Dec 11
Chickengirl's picture

The Yellow Paper Flower

 I touch the yellow paper flower that is wrapped around my door handle with two fingers for good luck, even though I don’t believe in luck. I do that every time I enter or leave my room. This time I think though, because my mom has given me a philosophy lecture over dinner and put me in a thinking mood. I realize that if it hadn't been for the blizzard, this little yellow paper flower wouldn't exist. Usually butterfly effect is used to mean something little, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings leading to something big, like the cure for cancer being invented. This time it’s something big, a huge blizzard that coated the continental United States in a thick layer of snow, leading to something little, a tiny flower made of paper and pipe cleaners. So maybe this is the reverse butterfly effect. To tell the whole story, I need to rewind to one random day, a couple of weeks before the blizzard.

I am standing in the mud room putting on my lime green coat to go skiing. My mom comes in to stand in the hall. “How would you like a revels party for your birthday?” she asks. I don’t answer. Instead, I wait for an explanation. “The Revels party has been postponed to the day of your birthday.” she explains. 

Revels is my out of school chorus. At least that’s how I explain it to most people who ask. In reality, it’s much more than that. Revels is a magical place where I somehow manage to fit in perfectly, and even have friends. I try not to believe in magic, but it’s hard not to when places like Revels exist. Places where weird, shy, autistic people like me can feel like they're the missing piece of the puzzle, instead of a breath mint someone accidentally dropped into the puzzle box. “That’s actually the best birthday I could hope for.” I say truthfully. I know my mom was expecting me to be disappointed. I’m not normally good at telling what people are thinking, but with my mom, it’s different. I could just hear in her voice that she expected that to be bad news. We were planning on going to Canada for my birthday. Ethier Montreal or Quebec, I can never tell the difference. Whatever French Canadian city we were planning on going to was having a winter carnival that weekend, and I had been excited to practice my French, because French is my best subject. That doesn't matter now though. I will get to go to the place where I am the happiest in the world for my birthday, even though that place is an organization and not a place at all. Everything is perfect. Until it wasn't.

Before I can tell the part of the story where best laid plans fall apart and the yellow paper flower get’s one step closer to existence, I have to tell another story. One that happened a day before the blizzard.

I am sitting, or rather kneeling, on my mom’s blue kneeling chair in her office. Her home office, not her work office. My mom, my sister, and I are printing out pictures to glue in our baby books. I’m carefully cutting around a picture of me and my friends Ben and Nori on my 14th birthday. In the picture Nori and I are skating and Ben is sliding around in his boots on the ice. We're all dancing and smiling and it looks like a fun day. Except it wasn't. Ben and Nori just talked to each other about pop culture stuff that I didn't understand. I was left out at my own birthday party of three. I haven't talked to Ben since, except in a few text messages. I don’t want to ditch him, but what’s the point in being friends with someone when you don't understand every second word out of their mouth.  I continue cutting and pasting the pictures, and comment on how we might not have as many pictures of my next birthday party, because my mom (who takes all of the pictures in our family) won’t be there. “Yeh, I hope you realize what a sacrifice I'm making, not getting to be with you on your birthday”. It’s possible she’s kidding, but I don’t think so. I never thought of that before, that my family might want to be with me for my birthday. Maybe I’m a bad person for not thinking about it before, but then again, it is my birthday. And anyway, a birthday is really just a date. In China they don’t even celebrate them. It’s not like I’m some different person for one day that they won’t get to see again till I turn 16. I’ll be able to be with them the next day, and every other weekend day for the rest of my life. I hope so at least. 

But it turns out that they did get to be with me for my birthday. Now I can tell the part of the story where best laid plans fall apart and the paper flower gets one step closer to existence. It happened on the day of the blizzard. The day before I turned 15.

It has been snowing all day. It’s the kind of snow people write Christmas songs about, it doesn't show signs of stopping, and it’s up to your knees out there. The only thing that keeps people from writing a Christmas song about this particular blizzard is that it’s about two months too late for Christmas. I have a snow day, and I have spent the whole day playing in the snow with my little sister May and her best friend Clara. For some reason, I’m not scared of people who are at least four years younger than me. We built igloos in plow piles and drank hot chocolate in the snow, and when we got too cold we came inside and I made sugar on snow, and May and Clara made a silly movie with strange costumes using my phone. Now Clara’s gone home and I’m supposed to do some homework so I don't have to do it on my birthday. Before I start working on a thesis statement for my essay on The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime, I check my email. And I see an email from Revels North. Weird. I open it up and it says 

Hello Revelers,

Well, Mother Nature has once again conspired to thwart our plans to gather tomorrow.  Things are looking more wind chilly than originally forecast, the snow has put a kink in many plans, and we've heard from more than a few of you that tomorrow is not looking good to gather.  Our plan at this juncture is to be in touch about a gathering a bit later in the year, perhaps early spring.  We will get together!  We just are not sure of the exact timing yet.
Thank you all so much for your patience, and I look forward to seeing all of you soon.
Be well, and enjoy this beautiful snow with your families.



