Oh boy, its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas . . . our chamber chorale began the rehearsals for the holiday concert today and it just gets me in the mood of the season. I love the holidays - it usually means the first snowfall, home made cookies, lit fireplaces . . . there's just something there that for one brief moment every year, people forget the hate and prejudice that are shadows for the other 355 days. Instead of an actual column that rants and raves about my life, I wrote a short story that I would like to share with you. Think of it as my holiday gift to you, to brighten your spirits, and give you hope.
"Rose!" her mother called up to her, "Rose, can you hear me?
"Sure Ma, what do you want?"
Rose lowered her stereo blasting the show tunes from the musical Rent, "Seasons of Love," played in the background. She was doing what her mother called annual fall cleaning. Rose liked to think of it more as an acceptable form of child labor, but who was she to argue with her all-powerful mother.
"Rose, your aunts and uncles will be here soon, are you almost done cleaning your room? You been up there for four hours."
The scent of turkey lingered in the house - dinner would be ready soon - family members would be arriving for the feast that Mrs. Nelson had prepared for - more than three days of cooking. But most importantly, Rose would be sharing her coveted room, her safe space that was truly her own, with her aunts and one cousin. She moved her bunk bed to the other side of the room, and in doing so exposed the last uncleanly area of her palace.
"Just one more pile to go through, and then I'll be down," Rose shouted down to her mother.
Her mother's footsteps trailed off lightly- with a little bounce to them, content to see her daughter at work and at work on something fruitful. The house had to be spotless, almost unlivable, when the family arrived; though it was often left haphazardly after two days of hosting 8 people.
Rose had learned the first time the family came that all her things should be tucked neatly away so as not to be disturbed or gone through by the unruly beasts -- her aunts' and uncles' children. She found it best to keep a garbage bag beside her and throw away what was frivolous and unnecessary as she stacked the rest in her colored Rubbermaid boxes.
Old school papers, magazine articles, and torn photos were tossed. The nice photos were saved to be put in her scrapbooks, her poetry placed in folders, and her journal entries tucked away so no one would find them. Finally she came to what she had been dreading -- love notes from the past year. Ones that she had tossed under her bed so as not to see, but then again, those that she couldn't bear to part with.
No these were not the notes of some boy who tried to get her attention in Math class, or the jock who left his number in her sports locker, but these were the love notes from her first love.
She had gotten over the breakup quite well considering it was so unexpected. Rose felt ready to face her past. She remembered the good memories and not the bad ones of the last few days, when all she and Lucy had done was argue and fight. She pulled the shoebox out and one by one began to go through them.
"SMILE big!," read one, and another was simply, "Love and hugs to the one I love best." "Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, or at least if it does it makes the heart much sadder in the process." Then there were also the words of "love's forever, babe," and "we'll always be there for each other," which unfortunately were only childhood fantasies. But on the bottom of the pile was one of the red heart shaped doilies, with a white heart glued on to one side, and on the other side a message that Rose had not remembered seeing. It read,
I love you. I loved you from the moment I first saw you. I love your smile, your hair, you cheerful face and your good spirits - actually I love everything about you, especially being your friend. *Kisses*
When she finished reading that, she took her shoe box and emptied it into the garbage bag next to her. It was a part of her life that had come and gone, and she was ready to move on. But that last letter puzzled her, it wasn't signed, and it wasn't one of the notes Lucy, her former girlfriend had written her. She reached back into the bag, and took it out and pressed it between the pages of her anthology of Charles Dickens. With that the room was clean and she brought her garbage bag downstairs as she ran to meet her mother.
"All clean! I'm just going to run and put this in the trash can."
"Good, good, Uncle Martin will be here any minute . . . dinner will be ready in an hour."
* * * * * * *
Thanksgiving came and went like that ever-present fall wind blowing those first flakes of snow. They had survived as a family, through all the aunts, uncles and children who visited them. But as December rolled around, Rose felt there was some love in the air, and she hoped that it wasn't just her mind fooling her. On December 12th, her birthday, she opened her locker to find balloons and cards from her friends and was delighted. She was seventeen and that meant that she had an open curfew from her parents; she was ecstatic about the idea and was already busy making plans to go to parties and whatnot over the weekend.
At the end of the day she cleaned out her locker from the balloons, confetti, wrapping paper and ribbons, and in the back found another small red heart. The message was very simple. "Have a happy birthday - you deserve it. I love you." This captured Rose's interest greatly - she wanted to know who was sending her these love notes. She was afraid to ask anyone - she wasn't looking to cause trouble, and decided that if the time was right and things were meant to be that they would happen. She stopped worrying about it and went on her way to her car all the while, singing "The Christmas Song."
Over the next two weeks of school she found a red heart in her locker every day. It welcomed her. It comforted her. She knew that somewhere someone really cared about her, and that she wasn't alone. On the 23rd, the last day of school, she was most anxious to read what the red heart said, but she was disappointed to open her locker and find only textbooks and gym clothes.
The half day of school ended and she told her friend Becky, that she'd meet her and Alli in town for lunch - she forgot that she promised her mother she'd stop home to pick up a package from the UPS driver. When she got home, she found the door unlocked and went in cautiously. There, inside the door was a red heart and when she looked past it another red heart - actually she realized, there were a trail of hearts leading to . . .
She walked up the stairs to her room and there she found in front of her door a rose. She picked it up and walked in - only to find she wasn't alone. There was Allison, her best friend behind a dozen roses. Rose didn't know what to say - she was overwhelmed with joy. And with the sweetest voice, Alli spoke to her, "Rose, what do I get a lady for Christmas? Especially a true Rose. Oh and by the way, I wondered um ... if you would like to go out with me?"
"Of course," said Rose, with tears in her eyes. "I loved you forever but because we were such good friends I never knew how to tell you."
"I know," said Alli. "It took me a long time to figure out how to say I love you and mean more than friends. But there is just one condition: Let's be friends and then girlfriends, but friends first and friends forever. I mean that, I really do."
"Okay, said Rose."
And as they walked outside her house to go to lunch, it began to snow. Hand in hand they walked, each completely happy. Only to start a new shoebox of love letters.