Exhausted from another long day of school, Kaeli flopped down onto her bed. Her eyes wandered around her room and landed on the little box on her dresser. Walking over, she picked it up. It was a beautiful box, painted with delicate butterflies and edged with gold. The butterfly box. Her grandfather had given it to her when she was very little. As the years had gone by, she’d filled it with little trinkets, lost teeth, pressed flowers… whatever she thought was special. Kaeli hadn’t opened it in a long time. She’d never shared it with anyone, either. A few months ago, she’d attended her grandpa’s funeral. She missed him. The box brought back a flood of memories. The pressed penny from her first trip to the zoo with him. The necklace he’d given her on her tenth birthday. The good luck charm he’d given her for her first performance… Kaeli blinked away tears. She pushed her dark brown hair out of her eyes. It’s OK, she told herself. It’s OK.
* * *
"Kaeli,” the teacher said. He pronounced it Ki-lee, instead of Kay-lee. Kaeli was too tired to correct him. The teacher continued, “What’s the value of x in the equation x equals three times the quantity…”
Luckily for Kaeli, the bell rang to signal the end of school. She packed up her backpack and escaped. It was drizzling outside, and Kaeli hurried to the elementary school, a block down, to pick up her little sister. Kaeli immediately spotted her in the window of the classroom. She was easy to recognize. With her short, dark hair and brown eyes, she looked like a miniature Kaeli. As she walked closer, Kaeli realized Aya’s eyes were red. Was her sister crying? As soon as she spotted her big sister, Aya ran out to her.
“What’s wrong?” Kaeli exclaimed. “Aya, what happened?” Aya just shook her head.
“Let’s go home,” her sister whispered. Kaeli sighed and opened her umbrella, positioning it so both of them would stay dry. The two walked in silence, just listening to the pitter-patter of the rain on the umbrella.
As soon as they got home, Kaeli faced her little sister. Aya was in third grade, but she looked like she couldn’t be more than seven.
“What happened?” Kaeli asked again, more softly this time. She sat down with Aya on the comfortable, well-worn couch in the living room. She could see Aya fighting against tears.
“I hate school!” her sister finally exclaimed. “I hate all of it! I hate spelling, I hate math, I hate everything!” She frowned at Kaeli’s concerned face.
“Come on, Aya, you love school,” Kaeli said. “What happened today?”
“They’re so mean,” she sobbed. At Kaeli’s coaxing, she continued. “I spelled ‘genius’ wrong, and I knew how to spell it, but I just mixed up the letters, and then, and then...”
“And then what?”
“And then they said, ‘How would she know how to spell it? She’s stupid.’”
“Oh, Aya,” Kaeli hugged her little sister.
“And then everyone laughed!” Aya started crying again. Kaeli sighed and stroked her hair.
“Did you tell the teacher?”
“N-no,” Aya managed. “W-why would I?”
“She can help,” Kaeli reassured her sister. “Meanwhile, I want to show you something.”
* * *
Her sister quieted, Kaeli headed down the hall to her room. Kaeli paused for a moment. Was she ready to show Aya this? She’d never, ever shared it with anyone. It had been her special box, especially in the months following her grandfather’s death. “Passed away,” her mother might say. But he wasn’t passing. He was gone. Part of Kaeli wanted to keep this for herself. She shared so much with her sister. But the better part of Kaeli knew that her grandfather would have wanted her to show Aya. A meditation came back to her, from Grandpa’s funeral. “When I die, give what’s left of me away…” * It was still Kaeli’s memories, but maybe she could give Aya some of those memories, too. She picked the box up off her dresser, very carefully, and carried it back to the living room.
Aya was curled up on the couch. Kaeli walked over and sat down next to her.
“Aya, there’s something I wanted to show you,” Kaeli said quietly. She opened her hands to reveal the butterfly box. Aya’s eyes widened.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Grandpa gave it to me,” Kaeli explained. She watched Aya’s eyes fill with tears again. Maybe, just maybe, Aya missed Grandpa almost as much as Kaeli.
“I put all kinds of things in here,” Kaeli continued. “I look at them sometimes to make me feel better when I’m sad. It’s like… a box full of memories. Happy memories.” She handed it to Aya.
“Can I open it?” Aya questioned. Kaeli nodded. Aya’s eyes widened as she opened the lid and looked through the contents.
“I remember that!” Aya exclaimed, fingering the necklace. “Grandpa gave that to you when you turned ten! Remember the party you had? And Grandpa and Grandma made you the cake with the fairies, and…”
“I remember. I’m surprised you do; that was three years ago!” Kaeli said. Aya just shrugged. It was nice talking about the good times with her grandfather. Before thinking it through, Kaeli fastened the necklace around Aya’s neck.
“You can wear it tomorrow,” Kaeli said. “If you want, of course,” she added.
“Really?” Aya asked. Her eyes were shining again, but this time from happiness, rather than sadness.
“Really,” Kaeli confirmed. Aya startled her by giving her a big hug.
“Thank you!” she said, grinning. Aya’s enthusiasm was contagious. Kaeli found herself smiling as well. They heard a car pull into the driveway. Aya pulled away.
“Mom’s home!” Aya said, running to greet their mom. Kaeli closed the box, careful as ever, and returned it to its spot on her dresser. She knew that it would be there, whenever she needed it. Even if she just needed a smile. Kaeli recalled another line from the meditation.
“So, when all that’s left… is love, give me away.” *
* From the Jewish prayer book Mishkan T’filah, edited by Elyse C. Frishman.