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A Gift of Friendship

After we had awoken and discovered the gingerbread cookies had been eaten; after we had searched our Christmas stockings for small treasures; after we had merrily strewn all the gift wrap about the living room revealing one wonderful surprise after another, I begged my mom for just one more treat: “May I pleeeeease go to Cindy’s house to see what Santa brought her?”
“Today?” Mom replied with a crinkled up nose and a voice which rose with disbelief.  “No, honey, it’s Christmas.  I’m sure she’s busy with her family…exchanging gifts…her relatives are visiting…her mom has a big dinner to prepare…you’ll see Cindy tomorrow, I’m sure.”
All of that was true, but the disappointment sent me sinking to the floor amongst the remnants of wrapping paper.  When you’re 10 years old and you had known your best friend for half of your life; when you had been inseparable since the day you met in Ms. Patosnack’s kindergarten class, when you had grown up together and the line between friend and sister had blurred, all you wanted was see each other on the most special day of the year.
Mom’s voice interrupted my quiet lament.  “Why don’t you give her a phone call instead?”  I sprinted to the phone in my parents’ room—the only place of solitude amidst the happy chaos downstairs. 
“Merry Christmas,” we wished each other across the wires, but it made no sense in our minds that we were so close—just five houses apart—and yet it felt like a million miles this morning.  So together, we crafted an innocent little plan.
I crept downstairs, donned my snow boots, and called out, to no one in particular, that I was going outside to play in the snow.  No one in our bustling house seemed to object as I wrapped myself in a knitted poncho, hiding a tiny box beneath.
The crisp air only added to the thrill of this most anticipated of mornings.  I shuffled to the end of my driveway and looked up the street as I had done countless times before.  Some of my most favorite memories began this very same way—waiting for Cindy to round the corner of her driveway toward my house.  In the spring, she would be skipping rope or cradling her favorite doll.  In the summer, she would be riding her yellow bike with the banana seat.  In the fall, she’d be dressed in her new school clothes; we would meet at Washburn, the crossroad between our houses, and walk the rest of the way to school, together, every morning.  But today, I looked up the street and there was nothing but silence. 
The icy branches watching from above held their breath in anticipation; the glimmering white covering on each lawn anxiously awaited adornment of snow angels, footprints and forts, and smiling snowmen to greet each passer-by.
I gently lifted the flat, square box out from under my cape and wondered if this small gift would ever get a chance to be delivered.  As the minutes passed, I hardly noticed my nose and fingertips colored with cold.  And then, just like always, there she was.  Cindy hurried down the street, her red scarf trailing loosely behind. 
We met in the middle, and after our arms tangled around each other in a mish-mash of winter garments, we excitedly exchanged stories of Christmas wishes fulfilled.  We spoke of magical moments of sleigh bells and a tiny red light in the foggy night sky.  Cindy and I then both glanced back toward our own houses, wondering when we would be missed, and sadly agreed it was time to leave.  That’s when I remembered the little white box.  Her chestnut eyes widened with the surprise as she removed the ribbon.  Laying on a square of white cotton were two delicate silver chains, each dangling with half a heart, separated down the middle; that when pieced together like a puzzle, the engraving revealed the words best friends.
Our fingers trembled a bit as we worked the tiny clasps.  Cindy lifted her hair in the back for me, and I did the same.  In a delicate balance, the necklace hovered precariously above my heart until the chain was secured…a perfect fit.
Walking back home, somehow, I didn’t feel as cold.  We both turned and waved from a distance, wishing for more time together yet grateful for the moment.
The next morning, I scurried to answer the knock at the door, proudly displaying a new sweater I had gotten for Christmas which paled in comparison to the accent of the silver heart charm.  I flung open the door expecting to see Cindy in similar fashion, but instead, she wore a solemn expression, her eyes down, staring at a little box in her hands.  “My mom said I can’t keep it,” she murmured as she slowly handed back the other half of my heart.  I stood silent in that doorway, not wanting to believe this was real; the chain feeling heavy as lead in my hand.
Later, the reason behind this was explained to me matter-of-factly.  Cindy’s mom did not want her chained down to just one best friend.  If other girls saw her wearing that necklace, Cindy might miss out on many potential friendships.  He mom wanted her to be friends with everyone…popular.  And she was.
I was a bit shy in school, and so I don’t think she ever knew how much solace I found in such a friendship, so I held tightly to it.  Every year, no matter how much or little we saw of each other as we grew older, we continued our tradition of calling each other on Christmas morning.  Our houses are now states apart, and we both have children of our own, but we still reminisce about the wonderful memories we shared so long ago.
Everything seemed to come full circle when last Christmas, my daughter, Hanna, excitedly ran up to me at the mall with what she thought was a perfect gift for her best friend, Juliana.  I was suddenly hypnotized by the almost identical heart necklace she dangled in front of me.  I wanted to protect her from the same hurt I had experienced, but her intentions were so pure.  Hanna found a way, all on her own, to express friendship and love, and I could not stand in her way.
On the last day of school before Christmas break, Hanna handed Juliana a small square box wrapped with a ribbon, and to our surprise, Juliana did the same.  Unknowingly, both girls had chosen the same gift for each other!
Seeing my Hanna smile, her heart complete, reassured me I had made the right decision in allowing her to take that risk; allowing her put her heart in someone else’s hands, and one day, I believe, she’ll discover that was one of the best Christmas gifts a mother could have ever given her daughter.

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