Christmas has been a rough time of the year for me. All my friends and classmates were always filled with the festive spirit and excited for the plethora of gifts that sat nestled under their trees, but my Christmas’ were never like that.
My family was broken, mostly thanks to the cruelty of my father. He was a heavy drinker, and what time he didn’t spend at the bar was usually spent on tirades against my mother and physical confrontations with my 16-year-old brother; Tommy.
My father was the kind that never seemed satisfied with anything. My mother’s meals were never tasty enough, Tommy’s attitude and direction in life wasn’t admirable enough. More than once I watched them fight, with my father expelling his wrath upon them both. He broke Tommy’s arm twice, and left my mother with multiple scars and bruises.
Tommy and I were always close, but as time went on, he came home less and less. My mother slipped further into depression and became more reclusive as a result of the abuse. She never talked about it, just did what she could and tried not to ignite the temper of my father. She tried hiding it from me, but I heard her crying in her room almost every night.
I hope I don’t come across as a grinch who’s trying to ruin the holidays for everyone else, because there was once a time when I absolutely adored Christmas. It was usually one of the few reprieves our family had from my father’s wickedness. Maybe it was his eggnog mixed with bourbon that did it, but he always seemed a little less mean on Christmas.
Growing up my mother had told me all about the legend of jolly old Santa Claus. A plump, red-nosed man who rode on a magical sleigh driven by stags and brought people presents. It may sound dumb, but that story filled me with hope.
My family had always been pretty poor, and the idea that there was a man out there who dedicated one night of the year to distribute gifts out of the kindness of his heart really inspired me.
Every year I would write him a letter, usually asking for some toy or the latest gadget that all the kids at school were getting. My seventh Christmas was different though. I had sort of begun to grow out of the legend of Santa Claus, especially with the apparent lack of results.
I wasn’t even planning on writing a letter that year, but mom encouraged me to give it one last try. I really wanted a Nintendo 64, but something else was more important.
For years I had watched my mother suffer at the hands of my father, and as a young boy who could do nothing about it, it really hurt me. I knew it was wrong, and so I asked Santa for help.
I asked if he could make mom happy again.
I took the letter and folded it up, leaving it under a plate of cookies and tall glass of milk by the tree as was my tradition.
“You still believe in that horseshit do ya?” My father’s gruff voice slurred the words as I set the gift down. I turned back to him, seeing his bearded face contain droplets of eggnog. His pajama pants were worn and dirty, and his stained, Metallica t-shirt was on it’s last leg. He gave a grumbling laugh as we met eyes.
“What a fuckin’ concept huh? Some fat guy that brings presents to everybody. Ain’t nobody in the damn world gonna give you shit for free like that.” He took a gulp from his glass and sighed.
“Well, not if you’re on the naughty list.” I pensively responded. My father’s drunken ire turned back to me, and I felt my heart sink, but then he laughed.
“Yeah, gotta be a good boy huh? You been a good boy this year?” I shrugged and wavered on my feet.
“I think so…” He grunted and shook his head.
“Yeah… we’ll see about that.” His vision drifted back to his TV, and I just left. I didn’t ever want to interact with my father more than I had to. I went back upstairs, and mom and I put on the Rudolf story in her room.
We sat and watched for a while, and mom seemed genuinely happy in that moment. The snow was heavy that year, and I watched it fall in droves outside my bedroom window. The wind howled and tore through the yard, and our little rundown home rattled from the onslaught of winter.
The credits began playing and I rose to turn off the TV. Mom was fast asleep by that point. I put the cassette back in it’s case, and walked over to the window to glimpse the storm outside. It was almost hypnotizing the way it fell and blanketed everything so evenly.
I stood there for a while, just watching it. The houses on the street were lit in a flamboyant display of red, green and yellow lights, and all the occupants nestled in for the night in anticipation of the coming Christmas morning.
I was about to turn away, when something caught my eye further down the street. There was a man walking alone in the blizzard. The snowfall was so heavy that I could barely even see him at first. As he drew nearer, I got a better sight.