Laura is the Revels production manager, and also the most matter of fact person in all of Revels.  Early spring though? That’s forever away, especially in Vermont, where it doesn't really stop snowing until June. And now I don’t have any plans for my birthday. 

When I was little, I hated it when our plans changed, and would even cry about it sometimes. Now that I’m older, I try to make up for that by never complaining about changes of plans. I can't help it now though. I complain. It’s just not fair that my birthday plans were canceled twice, and the thing I’ve been looking forward to for almost a month is postponed indefinitely. I try to be helpful to make up for the complaining by being helpful. I help my mom peel carrots for dinner. As we peel, Mommy suggests this plan. 

“Could you contact any of your favorite Revels friends and ask them to come over for sledding and cupcakes?” she asks. 

“I’ve got Twyla’s phone number and email” I suggest. There were six teens in the last Revels show, and, miraculously, I became friends with all of them. Out of all the Revels teens though, Twyla was probably my best friend. We exchanged emails and phone numbers at the end of the last show, but I’ve been too afraid to text her. I know it’s stupid to be afraid to text your friend, but I am anyway. And besides, she hasn't texted me either.

Mommy likes the idea, so I get my phone and decide to text her. I hate texting. You'd think that since I have trouble with social interactions, I’d like having more time to think about what I’m going to say. Instead, the opposite is true. When I can think before hitting send, my anxiety takes over, and I become nervous, obsessively checking or rewording my message, and asking my mom what I should say. Eventually, after much internal torture, I decide on this:


This is Natalie

Since the revels party tomorrow is canceled and it’s my birthday, do you want to get together tomorrow?

I’m crazy nervous, but after a few minutes’ my phone dings with a response:

I would love to!

I am relieved. I’m still nervous though as we text back and forth about the where and when and what to bring. I try to remember that this is Twyla. The same Twyla who had long conversations with me about things like how we would go about sitting on the side of a wall, the best attributes for animals, why Luna Lovegood is obviously the best Harry Potter character, and who our romantic interests would be if we were fictional vampires.  I’m still nervous though. 

    The most important part of the story happens one day after the blizzard, my first day as a 15 year old, my birthday.

I am sitting in the car driving to voice lessons. And worrying. So far, it’s been an awesome birthday. I got loads of books, including three cookbooks, a comfy sweater, and best of all, a story May wrote for me herself. She’s an amazingly good writer for a nine year old, and knows exactly the kind of story I like.  I’m worried about Twyla coming over though. What if we can’t be friends without the magic of Revels?  What if this birthday is just like the last?

    Voice lessons relax me a bit. My voice teacher Meghan Helm is strange, which I like. We try to play her new disney songs game, but she has lost the rule book, so we sing rainbow connection instead. We work on some songs in Italian, despite the fact that neither of us speaks more than a few words of Italian. For my birthday, she gives me a soap on a rope in the shape of a microphone for singing in the shower. When I get home, I have smoked salmon on baguette for a delicious birthday lunch. After lunch, I facetime Nori. Nori and I are still best friends, despite my last disastrous birthday party. This is mostly thanks to a hot air balloon and a turkey burner, but that’s another story. Nori tells me about the musical that they are starring in at their boarding school, and their boarding school’s field trip to some city or other. I kind of zone out at some point; Nori can talk for a long time. I tell them about my new glasses and that I have given up on making friends in my new high school. They tell me that I shouldn't give up on making new friends and that my new glasses look exactly the same as my old glasses. This is what I love about Nori. They don’t try to be polite, or nice, or to not hurt your feelings, they just say exactly what they think. I need that, because I have trouble figuring out whether someone actually likes me or are just being nice, and I am often tortured by what my mom calls my “being for others” which basically means how other people see me. When Nori says nice things about me, which they do often, I know that they really mean it. I wish I could tell them how much I like them too, but my mouth doesn't usually cooperate. 

    When I say goodbye to Nori, I get really terrified. Twyla could show up literally any minute. And then I see her car drive up the driveway. I rush to put my winter clothes on but it still takes painfully long. Eventually, I make it to the door and Twyla hands me a card and the fateful yellow paper flower. I wave enthusiastically to avoid having to say anything. Then, out of lack of anything else to say, I say “these are really perfect hearts”, referring to the hearts she drew on the inside of the card. “I can’t draw hearts even nearly as good as these” I say. It is true, they look like they were printed on by a machine. So does the happy birthday she wrote in perfect cursive. 

