An earlier Christmas

I decided to post writing from years gone by, many years previous.  I always liked the short Christmas novella I extracted this piece from.  The contemplative rambling, never intruding upon the characters, giving them their space, while allowing insight into the human condition, the yearning for something greater within the midst of turmoil and love, within families and brokenness.  I hope this provides meaning, not uselessly self-indulgent.

As it was in the beginning, it is now and forever shall be, world without end. Amen.


Eulogizing during the Christmas midnight mass at the Holy Rosary Cathedral, a Catholic bishop spoke of the importance of spreading, embodying the love displayed by Our Heavenly Father through his divine Son, our Savior. The ecclesiastic used words to demonstrate the possibility of every man and woman being a gift to those they encounter. The act simply requiring love and unselfishness. It did not take heroic deeds, immense Biblical knowledge, or incredible mortification, to follow the lead of Christ. The Cathedral was filled for the Christmas mass, many attending were forced to stand. The Wheaton family were among the gathered.

Becky and Sam sat oblivious to the message of the priest, overwhelmed by the suicide of their son Gary. Becky sat next to Cassie whom she was now dependent upon, holding the sleeping infant Jerome. Sam sat next to his wife and stared forward, detached, unable to look within or without. Tim sat next to Roy and both were comforted by the presence of his brother. The current Christmas Eve possessed a dark tone for the Wheatons.

The previous night the Wheaton brothers went to Gary’s apartment. The brothers searched for a motive behind their youngest brother’s suicide but could not find one. A suicide note was not left. There was an empty bottle of Kentucky bourbon next to the bed. It appeared Gary was quite drunk at the time of the shooting. The fatal act seemed to be a spontaneous endeavor. Abysmally unclean, the grave bedroom stank of dirty socks and sweat. Unkempt for months, now blood soiled the wall, bed and carpet, unholiness culminating in critical grotesqueness. The accumulation of things: clothes, empty cans of beer, discarded liquor bottles, pizza boxes, pornographic magazines, videotapes, and random uncared for items were carelessly strewn about. Chaos ruled the bedroom.

Exhausted and emotionally spent, Roy and Tim spent the night on Gary’s living room floor talking of childhood and life. Rising early, determined, they cleansed their brother’s apartment. Together they emptied the bedroom, convinced it was the first thing that should be done. Roy and Tim removed all the junk, piling everything into garbage bags, inspecting nothing, loading the accumulation into Gary’s abandoned truck. The brothers moved the furniture into the living room, feeling gratified when the bedroom, the scene of the crime, was completely emptied.

Roy was surprised by the contrast of the neatness and orderliness of Gary’s living room, compared with the sloppiness of his bedroom. Tim informed him that Gary hired the next door neighbor, the one who called the police after hearing the shot, to clean his apartment. He established the arraignment with the woman, Sarah, after he hired her to install a two hundred gallon saltwater fish tank in his apartment. Sarah owned and operated a tropical fish store and was happy to serve. Once the tank was installed, she offered to take care of it since Gary spent so much time on the road.

Eventually, Sarah began cleaning Gary’s living room and kitchen, cooking him food, leaving the food in his refrigerator. Sarah was severely obese and found comfort in Gary’s friendship for she had few friends. She loved keeping his living space clean and cooking for him. Gary’s bedroom was off limits. He firmly established the boundary, physically as well as ideologically. He secured the bedroom with a padlock whenever he went on the road. He tolerated Sarah since he enjoyed the fish tank and he did like her as a friend, however he sensed her marital intentions. The idea of settling down with such a fat woman disgusted him, even though he was on the heavyset side himself.

The morning after the suicide, Sarah heard people in Gary’s apartment and decided to investigate. Tim was familiar with Sarah and was happy to see her. Moments earlier he began to worry about Roy. Roy became hysterically obsessed cleaning a bloodstain from the bedroom carpet. He had also taken care of Gary’s bedding which contained the gory remains the rescue squad did not remove. Tim could not stomach to even watch Roy handle the bloody blankets. While attempting to remove the bloodstain from the carpet, Roy lost it. Scrubbing as a madman, sweat dripping from his brow, he rigorously tried to erase the blood stain for a lengthy period of time.

Tim halted Roy’s maniacal efforts in order to introduce Sarah, not surprised to see tears in his brother’s eyes as he looked up. Seeing the look upon Roy’s face, Sarah began to cry. She told the brothers how awful she felt, explaining that as soon as she heard the gunshot she knew Gary shot himself. She felt it in the blast. She blamed herself for not doing more. Roy placed his arm around Sarah, guiding her into Gary’s living room. The three adults seated themselves on Gary’s couch, witnessing the colorful tropical fish tank. Roy determined he wanted the fish tank to be a part of his home in Illinois. It was beautiful.

Losing the flow of the bishop’s words during the Christmas mass, Roy observed the bookmarker positioned within the prayer book his mother gave him to hold in order for her to take the sleeping Jerome from Cassie. Roy held the bookmarker before him, observing the image of Jesus Christ as a grown man, standing resurrected in a white gown with his left foot slightly forward, appearing as if he were about to move toward the observer.

Gracefully, Jesus held his left hand to his chest, his long index and middle fingers tenderly touching his heart. Extending from Jesus’ heart were two rays of colored light, one red and the other blue. Roy felt comfort from the rays, wondering about their significance, recalling the blood and water rushing from Jesus’ side during his crucifix piercing. He observed the right hand of Jesus which extended outward, palm slightly forward, fingers pointed above in a majestic gesture of blessing. A halo of light encircled Jesus’ smiling face. Roy read below the image the message in all capital letters, ‘JESUS I TRUST IN YOU’, followed by, ‘O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.’ Roy studied the book marker, noticing a reference to Sister M. Faustina Kowalska.

Called to stand by the proceedings of the mass, Roy thought about the agreement he reached with Sarah regarding the transportation of Gary’s aquarium to his home in Illinois. The idea pleased him. Sarah was more than willing to help, going to great lengths to convince Roy that he did not have to pay her, let alone rent a car for her to drive back to Toledo with.  She would pay to ride a Greyhound bus. Sarah felt duty bound to assist. Roy insisted on Sarah accepting payment, pleased with the idea of Sarah spending the weekend with his family. He saw that Sarah was sincerely kind, responsible, detail oriented, and a deep thinker. She presented a sane link to his departed brother, a good woman who truly cared for his brother who would discern to shoot himself. She also needed healing from his brother’s suicide.

Roy also convinced Tim to come stay with him. He felt confident he could help his brother start a new life. He believed his brother could pick up a quick two year associate degree in industrial electricity and start a new life in Chicago working as an industrial technician. Roy possessed a plethora of connections in the electrical industrial world. Tim enjoyed building homes. He was quite a handy tradesmen. He could easily expand his skills. Roy would stress to his brother to concentrate upon industrial electricity, specifically programmable controllers, while also touching upon welding. Tim found the idea of being an industrial maintenance worker in Chicago an attractive escape from the tragedy of his life in Toledo. Within the most dreadful circumstances, within an all-time low, a beginning emerged.

In unison with the others attending the midnight Christmas mass, Roy began singing ‘Glory to the newborn King’. Tim joined his brother and felt confident in his singing, interiorly reflecting upon his departed brother. The death was wrong. Life deserved to be respected. It did not have to be suffering. A new year approached. The rest of the Simon family, the parents, stayed quiet, surrendering to sorrow.


Leave a reply