Inside a covering of Japanese wrapping paper, I found this journal. It is handmade, I believe, containing unlined pages of natural brown paper. It is held together by a green silk ribbon, and there's a pencil you cannot see tucked into that ribbon with a green jewel affixed to its top.
"I love the details," said Jean, when I was looking at her present and absorbing it all.
See, it's not just the journal, although it is that, which makes this gift special. It's that she's known I love to read, and write, since we were thirteen years old.
We met inside our sixth grade English class, where Mrs. Bishop stood in front of us with her sky blue bifocals clamped onto her crabby face, and announced, "Class. The bell has rung." To which no one paid any attention; certainly not Dave Finer who launched himself out of the third storey window one day, to hang by his thumbs until the authorities arrived, let alone two adolescent girls.
Jean remembers the details much more clearly than I. For me they come in fragments as I recall watching The Graduate with her mother while she went out trick-or-treating and came in with candy enough to last until Easter. Or the times that she would be playing Pier Tag at Centennial Beach while I would stay on our blanket to read. But, somehow a friendship was created.
Jean came to see me in Germany when I taught with the Department of Defense Schools. We bought Eur rail passes and carried our backpacks throughout Europe, not hampered by cost or crime or culture. "What is all this fuss about?" we wondered, irritated that whole boulevards were closed in Paris for the Tour de France.
She was the one who wanted to accept the invitation from the red Ferrari in Milan, which screeched to a sudden halt one summer night so that its driver and his friend could ask us to dinner. She was the one who bought the souvenir matchbook containing a photograph of us dining in Venice, taken solely for tourists, but memorable once one returns home.
And then, years passed. My first husband died. Her job at AT&T came to an unexpected close. I was a single mother, she was fighting to make things right in her own life.
But, this Christmas? There was a call from Jean. "Let's meet for coffee," she said, "I have a little something for you." So I drove to her house, for the first time ever, and the instant I walked inside it felt familiar. It felt cozy. It felt like Jean.
There are books everywhere. Even more books than I have, for afraid of clutter I too quickly dispose of those I've read. In her house they are stacked on the floor, on shelves her father put up, and behind antique glass bookcases. They are in every room, only to be equaled by the number of velvet covered armchairs in any available corner. There are saris and lace covering the windows, there are bone china teacups on counters, and birdcages in the living room, and it made me sick of the sterile environment which I have created in my own home lest things become 'crowded'.
So you see this journal represents so much more than a book bound in green silk. It is years of friendship, already written, and days to come as yet unrecorded. It bears the pages of friendship which could not be contained in simply one thin volume, any more than one book could adequately fill a home.