December 19, 1991
So far in the game of Secret Santa, Charlie has received a tie, a white shirt, shoes, an old belt, and slacks. He supposes that he'll receive a suit coat at the party, but he wants to know why he has received such a strange gift. Charlie is entirely preoccupied with the Christmas fun he is having with his friends, and he acknowledges that a lot of other things are going on, like semester-end finals, but that these developments "just don't seem as interesting as these other things that have to do with holidays" (154).
December 21, 1991
Charlie is blown away by the wonderful experiences he had at the final Secret Santa giveaway. He meets Sam and Patrick's parents for the first time, and he very much enjoys spending time with his friends and drinking brandy. Along with his final gift for Patrick, Charlie includes a poem that Michael gave him. Everyone asks Charlie to read the poem aloud, and the room becomes a "very sad quiet." Still, Charlie is happy that he can look out at the people around him and appreciate that they know and understand him. Patrick steps away from the party and returns with Pringles and a suit coat, Charlie's final gift. When asked why he gave Charlie a suit, Patrick responds that "all great writers used to wear suits all the time." (159). For the rest of the night, the entire group swaps presents with one another, and Charlie distributes special presents to everyone even though only Sam and Patrick bought him presents.
Charlie gives Sam a copy of the record Something, a gift that Aunt Helen gave him when he was younger. Charlie had decided that the music was so beautiful that he would only give it to someone who was beautiful in all ways. Thus, he gives it to Sam. Sam hugs him close and tells him that she loves him. Charlie knows that she means this mainly in terms of friendship, but he doesn't care. Sam then unveils her gift to Charlie, which is an old typewriter. On the paper, she types, "Write about me sometime," and Charlie types back, "I will" (165). Sam looks at Charlie and asks him if he has ever kissed a girl. When he responds that he hasn't, she tells him that her first kiss was from one of her father's friends - which is the first time that Charlie realizes that Sam has been sexually abused. Sam asks Charlie to forget everything for a moment because she wants to make sure that the first person who kisses him loves him, and they kiss. As Charlie writes, "It was the kind of kiss that I could never tell my friends about out loud. It was the kind of kiss that made me know that I was never so happy in my whole life" (167). Charlie ends the letter with the text of the poem he read aloud at the party.
December 23, 1991
At this point in the holiday season, Sam and Patrick have left for their family vacation at the Grand Canyon. Charlie is thinking about Christmas and his birthday (which are very close together in time) simply because he wants them to be over: psychologically, he is going towards a bad place. He first went to this place after Aunt Helen's death, and it became so bad that his mom had to take him to a psychiatrist. This development resulted in Charlie being held back a grade. Charlie doesn't want to continue writing about these memories because they bring up bad feelings.
December 25, 1991
It is Christmas, and Charlie has spent the day with his family; they have just finished watching It's a Wonderful Life. Charlie's bad feelings have recently gotten worse because he can't stop thinking about his Aunt Helen. He went shopping with his mom and sister, but he didn't know what to buy his dad for Christmas. Fortunately, he found a videocassette of the last episode of M*A*S*H and decided to buy it: his dad really enjoyed this gift. On the car ride to visit family, a fight ensues between his brother and sister, who fight about his brother's girlfriend and his sister's ex-boyfriend. Everything comes to a halt when his brother says, "You see...Kelly believes in women's rights so much that she would never let a guy hit her. I guess I can't say that about you"(199). Charlie's father breaks up the fight and Charlie drives the remainder of the way.
Charlie recounts the story of his paternal grandmother's experiences in an abusive relationship, and tells how the perpetrator was beat up by his grandmother's family and friends. Charlie's dad was never forgiven for leaving his family during those troubling times; as a result, Charlie's father has tried to compensate by giving small packages of money each time he visits.
December 26, 1991
Charlie is overwhelmed by feelings for Aunt Helen. He and his mother visit her grave, and he tells the story of her life and death. Molested as a child, Aunt Helen frequently fell into abusive relationships. She began living with Charlie's mother and father as a way to heal, both physically and mentally. She left the house on the evening of Charlie's birthday to buy him another present - she was the only person, other than his mother and father, who bought him two presents for Christmas and his birthday - and later on a policeman arrived at Charlie's house and told his family that there had been an accident. His Aunt Helen had died while driving, and Charlie has always felt that he was to blame. He writes, "Despite everything my mom and doctor and dad have said to me about blame, I can't stop thinking what I know. And I know that my aunt Helen would still be alive today if she just bought me one present like everybody else. She would be alive if I were born on a day that didn't snow. I would do anything to make this go away. I miss her terribly. I have to stop writing now because I am too sad" (220).
December 30, 1991
By now, Charlie has read The Catcher in the Rye three times. He has also passed his driver's test, and the first place he drives to visit is Aunt Helen's grave at the cemetery. He tells her about the developments in his life and about how much he enjoys spending time with his new friends. As he speaks to her, he begins to cry - not the panicky type of crying that he often displays, but a real, deep crying. At that moment, he promises to only cry about important things because crying about anything else would be disrespectful towards her. Charlie says that his thoughts are getting bad again, and he worries that he might have to start seeing a doctor again if such negative thoughts don't stop.
Charlie's hidden darkness emerges as the primary focus in this set of letters. Throughout the events related in these letters, beginning when Charlie reads the poem aloud at the Secret Santa party, Charlie is clearly battling something intense and severe. It is mysterious, though, because Charlie is not quite able to articulate what he is feeling or why he is feeling it. It is not for a lack of a control over his language; it is simply because he cannot conceptualize the thoughts he is having.
The darkness loses some of its mysteriousness when Charlie finally reveals how Aunt Helen died and explains the blame he feels for her death. He focuses on her past and describes the effects that her past has had on her - the tendency to be with abusive men, her dependency on drugs and alcohol, and her inability to hold a steady job. All of the reflecting and attempts at understanding that Charlie has directed at total strangers in high school now take more concrete form as he tries to understand Aunt Helen. As he details the difficulties that Aunt Helen experienced, it feels as though he is preparing an excuse for her behavior - yet the behavior that he is trying to excuse is not yet apparent.
What becomes slightly more apparent is Charlie's own background, specifically that he received psychiatric treatment as a young boy after Aunt Helen died. The guilt that he felt over her death has continued to paralyze him in his current relationships. Because of this loss, he has taken on a role in which he sits back and watches more than he participates. These letters leave the reader craving more information about Charlie. With every question he answers, more questions arise.
The sadness that Charlie feels during the Christmas season because of his Aunt's death creates an interesting juxtaposition with his feelings during the Secret Santa game. He is able to feel happiness when he is surrounded by his friends, but his wellbeing crumbles as soon as he is away from them. It is clear from these scenes just how much support Charlie gains from his friends - they are the foundation of his mental well-being. When Sam and Patrick leave for a family vacation at the Grand Canyon, darkness seeps into Charlie's life, and it is very difficult for him to fight his most troubling emotions.