The Best Gift

24 09 2008

11 June, 1994

My Dear Sara

When I was turning 12, my father, a very tall, handsome kindly man came to my school to take me out to lunch to celebrate my upcoming birthday. While we were tearing down the street in a taxi, he pulled out this beautiful purple velvet box and handed it to me. “Happy 12, honey,” he said. The pearls you hold in your were in that box – now I want you to have them.

Somehow these pearls remind me of you – simple, sweet at the core, more complex as time goes by. Layers and layers of light and magic near the surface. Complicated and always changing. Even if you never wear them – please keep them always. They hold memories and love and time and beauty – each one – just like you, don’t you see?

Happy birthday. Affectionately, K.

Boulder, Colorado


I held the pearls in my hands, not sure whether to cry or smile. We had met Karen three years earlier. We shared a small rose garden between our houses. She was tall and beautiful, a former runway model of Italian and Hopi Indian descent. She had lived in New York. Survived breast cancer. Lost a son to leukemia. Lost everything else in a bitter divorce.

She had moved to Boulder to put her life back together. Karen and my mom became close friends. My parents were on the brink of divorce and had lost a child. Somehow, Karen made everything beautiful. She found junk and made it into art. She painted and took photography. She wore Ralph Lauren from the 1970s and red lipstick and boots. She cooked and told stories and made everyday a celebration.

She also fell apart here and there. After weeks of light, her apartment would be dark. She would sleep and drink and run out of money. We would buy bags of groceries and leave them on her porch.

When we moved from the house with the picket fence and the rose garden to the mountains, Karen moved with us. She was my nanny, but she was more: she was like an angel.

For the next three years, my parents were blinded by grief and anger. They were too busy to see that I was in pain too. I listened to my mom complain about my father, all the while desperately longing for his approval. Nothing I did could turn their gaze.

Yet in Karen’s eyes.

In her eyes, I was beautiful.

Several weeks after my 12th birthday, my parents asked Karen to move out of our house. They discovered that she had withdrawn $400 from their bank account without asking permission. It was on June 10, 1994.

At the time, I did not understand why Karen had to leave. My parents were angry that she had betrayed their trust. Karen left without a fight, unwilling to tell my parents the truth. They did not see that she had, in fact, given me a gift.



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