Twyla knows that I mean to say thank you, but my mouth isn't cooperating and responds “I’m glad you like it” For a while we listen to the grown ups' conversation and join in a little bit. Then Twyla decides to put on her snow pants, which she struggles with because, she explains “these aren't my snow pants. I usually wear a stripy snow suit, but I thought, maybe not in public”  I almost giggle. She’s trying to be cool in front of me! The least cool person in the universe! Unless there are really uncool aliens living on other planets. You never know. When she’s managed to struggle into the gray snow pants, we head off to go sledding. As we walk there, I have time to worry. We've hardly exchanged two words since she got there, and those two words were awkward and unnatural. We sled down the hill, and when we get to the top of the hill, we have one of those how did we even get on this topic conversations. I have know idea what we're talking about, but siblings and zoos are both prominently involved. It still feels a little awkward, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. We sled a few more runs and then we try to decide whether to go inside and warm up or keep sledding. Unfortunately, Twyla is just as indecisive as me. 

“Let’s see” she deliberated “what are our options” without waiting for an answer, she continues “we could keep sledding, or we could go inside and warm up, or” her eyes light up “we could get raised by wolves!”. Twyla goes on to create one of her crazy fantasy plans that are so well planned that they almost might work, except for the fact that they are completely impossible. This one involves slipping away into the woods when no one’s looking, catching the Dartmouth Coach to Massacusets (because that's where the wolves live?) and finding a nice wolf pack willing to take in two teenage human stragglers. “Ooh, they could be pink wolves!” she exclaims as we reach the front door of my house. In creating this crazy plan, we’ve accidentally made our decision. Even better, every last speck of awkwardness has melted away. As we head inside, Twyla looks around at our house. I look too. I see my house in a whole different way now that one of my friends is seeing it. I realize that I haven't had another teenager in my house in three whole years! It’s a weird feeling. As we're deciding what to do, May and Clara appear and attack us for being too close to the playroom. I have no idea why. Twyla and I decide to retreat up to my room. We sit on my fluffy rug and talk about quite literally everything. Twyla’s insanely messy room (there's no place to walk), books we’d like to write fanfiction for, Twyla’s lucky and unlucky numbers, people named Sam, Thetford Academy (my current school, and Twyla's prospective high school);  everything. I even tell Twyla about how mean everyone was to me in fifth grade, and about how hard it is to not be able to tell if someone likes you, is just being polite to you, or is making fun of you. She tells me about her anxiety. She has some social anxiety like me, but is also afraid of a lot of other things, the most normal being spiders and needles, and the weirdest being the number six. Twyla is the perfect kind of friend, the kind who you can talk about anything with, be it as silly as plans to get raised by wolves, or as serious as anxiety. Clara comes in periodically and rests her head on my lap while I talk to Twyla. I am perfectly happy. I can’t believe that I was scared of Twyla just a few hours ago. The same Twyla who overthinks everything and says whatever pops into her head. I know in the back of my mind that by tomorrow, I’ll be afraid of her again, but for now I just enjoy the moment.

 After some time passes (I have no sense of time whatsoever) we go down stairs to eat cupcakes and listen in on the grownup’s conversation. We catch them talking about the weather and burst out laughing.  We eat some cupcakes that Mommy made to look like yellow daffodils. Mommy keeps apologizing for how bad the cupcakes look, when in reality, they look amazing. Twyla agrees. The cupcakes are huge, a mini cupcake on top of a cookie on top of a big cupcake. May only eats the top of hers, and Twyla saves the cookie for later. After the cupcakes, May and Clara usher us to the playroom, giggling all the way. Inside, my parents and Clara’s parents are badly hidden, and Twyla’s mom is just standing around looking confused. “Surpries!” everyone yells (except Twyla’s mom who just looks more confused). The walls are decorated with handmade party decorations, and two of my favorite board games are sitting in the center. I try to look surprised, but I knew that this was coming. I first had a hunch about it when May first told Clara that she had an idea for my birthday on the way back from ice skating lessons, because the song “Surprise Party” was playing on the radio. My suspicions were confirmed when May, a few days before my birthday, said “I’m so excited for your party…oops uh, I didn't say that, I didn't say that”.

All too soon, Twyla has to leave, but we decide that we will meet up again soon, preferably to go skating. After she’s gone, I go to play “A Little Off Topic” with my family and Clara’s too. As we write down our not quite on topic answers on our weight boards, I glow with happiness. It has been the perfectest birthday I could have ever hoped for, even though I didn't have a big party or special trip. 

Later that evening, I go upstairs for bed, bringing the yellow paper flower with me. I wind it around my door handle so I’ll always be reminded by it that I do have friends, even if they don’t go to the same school that I do. 

All of this runs through my head as I touch the yellow paper flower wrapped around my door handle. I smile, even though I have to go to school again tomorrow. I smile because what looks like a disaster can turn into the perfect birthday, a renewed friendship, and a yellow paper flower.