Un Natale Agrodolce - A Bittersweet Christmas


Un Natale Agrodolce - A Bittersweet Christmas

With Hope for all Families
by Andrea Lena Dimaggio


Carmine stepped out of his SUV and breathed out. Another Christmas Eve without Tony and Margo. He looked around at the garage. Camping equipment shoved rudely into a cubby underneath the steps leading to the kitchen, gathering dust. He remembered that last trip to the lake before Margo took sick.


"Hey Daddy...I think I got something...I think it's a bass."

Tony had yelled in excitement. They'd been glad they rented the larger rowboat than the canoe, since Tony had to stand to reel the fish in. After a few moments, the bass was safely in the cooler and smiles filled the faces of the family. Carmine had been especially proud, since it was Tony's first catch after a few summers of frustration. Tony of course was excited about the fish. And Margo was just happy to see her two boys enjoying themselves.


"Sonofabitch," Carmine said to himself as he punched the wall next to the steps. Three years later and it still hurt that he had lost them. "Fuckin' morons...what do they know," he thought to himself as he remembered the "give it a year" suggestion he had read in the grief book his counselor had given him. There were two huge holes in his heart that he felt would never close...he would never be whole again. He thought about finding someone...he had a lot of love to give, and he missed the closeness he and Margo shared. Each time he thought about dating, he dismissed it.

"Who the hell could be so sweet...how could I find anyone like her...It's so fucking unfair...I can't deal with this..." Almost every thought of remarriage was met with guilt and regret. Who can ever take the place of your first love? Nothing, no one would ever match up.

He looked up at the compound bow hanging on the wall over the work bench. He and Tony enjoyed archery ...especially target shooting, although they used to go hunting ....until... Carmine had been all-state in his class, but his college eliminated their Archery program just as he entered his sophomore year, and dreams of an Olympic tryout went out the window with his scholarship. He kept up his target shooting, and that was one more thing he had passed on to his son.


He blew out another breath in frustration and sadness and climbed up the steps and entered the house. The house was dark except for the dim fluorescent bulb over the sink in the kitchen. He grabbed a Miller out of the fridge and walked into the den and sat down.

"Christmas Eve..." he said simply to himself. "Merry Christmas, Carmine, you loser." He said to himself. He felt he had let his family down for years, never feeling he measured up to what a father and husband should be. And now, with Tony and Margo both gone, he wondered if he would ever be those things again.

"Fuck..." He said, as tears started to stream down his cheeks. He looked at the shelf behind his desk and found the picture album. Leafing through it he saw the chronicle of his family played out in photos and cards. Margo smiling with pride holding up her diploma from Nursing School. Tony with the bass. Margo hugging Tony at the piano recital...God he was good! Tony holding up his MVP trophy for the Rec League Baseball championship game. Margo sitting up in the recliner, looking brave, her head swathed with a scarf to cover her bald head, Tony asleep with his head on his mother's arm.

"Jesus!" Carmine said, and it wasn't a prayer even as it became one. "Why both...couldn't you have at least left Tony? He looked at the family portrait on his desk; a sad reminder of what he had lost. Margo was pale and thin, but bravely posed with a smile that would have lit up any room. Tony looked like the life had left him even then, though he gamely smiled. And Carmine standing behind them both, looking down with as much love and hope that a father who was about to lose his family could.

Carmine placed the photo down on the desk, put his head down on his arms and wept; sad bitter tears for the grief he felt; a loss that would never be undone. He cried out once again...Jesus...but this time it was a prayer...perhaps angry and bitter, but a prayer nonetheless.

"Help me! It hurts so fucking bad...I can't do this anymore...I can't." As he stirred, looking for the box of tissues on his desk, his hand brushed across a package; a present, actually. He took a deep breath and wiped his tears with his sleeve, giving up on his search for the Kleenex. He sat up, picked up the present, which was roughly wrapped in shiny gold paper. The bow was roughly tied as well....Margo always was much better at that. He wiped away more tears and looked at his watch. 12:46...it was Christmas. He took a deep breath and got out of the chair.

"I gotta have help on this...this is too fucking hard, but it's all I can do...I want to do this...I need to do this, but I need your help, he said. He didn't look upward, but that's where his thoughts were. The faith of his childhood was beginning to return, and in a somewhat different manner than he had ever known. He was changed, and still changing inside, but it was still too painful...so much had gone from his life.


He walked down the hall and took another deep breath. He looked inside the bedroom at the sleeping figure. The girl on the bed stirred, hearing his knock.

"Hi...Daddy....Merry Christmas." She sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She was about seventeen, pretty and sweet.

"I'm sorry you had to work late...I know this is a difficult time for us...for you." She looked at him, trying to determine what mood he was in. They had words that morning. It was a painfully difficult time for both of them. She spent most of the day wrapping presents and thinking about the loss her father felt. Tears came to her eyes, fearful of what he might say.

"I wanted to give this to you early...I know we'll be getting up later and opening presents, but I think this is something we both need." He tried not to cry, and had some success with only a few tears rolling down his cheeks. He handed the present to her and used his hand to gesture as if to say, go ahead, open it.

She pulled the ribbon off carefully, as if it was a treasure to be kept close, and did the same, peeling the tape off so as not to rip the nice paper.

"OH, Daddy...this is..." She couldn't finish as she burst into tears. She rose up and tried to hug Carmine. He awkwardly accepted her hug, patting her on the back while tears streamed down both of their faces.

"It's not much, but I think it's...oh, hell...I don't know what I was thinking."

"Daddy...it's beautiful...it's the best present you ever gave me...." Her voice trailed off as she looked at the present.

The last photo of Carmine and Margo together, taken at a party they attended just before she got sick...somehow Carmine had it altered to display them prominently with some effects to add color and border. And in the frame opposite their photo was a blow-up of her and Margo...Girls's day out, a visit to a studio to have their picture taken; mother and daughter in nice dresses and with their hair done; a sweet picture that she had forgotten about until just then.

She hugged her father once again, kissing him on his cheek. He felt awkward at first, and then realized that his quick, almost cynical prayer had been answered. For perhaps the first time since all the hurt and pain began, Carmine felt the weight of grief lift slowly off his shoulder as he looked at his daughter. He saw her with different eyes, loving eyes, perhaps still confused, still a little skeptical, but loving nonetheless.

"Well...I'm really tired, and we've got a big day tomorrow, so I'm going hit the hay, okay?" Carmine went to stand up, but her hand reached out and pulled him close for another hug and kiss.

He got up, smiled weakly but sincerely and walked toward the bedroom door.

She looked down at the pictures once again and said.

"Thanks, Daddy...Merry Christmas...I love you!"

He stood in the doorway and smiled once again, this time with strength and perhaps a little hope, saying.

"I love you too...Merry Christmas...Toni."


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