I used to be a very outspoken person. I used to be the first person in a room to say what was on everyone's mind but no one actually had the audacity to say because it was too mean or insulting. If people were talking too loudly in class while everyone else was trying to work, with an overdose on the sarcasm and without the slightest hesitation, I'd say "Please, for the love of God, shut up! Thanks." If a lovestruck couple was standing in the hall making out, my first words would be "Nobody wants to see that...get a room."
Yup, I was a bitch all right. But I was okay with that. Most of the time, I was just playing around anyway, I wasn't completely serious, so why should it matter whether I was mean or nice? I threw words around like poker chips. I never really realized how much I was hurting everyone around me until last year. It was the first day of December to be exact.
Back then, my best friend's name was Nickie. It didn't even make sense that we were best friends because we were such opposites. She was so bubbly and lighthearted - naïve most of the time - while I was a cynic who always saw the glass as half-empty. Anyway, I always made fun of her for being a dork, because she was one, and she never seemed to take it seriously: She would always laugh in response. We got along great...or so I thought.
When December first came, it started out as a normal school day. At 10:27 the bell rang and I strolled up to the lunch table where Nickie and Kristin were waiting. Kristin, another one of my good friends, looked really upset and her eyes were red from crying. I took a seat and immediately asked began questioning the situation.
"Hey! What happened Kristin?"
"Todd is such a jerk! One day he's telling me how great I am, the next he's telling me I'm too boring and he doesn't want to date me anymore."
"I told her she shouldn't believe everything guys say," Nickie put in.
"Ha! This coming from the girl who dates Mr. Mountain Man and drools over his every word," I responded in my usual caustic yet casual tone, referring to Nickie's boyfriend who had a ton of facial hair.
Nickie took a deep breath, took her hand off Kristin's shoulder, and stared at me. She had this look in her eye I'd never seen before. "You know what Lauren? I am sick and tired of this."
"Tired of what?" I asked, honestly without a clue as to what she meant.
"Of you treating me like crap every single day! You act like I'm an idiot and everything I do is wrong. You even insult my boyfriend! And you know what else?"
I was pretty sure I didn't want to know what else, so I decided to be silent.
"I'm tired of being called a dork. It's not funny anymore." By now she had raised her voice and people were beginning to look in our direction. "I thought we were friends Lauren! But I can't be friends with someone who has a heart as cold as Scrooge."
"I'm sorry...?" I made a pitiful attempt to defend myself.
The floodgates suddenly let loose. "Sorry isn't going to cut it this time! God, Lauren when will you understand? When will you get it? Everyone here at school is tired of your crap - it's not just me. Look around you! No one likes the way you treat them." Then her voice took on a quieter tone, as if she were trying to restrain the storm inside of her. "I know this sounds harsh-" her voice almost sounded sympathetic "-because it is...but it's the truth and I thought you needed to hear it."
Nickie sprung up from the table, dragging Kristin along by the arm, and left the cafeteria. There went my now-former best friend. There went whatever dignity I had. I didn't cry - at least not right then - but I was crying inside. I was crushed. Nickie had always been the nicest girl I knew, always being considerate of other people's feelings. But that day was different. It was like she had been transformed into a different person.
I sat there for a moment, still digesting the shock. Slowly I got up too, left the cafeteria and went to my next class. I sat there and thought. I thought about anything and everything. When class began, I could feel everyone's eyes piercing my back; I could feel them judging me. I honestly felt like I didn't want to live anymore. I finally saw how much I had been hurting people. I saw my ugly spirit for what it truly was. And that hurt me. It hurt so much that words can't even describe my pain.
That afternoon when I got home from school, at the time when I ordinarily would have eaten a snack, I didn't. I had no appetite. Instead I took a nap and didn't wake up until dinnertime. I wasn't hungry then either. I told my parents I'd had a big snack earlier, and they believed me. I tried to put on a happy face, to be my usual self. It must have worked because my family didn't act any different at all. Either my façade had worked, or they were just too afraid to say anything to me.
