The Red Sweater: Part 1

Magic filled the air. Or maybe it was just the smell of hot chocolate and cookies permeating the particles around us. I could see them dancing: those particles. They probably sang to me, but I was distracted by the snow coating the streets, the slushing of my boots as they sped up at the command in my mother’s voice.

We entered a shop, the little one on Main Street, the one that sold all the tiny villages we put up at home. I begged for an ornament.

“Are you going to help put them up this year?” Mom asked.

I shook my head.

“Well then, that’s your answer.”

She tugged me along. This became a feat for her and a game to me as I pretended every house had a family inside. Which of them were like mine? I glanced at my mom. Even then, I knew she was pretty. With her shy but steady confidence and her gentle spirit. So much hope in such a petite lady.

That’s when I knew no one’s family could be like mine. This left me with a bigger question: if no one else’s mom was like mine, and no other family was like mine, who else was out there?

This time, my eyes grazed the store. A young boy, probably my age, tapped a village with his finger, disinterested. If my mom’s grip hadn’t been so firm, I’d have marched over and told him to cut it out—but alas, I was too shy to yell across the store. No parents surrounded him, and I discovered stress at watching the boy interact disrespectfully with the village houses.

An odd feeling hit me: that this moment meant something. It represented something I didn’t yet understand.

“Mom, I have something to say,” I informed her.

She laughed pleasantly, “Don’t you always. What is it, dear?”

For some reason, with her full attention on my eight-year-old self, I didn’t feel comfortable asking.

Did the village represent a miniature version of our world? How big is it? What does it all mean?

Instead, I asked a question I knew she’d downplay—as a worrisome child, my mom took every opportunity to assure me of my own safety. She called it the Knot, the feeling I got in my tummy when I woke up scared. When I couldn’t sleep because I was positive something bad would happen. “Do you think someone is out there, watching us?” Out there tapping on this shop we’re in, like it’s a miniature building? Running their finger along Main Street like it’s a race track?

“No, of course not,” she replied easily, kneeling down to me. Seeing the thoughtfulness in her eyes, I wanted to share more about the overwhelming feeling that’d passed over me, but didn’t know how. She took my lack of response as something else entirely, and continued by saying, “Let’s go to the Anderson’s shop and get some apple cider.”

We held hands as the snow serenaded us.

Like we lived in a snow globe in a magical little town.

At home, Dad started the wood-burning stove in our basement. We huddled around and played cards. Some complex game my dad liked. He only liked it because he always won. I hated it because I never understood what was going on until it ended.

I wouldn’t realize until later that that kind of cluelessness in life wouldn’t go away.

As my mom tucked me in that cozy December night, I snuggled into her warm sweater. The red one she always wore this time of year. Almost every day when she got home from work, she’d throw it on. She knew how much I loved it.

Like a doll putting on a sweater.

Were we all part of some game?

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