It was all I wanted for Christmas that year--a simple baton. A girl in my grade school class had one that she brought to school every day. It had tassels on the ends and it seemed to glow in the light. Robin was taking lessons, so she knew how to do the tosses and flourishes. She'd pass it around and we would each take a turn. But I was not in the popular crowd and I hardly ever got to hold it, let alone try to twirl it through my fingers. I watched it with covetous eyes, particularly when Robin held it. It moved quickly in her hands, but I managed to memorize the motion--back and forth from pinky to index finger.

At home, I scavenged through our woods and found a small branch that was just about the right size. I peeled off all the bark and blunted the ends. I practiced with my makeshift baton until my fingers learned the complicated motions. But it still didn't look right. The wood was too light and it wobbled as it turned. It didn't have the slightly weighted ends for balance. Worse, it didn't reflect light as it spun.

I had no idea where one would purchase a baton, but that didn't stop me from dreaming of owning one. It would be my favorite possession. I would practice every day and impress all the girls at school with my prowess. They would crowd around me the way they crowded around Robin. I would smile and laugh casually as I tossed it into the air and caught it deftly behind my back.

I never spoke a word to my parents about my dream, but that was the most luscious part. I dreamed of them suddenly being able to perceive my desire--reading my mind and realizing that I'd like to play with the real thing. That would be the greatest gift of all--the gift of noticing me, acknowledging the existence of my feelings.

I daydreamed of the moment on Christmas morning when I would open the package and hold the object of my desire. Each day, I watched the tiny pile under the tree, looking for the new present with my name on it that never appeared. Hope started to fade, but I reassured myself that somehow my parents would divine my wish and find the baton store. Perhaps they were hiding the package because its distinctive shape would give away the contents and spoil the surprise for me. They would bring the magic wand out with a flourish at the last minute. We would all smile with the knowledge of our certain love for each other. I would know, at last, that they cared for me.

It never happened, of course. Christmas morning came and went and the same meager pile of presents awaited. Maybe that was the year that I figured out that Santa didn't really exist, or, if he did exist, he didn't stop at our house because we were too different. I opened the parcels slowly, trying to be thankful for what I'd gotten, trying not to show my bitter dissatisfaction. I thought of asking my mother about why I hadn't gotten the baton, and in my head, I heard her reply, "A baton? Why would you want that? We can't afford to send you for twirling lessons, so what would be the point in buying one? It just wouldn't be practical. Don't be so selfish. Enjoy what you've got instead of pining for what can never be."

I never realized the impossibility of telepathy--that my parents really couldn't know what I wanted unless I told them. All I had was the fear that if I spoke of what I wanted, they would tell me, in words, that I didn't deserve it, shouldn't even wish for things that I couldn't have. I knew that without speaking, so I remained silent.

I look like a grown-up now, but I still have the feelings I had long ago--that the gifts will never be good enough and that I am bad for wanting things that please me. I married a man who, although he delights in the Christmas spirit, isn't very good at gifts. I still have Christmas mornings when I open presents with a fake smile frozen on my face for the sake of my children. That is my reality.

Or maybe the reality is that I am still that little girl, dreaming the impossible wish that my loved ones will read my mind and bring me my heart's desire even though I can barely name my heart's desire for myself. I am still the silent little girl who wants to dream and feels shameful for dreaming.

Nancy Jo works as an editor and a writer and aspires to being paid for her work. She is musically inclined, slightly psychic and slightly paranoid. She is working on taking responsibility for her feelings and her life.

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© Copyright 1997 - Nancy Jo Bykowski. All rights reserved.