That night, for the first time in my life, I did something truly stupid. I took a small knife from the kitchen drawer, and I slit my wrists. I knew it was stupid, but I did it anyway. I guess I thought causing myself physical pain would be better than facing my emotional pain. Day after day, I took the knife and repeated the process, washing it clean in the kitchen sink. Day after day, I washed away my tears alongside the blood. All I was doing was making myself miserable.
Luckily, it was winter, so I could cover up the scars on my wrists. But unfortunately, it was the Christmas season - the time when everyone but me seemed to be a little bit happier. My friend Joe, basically the only friend I had left, knew I was feeling depressed and decided I needed to be filled with holiday cheer so he decided to take me to a party. I begged not to go, but he wouldn't take no for an answer.
Friday night he came and picked me up. The party was only two neighborhoods away so it didn't take long to get there. Luckily the party was at one of Joe's friends' houses - a friend who didn't go to my high school. When we rang the doorbell, a blonde girl came and answered it and immediately hugged Joe.
"Joe, I'm so glad you came. Merry Christmas!" She said it with a smile, flashing her perfectly straight white teeth. This girl obviously must have worn braces at some point in her life.
I stood there quietly waiting to be introduced. "Oh," Joe said, gesturing towards me, "this is my friend Lauren. Lauren, this is Bree."
"So nice to meet you!" she responded happily.
"Same here," I replied flatly.
Immediately Bree took our coats and hung them on the rack in the foyer. She then led us back to her family room like we were on a tour, taking us to the room where loud Christmas music was blasting in everyone's ears. Some people were standing around talking and drinking soda while others were in the kitchen snacking and still others - all guys - sat in comfortable-looking chairs watching a football game. If I had been my old self, this would have appealed to me...I would have been having fun.
Bree led Joe and me around the room, introducing us to people left and right. When she got to the third person, I suddenly got really interested.
"This is Christian. He's a senior and he's on the football team. Christian, this is my friend Joe," she leaned on Joe's shoulder as she said it, "and this is his friend Lauren."
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," I replied.
"I don't think I've ever seen you around school. Do you go to North?" He was referring to the biggest high school in the city, consequently the biggest rival of my school.
"Oh no, I go to Hopewell."
When she saw that we were talking, Bree led Joe away again, leaving me to talk with Christian. "Oh. You mean Hopeless," he said laughing.
"Yup. That's the one." I smiled, agreeing with something that normally I would have argued about for at least an hour. For some reason, I didn't feel the need to argue as I looked at Christian and his deep blue eyes. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had found someone I could trust, someone I felt safe with.
"You want to go sit on the sofa?" I asked. "It looks pretty comfortable over there."
"Sure, why not?"
When we sat down, I felt like I never wanted to get up. Bree's couch was so soft.
"So..." Christian was making an effort to begin some conversation. "Aren't you glad it's almost Christmastime? Less than a week of school left."
"No, not really," I answered. "Well, I'm glad school's almost out, but Christmas.. I don't know ...I'm just not that excited this year."
"Why not?" He leaned back on the sofa, taking a sip of his Coke.
"Well," I debated whether or not I should let him know what had been going on lately; within a few seconds I decided I could trust him. "Things haven't been going so great for me lately."
He leaned forward, looking honestly interested in what I had to say. "I thought you looked a little down. What's been going on?"
"I just...I-I haven't been myself for a while." I started toying with my hair, something I usually did when I was nervous. It wasn't so much that I was nervous being around Christian, it was just I was nervous about getting my feelings out into the open. "I lost a good friend the other day and I feel like I've lost everyone else too. I think my entire school hates me." I gazed towards the coffee table.
"It happens to everybody. Sometimes people just grow apart. But I'm sure no one hates you."
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure if I were you."
"Come on, I bet everyone loves you. Don't put yourself down like that."
A sensitive, thoughtful guy - finally I had found what I'd always been looking for. "Thanks," I smiled back into his gorgeous eyes. "You have no idea what that means to me."
