to judge? I tried to kill myself."

"Because of me."

"No, not entirely. I was depressed about my dad. I was suffering from low self-esteem. I was young and stupid, and it wasn't serious. It just went way further than I intended."

"This is awkward. They're all listening."  She said as she gazed around the room at eyes that darted away quickly.

The room got louder with small talk, trying harder to pretend they weren't listening.

"I don't care anymore. I'm tired of running from my past."

"I wish I didn't have a past." "I wish I could've had this conversation with you ten years ago..."  "It appears, now, that we are both just damaged goods."

"You guys wanna try my famous transatlantic cocktail?  It's made from cranberry sauce, oddly enough,"  Ashley interjected.

"Yeah, I'd love one." Mark blurted. "I've had good encounters with cranberry spirits, lately."

"I guess, I'll try one. What'd you think Mark, do you think we'll ever be fixed?"

"Depend if root's strong."  Mark chuckled.

"Was that from Karate Kid?"

"Yeah, the third one. Haha. Just something that's been going through my head lately. Look we have crummy pasts. Histories we'd like to ignore. But I know who I am, now. My roots are strong. And those years of mistakes...I don't know...lately, I've just felt like they've been redeemed."

"That sounds nice. I wish it was that easy." "You know you sound like your mom right now. She's actually been quite nice to me over the years..."

"Seriously? You and my mom talk to each other? Why am I not surprised. You know...she's cooking her famous Christmas Eve dinner right now..."

"I'd love some real food. This transatlantic cocktail is terrible."

And there, while avoiding awkward eavesdroppers and under the influence of odd intoxicants, Mark felt like for once, because of this week, he might have a future worth living for.

1 comment:

  1. Good one...the party scene was original and believable, and I liked your thoughts on the word "redeemed."