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Gifts Unknowingly Given

I didn’t know what cool was until my stepsister Elise came into my life.

Christmas of my eighth grade, I weighed eighty pounds. I know this because my new school required a photo id, and the plastic-encased id included my weight. My new father had moved us to a new city, and I’d fallen into a group of friends, but I don’t remember ever starting a conversation with a one of them. I was quiet, smart, invisible.

My new step-sister—whom I did not know other than as an exotic, popular girl older than me—mailed us Christmas gifts. Her gifts were hidden, along with the presents from Santa, in the closet of my mother’s bedroom. One quiet afternoon, I dug into the closet. It was the only time I’d ever sneaked into the gifts, and the only one I opened was the present from Elise.

She’d sent me rock-and-roll forty-fives, two of them. I was entranced. Turning the records over in my hands, careful not to smudge the vinyl, I read the names. Popular tunes, I’d heard them on the radio. Music. As if she thought I were cool enough to want such records. As if she thought I had something to play them on. She had more faith in me than I did in myself, I thought crouched in the closet.

I re-wrapped the records. And opened them again on Christmas morning.

I thought of this recently as I shopped for a Christmas gift for Elise’s daughter. What, I wondered, could I get her that she’d open and think, hunh, look at that? Something just a bit older than she expected, that was my only choice, since I have no idea what is cool. Never have, never will.

These days, when I see Elise, she says to me, “It’s so you, to do it your own way.”

Would I have ever arrived at such a place except she thought I was already there?

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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