After that point, I really didn't tell Christian anything else about myself. He got my number though and he called me the next day. And the next day too, and the day after that. He really cared. He really wanted to help me.
The first day he called me right after school, at 2:45. We didn't talk about a whole lot. We just got to know each other a little better. I found out that he loves to go running. He discovered that I like to paint.
The next day, things got a little deeper. I opened up a little more. I told him everything Nickie had said to me. I told him that this wasn't just something that was going to go away in a few days - I honestly felt depressed and couldn't seem to help it.
"Lauren, you've got no reason to be depressed. I know what Nickie said cut pretty deep, but you can't just be who other people say you are. You have to be who you really want to be."
"I feel like I was fine before, I was confident, I was happy with myself...and then it was just like...like everything crumbled. All I want is to be happy again. But I can't make myself do it, because every time I try, I think of what a horrible person I've been. I just, I can't be happy." Just then, I felt a single tear roll down my cheek. I was telling this guy more than I'd ever told anyone...and I'd only known him for two days!
"Yes, you can. You can." Christian kept saying that same thing over and over, trying to drill into my head that I had the power to change myself. At the time, I just couldn't believe it. I was too stuck in my misery; it was like mud clinging to me everywhere.
The third day he called me, he tried again to give me hope, and again I had trouble believing it.
The fourth day, I decided to tell him everything...even how I cut myself.
"Christian, I have something to tell you."
"Kay, I'm listening."
"Ever since the day Nickie told me the truth about myself, I've been doing something stupid." I paused and took a breath. "I've been cutting my wrists."
There was silence on the other line for a mere five seconds, but it felt more like five hours to me.
"Lauren. I, I-I'm not sure what to say. I would ask you why, but I don't think I really want to hear the answer." Then he was silent again; this was the first time I'd heard him at a loss for words.
"Christian, I just don't know how to live anymore." I laid my head in my hands and closed my eyes.
At that point, I think Christian saw me in a different light. I think it was then that he realized that I needed help now. There was no time to waste. The next day, he called me with a new tactic.
"Lauren, do you remember when you were a little girl and it was Christmastime? Did you believe in Santa Clause?"
"Of course, don't all kids?"
"Sure they do. Well weren't you excited when Christmas came?"
"Yeah," memories started trickling into my head now. "I really got into it...the whole milk and cookies thing. I always believed he'd get me what I wanted, and he always did...or at least my parents did."
"See. You're telling me that when you were little, you had hope. Christmas gave you hope." He sighed. "All you need to do is have faith. Not in Santa Clause, but in yourself. Have faith that you're strong, that you can overcome all obstacles. Here, say this: ‘I am strong.'"
Slowly, but surely, and with a breath between each one, I repeated the words. "I am strong."
"Now just say those words every day. Believe that this whole thing with Nickie can make you into a better person. Okay, so what if she was right and you were a horrible person? That was yesterday. This is today."
He was right. I was finally starting to feel confident again. "You're right."
"See, I can tell it's starting to happen. You're starting to believe in yourself again!" I could hear his voice fill with joy. "Now is the perfect time for you to change. It's Christmas. Christmas is the time when everyone is a little nicer, when everybody's heart gets a little bigger. Christmas is the time for forgiveness."
God knows forgiveness is definitely what I needed. "Mm-hmm," I replied in a shaky voice, tears now falling down my face in full force.
"Lauren, I want you to have the happiest Christmas of your life. Live every second of the season as if it were your only chance. Don't let people define you. Define yourself. Define your Christmas."
Even though we'd been talking for days, I still could barely believe that there was a guy out there who was this kind and genuinely cared for me. Just the fact that Christian - a football player, probably a popular jock at his high school - was talking to me, much less giving me words of comfort, it warmed my soul a little.
The following day when he called, the first thing he did was ask how I was doing.
"So how's it goin' Lauren. Did we make some improvements?"