He was wearing a red coat and matching pants, with fluffy white fur around his wrists, ankles and running down the center of his chest. I recognized his attire right away. It was Santa.
I didn’t see a beard though, and he looked quite a bit skinnier than I had been told. He wore a hood over his head, with no signs of his signature cap underneath. He then paused right in front of our house and looked up.
Immediately, I withdrew from the window, knowing full well that glimpsing Santa was a surefire way of ending up on the naughty list. I couldn’t believe it though, he had actually come. I don’t know how long I sat there, but eventually I heard something strange. It sounded like the front door creaking open.
I rose from the ground, and found that he was no longer outside the window. I thought that was weird, Santa was supposed to come down the chimney. I then of course realized that our chimney was much too small for a fully-grown man to fit down.
I heard his footsteps echo from the floor below, and despite knowing it was a bad idea, I decided to get a closer look. As carefully as I could I pushed the door to my room open, and tiptoed my way to the top of the stairs. That’s when I saw him.
He had his back turned to me, facing the tree with something in his hands. I stepped carefully onto the stairs, but they creaked as I did. Instantly Santa whipped around and stared up to me. I felt my heart quiver in my chest, as we stared at one another. His hood was still up, and I couldn’t see his face beneath.
My father was out cold in his armchair, with the TV still flickering in the background. Santa set down what was in his hands and turned fully to face me. He then lifted one arm, and his gloved, index finger wagged slowly back and forth. I knew what that meant, and nodded before quickly scurrying back to my room. I just hoped I hadn’t ruined it for myself by seeing him.
I stayed in my room for the rest of the night in eager anticipation. Down below I heard a slight commotion emanate from the ground floor. It almost sounded like someone was fighting, but I reasoned that it must’ve just been Santa hoisting his bag of goodies around.
Soon after I heard the door open, and shut a second later. I didn’t dare venture back down stairs, and next thing I knew I was waking up. The sun was shining bright outside, reflecting light around the street and in the windows.
Mom greeted me as I awoke, and the two of us made our way downstairs. Mom seemed apprehensive, but lightened a bit from the excitement that I had. After all, Santa had actually shown up, and I couldn’t wait to see what he had brought.
Mom smiled as I ran ahead, and I felt as though my wish had actually come true. That changed when we got downstairs though, and mom’s face contorted into terror before letting out a gut-wrenching scream.
My father sat on his usual chair, his eyes wide, and jaw slacked open. His neck had several cuts and bruises along them, and he wasn’t moving. He didn’t even wake up when mom screamed.
Mom panicked and dialed 911, but there was never any hope of saving him. Mom tried shooing me out of the room, but not before I saw what was by the tree. The cookies and milk were gone, and in their place was an envelope and box wrapped with red and green Christmas paper.
Mom ushered me to my room as the emergency crews and police arrived. They performed their routine down below, while I inspected the gift. I opened it up, and nearly fainted at the sight of a brand-new Nintendo 64 console. I was overjoyed, and immediately began to set it up.
I paused though, remembering the note that had been attached to it. I opened it.
I am sorry that my gift took so long to arrive. You’ve been a very good boy, and you deserve much more than you have gotten. You are a very special young man, and I know you will grow up to be a wonderful person. I hope you enjoy your gift, and I hope that you and your mother can grow together and heal from the things you have been through.
Thanks for always believing, and take care of your mom for me.
P.S: Thanks for the cookies.
My father was declared dead soon after that, and preparations were made to lay him to rest. Mom was at first incredibly distraught by what had happened. I think it was more fear of the future than it was sorrow for my father’s sudden murder. That’s how I read it anyways.
Mom managed to find a good job soon after that, and she and I worked to rebuild our lives together. It took her awhile, but eventually my wish did come true. Mom began to smile again.
My older brother Tommy never came back home, and at first, I didn’t understand why. He was my best friend, and I missed him dearly. I held onto that letter from Santa, and still have it to this day.
Many years later I found something in an old box of my brother’s belongings. It was one of his journals, and his handwriting looked remarkably similar to the note that Santa had left all those years ago.