MEMPHIS — In a story that is almost too sad to publish, a shopping mall Santa Claus from Tennessee was able to hold a teenage girl on his lap for a few minutes before she died of shame.
Christie Dirk, 13, was shopping at Oak Crest Mall with her parents and two younger brothers on Friday afternoon when her father, Derek, noticed that there was no line to visit Santa Claus. He ordered Christie and 7-year-old twins Christopher and Nate to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo — a family tradition.
What followed is truly heartbreaking.
Christie’s mother Julie later reported that her daughter’s face lost all color and that she nearly fainted.
“She kept repeating that she was too old, too old, too old to sit on Santa’s lap,” Julie said. “She looked at me with those big brown eyes and said, Mom, what if someone sees me? I’ll totally die.”
“And I didn’t listen to her,” Julie said. “I said, get your butt over there before your father gets angry.”
After the twins told Santa what they wanted for Christmas and it was Christie’s turn, that’s when she first exhibited signs of acute turpitudinem, a condition that while simply uncomfortable for most people, can be fatal for teenagers. The 13-year-old started trembling and her pupils became dilated.
As she was sitting on Santa’s lap with a blank expression on her face, two classmates from Maxwell Dunkirk Middle School walked nearby. According to several witnesses, the two snickering boys said, “Hey Christie, is that your new boyfriend?”
Erwin Ross, 62, who dresses up as the mall’s Santa every year, say that’s when Christie looked up at him with a mix of horror and contempt.
“She whispered something about being embarrassed and then she died, right there in my arms,” Ross says. “I didn’t even have time to give her a candy cane.”
Maxwell Dunkirk Middle School principal Lorenzo Hunter says that Christie was a promising young student who excelled at math and science, and who loved playing lacrosse. In her honor, the school is naming Dec. 19 as Christie Dirk Day. Every year on that date, every student will be required to wear a shirt with the last photo of Christie on it, the one her father took moments before she died.
“We need to make a serious effort to teach young people that it’s okay to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what you want for Christmas,” Hunter said. “Christie might have died of shame, but she did it for a good cause.”