Shh, I’m going to let you in on a secret. I just placed an order for Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It’s for Adriana, a gifted, fledgling writer at age 11. Yes, I am fully aware that the reading level may be a little behind her, but let me explain.
A year ago, I was composing a Christmas tale. I stayed stapled to my laptop for hours, smoothing the story’s rough edges. For the most part, my MacBook was my bubble.
The piece, which I titled “Catcher in the Rye,” was about Adriana.
I failed to finish shaping it into something I dared show to my cynical editor, but I never pushed the “delete” key. As I watched Adriana grow in height and spirit this year, the message grew clearer with each passing day.
Another Christmas approaches. I’m trying to resurrect my composition. Pecked away, I sense Adriana stealthing up behind me, looking over my shoulder. Though she hasn’t read this one, I feel her critique flow into my ear as it often does in other assignments.
“Ah, man, no wonder he’s a writer!” she flatters her big brother’s effort to an otherwise empty room. She begins reading my words aloud:
I see my 9-year-old sister counting her change, trying to add up all her coins.
Not knowing why, I ask, “How much do you need?
“Twenty dollars,” she says.
“Why do you need $20?”
She is reluctant to tell me. I resort to big-brother wile. I persuade her to reveal her secret. “I want to use the money to buy people presents,” she relents.
“People” is code for “la familia,” not just parents and siblings, but everyone. Uncles, cousins, and aunts you name it.
I reach for my wallet to give her $20. She pushes my hand back and tells me she wants to find ways to raise the money herself.
She loves December 25 not only for the joy of seeing an assortment of presents under the tree, but because she takes an active role in giving.
She creates personal presents for all of us. She is running around a month before anyone even thinks about toys or gifts.
I remember when I was 12, my family went to Shakey’s pizza parlor. Mom and Dad fabricated a suspenseful mood. “We have something to tell you guys… We are having another baby.”
My younger brothers and Mom and Dad cheered and hugged.
I dissented silently. “Crap. I don’t want another sibling.”
Eight months later, my Mom brought the new López family addition home in a pink blanket. I asked if I could hold it.
My mother proceeded, gently, to place Adriana in my arms. As I sat there, I thought she was going to cry.
Adriana didn’t. She stared at me with the most innocent eyes you ever saw. All she wanted was to love and be loved. No prejudgment. She let me wrap my arms around her. No tears.
Nine years ago I learned what Holden Caulfield felt when he saw the “F**k You” sign on the bathroom stall. When I wrapped Adriana in my arms, I wanted to shield her from the crassness and violence of this world. I want to be her catcher in the rye.
Of course I can’t.
“All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddamn horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it…”
Adriana’s parents and three older brothers already know Adriana’s life is something extraordinary. But somehow, someday, we will have to let her grab the ring herself.
This year, a decade after she came into my life; I am giving her a book and the greatest of gifts, my love. She is mi muñeca, my giving tree.
Adriana wants me to teach her how to be a reporter. If she only knew what she has already taught me.
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