This time, instead of burying my head in my hands, I couldn't stop smiling. "God, I can't thank you enough Christian! I feel so light and happy right now. I went to my last day of school without feeling dread and without expecting to see people who hate me. Instead I went with an open mind, waiting for someone to reach out and forgive me. I even took candy canes to give to everyone in all my classes!"
"That's awesome! I'm so happy for you!" I could hear a big grin in his voice.
"It was amazing. You should have been there to see the looks on peoples' faces when I gave them all a candy cane. They were shocked! The old Lauren never would have cared enough to do that; the old Lauren was like a Scrooge. Now I know no one hates me. Dislike a little maybe, but I think they're getting used to the better me."
It seemed almost too surreal to be true. Literally, I had changed overnight. Something about Christian's words had just gotten to me, made me realize how stupid I was! I'd been spending all of December thinking about me and only me! I was so unhappy, I was so depressed. That night as I dreamed, I finally realized that I did have the power to change. I truly had the power to make Christmas the best time of year. So I gave, even though candy canes were little...I gave! I stopped wallowing, I stopped cutting, I started eating normally again, and I just embraced Christmas.
Christian called me for a total of two weeks. When he called me the last day, it was Christmas Eve. He told me he was leaving town to go visit some relatives and that he wouldn't be back for another two weeks. I expected that when he came back, he'd just start calling me again. But he didn't.
For a long time after Christmas, I couldn't stop wondering what happened. Why had Christian suddenly deserted me? Did he feel that he had helped me enough and that he was done with me? Sometimes I even questioned whether he wasn't just a figment of my imagination. I thought maybe I created him in my mind.
But regardless of why he stopped calling me, Christian really did change me. He gave me the best Christmas gift I could ever have asked for. He gave me joy. He taught me how to make the best of any circumstance. Because of him I became a better person. People started talking to me again in school, and I made an effort to talk to them. I guess my outspokenness came back, but this time it was completely positive.
So tonight, a year later, it's Christmas Eve again. When I opened the fridge earlier, I realized we were out of eggnog. Since I have my drivers' license, I volunteered myself to go get more at the grocery store.
I told my parents I'd be back in a few minutes and hopped in the car. As I drove, I started to wonder about Christian again. I wondered where he was, what he was doing tonight.
I pulled into the parking lot, took off my seatbelt, grabbed my purse and got out of the car. I quickly walked through the automatic doors and headed straight for the refrigerated section. I scanned the rows and picked out the cheapest carton of eggnog. Just as I was turning around to go check out, I heard a voice behind me.
It sounded surprisingly familiar. I slowly turned around to look; then I saw him. I saw those deep blue, piercing, gorgeous eyes. "Hey," I responded.
"I don't think I've ever seen you around school," he said. We walked closer to each other.
"You wouldn't have. I go to Hopewell."
"Oh, you mean Hopeless." Christian laughed, the same carefree laughter I had heard that very first night I met him.
"Hey, hey, hey, don't you go insulting my school!" I shot right back, this time prepared to have an argument. But then he raised his eyebrows, giving me a questioning look I couldn't resist. "Okay," I sighed. "Maybe it is Hopeless. But thank the Lord, I'm not hopeless...anymore."
By now we were just inches away from each other. "Yes, thank the Lord," were his last words before we kissed. It was a long kiss, long and amazing - the best kiss I've ever experienced in my life. After we kissed, he put his arm around me, and we walked to the register together. I didn't ask any questions; I didn't need any answers right then. All I needed was his presence.
Now, I'm back home with my parents and my little sister Elsie. My parents have just met Christian and we're all sitting by the fire watching It's a Wonderful Life, the movie we watch every year on Christmas Eve. I snuggle up close to him, feeling his warm body against mine. I take my eyes away from the TV and again look into his.
Last Christmas, as I opened my gifts with joy - the joy Christian had given me - I had proof that miracles really can happen. Right here, right now, I have proof that miracles don't just happen once. They happen every year when Christmas rolls around.