Alexis quietly slips into her cubicle at work, puts her coffee down and takes a deep breath. Time for grandma’s letter. She’s 23 today and the letter is a cherished annual ritual on her birthday. But for the first time, she’s not bouncing off the walls with excitement to open the letter. There’s something else on her mind and she’s struggling hard to contain it: Max.
She smiles to herself when she thinks of last night. He took her out again, and she can’t stop thinking about him. Will he call again? Her stomach turns. What if he doesn’t?
Pull yourself together, Alexis, she thinks, and turns back to the letter.
Today it’s my turn. So far, our ancestors have all been very impressive, what with starting businesses, overcoming obstacles, getting rid of enemies and perfecting their craft. Feminists ahead of their time, if you like. As a young girl, the stories your great-grandmother told me were a bit intimidating. What about being normal? I wondered. So that’s why it’s time for a ‘normal’ story. Though I think with time you’ll see that no-one’s story is ‘normal’.
Marlow and I worked in the same diner. I was a waitress, he flipped burgers. He had dark hair and milky coffee skin, with shiny black eyes that were so brazen, your stomach would do a flip-flop whenever he looked at you. Toned and lean, you only had to look at him walk to know he knew how to dance.
One Saturday, Marlow took me out for ice cream. I could hardly think straight, I was so excited. Marlow was wild, like something untamed. He didn’t allow anyone to tell him what to do. We went to big parties, he had a lot of friends, and he showed me off everywhere. We were in love, and the envy of every person in town.
Around the same time, I met Henry. He wasn’t obviously handsome the way Marlow was. But he had bright blue eyes with a tiny green fleck in the left one, with freckles sprinkled on his cheekbones like someone had spilled a handful of stars on them. He was at university, unlike the rest of us, so I didn’t see him often, but whenever he was in town he’d sit in my booth and order coffee after coffee. Mostly he’d have his nose in the books, but sometimes he’d push them aside and make small talk.
One day when Marlow was off, Henry came in again. “I’m staying until your shift ends,” he said.
I protested, but Henry was stubborn. He stayed and stayed. It got late. The diner got empty. Henry was still there. Finally, I gave up and let him walk me home.
We talked for ages that night. Henry was awkward – sometimes he stumbled over his words, or his jokes came out wrong. But he listened so well. I shyly told him about my dreams of becoming a writer. Henry didn’t laugh like Marlow did, he asked me which books I liked to read. He told me about his studies in law, and his favorite subjects: history and philosophy.
Your great-grandmother had kept quiet until then. But that night, after she saw Henry drop me off at the door, she sat me down and gave me the pearls. She didn’t say much – all she said was that I had an important choice to make.
The girls in town thought I was crazy. Marlow was furious. No-one knew why I made the choice I did, because on paper, Marlow seemed the better pick: handsome, exciting – and crazy about me. But something happened inside my heart that night. I realized that with Henry, there would always be someone to listen to me. I would have someone walking beside me, instead of in front of me. And once I’d put the pearls around my neck, all I could think about was Henry. It was as if the pearls willed me into choosing someone that did the girl who wore them justice. And that’s the story of your dear grandpa Henry and I.
So my message to you this year is just that: let the wisdom of the pearls lead you, and always trust your gut.