His name was Ricky, and though I remember the gift he gave me that Christmas thirty years ago, I don't recall his last name. I wish I did.
Boy, was he cute. He had red hair, blue eyes that sat amidst a lake of freckles and a smile that few people ever saw, though he shyly shared it with me on occasion. I always saw him as I sauntered toward my fourth-period home economics class that was directly across from his. He was a few years younger and was one of a handful of students in the Special Ed class.
I never knew what his challenge was, but I was drawn to his sensitive soul, the way he cast his eyes downward when someone looked his way and the contradiction of his shyness with an indisputable streak of defiance.
He was just as mischievous as every little, red-headed, freckle-faced boy you ever met. It's something in their DNA, I think. He was 13 that year I remember him most, but his thin, slight build made him look younger. He slyly played tricks on teachers and students, not as a way of drawing attention to himself, but rather to play out some kind of anger that simmered underneath.
I was determined to be his friend, so, daily, I made contact with him. It started with a direct look, a smile and a "hello," then proceeded to a few more words. He had little to say and really didn't welcome the intrusion of my friendliness. He waited outside his classroom each day, leaning against the lockers and watching the traffic that drifted by, other high school kids chattering without noticing him. He was a lost soul, lost deeper in a society that failed to see him or care much about him.
"Hey Ricky, how are you today?" I'd often ask. He'd shrugged, drop his chin slightly and look away. It took months, but finally Ricky began to light up with a smile whenever he saw me coming his way, and I paid him the ultimate teenage favor -- I flirted playfully with him, always giving him a wink, a tease of some kind and an occasional pat on the shoulder, though he loathed to be touched.
I didn't really think I was making much progress with him because he still seemed distant and detached, but that boy spoke to my heart. I have always been drawn to those who are disenfranchised, who sit on the edge of society and are too timid to step into the fracas of social interaction.
On the last school day before the Christmas vacation, I missed Ricky when I went to class. I looked for him, but decided he must be out sick. Just before the bell rang for class to start, I was getting my knitting supplies together when I looked up to see Ricky, hurried and nervous, rushing toward me.
"Ricky!" I greeted him. "I'm glad to see you. I missed you."
He pushed a small, rumpled brown paper bag into my hands with the top of it twisted shut. "What's this?" I asked, bewildered.
He grinned proudly. "Your Christmas gift." He pulled his shoulders back. "I made it myself."
My heart melted. I opened it and pulled out a small rock, about the size of my fist that Ricky had colored with a green crayon. Now, I don't know what it was. Maybe a frog? Maybe just a colored rock. But this I know -- it was the most special Christmas gift I have ever received. I remember few gifts from the many Christmases past, but that one I have never forgotten.
I hugged him and bragged on the beauty of the gift, his grin growing broader with every word. The best gift was knowing that, finally, our friendship was rock solid.
I wish I could see my friend again. Merry Christmas, Ricky.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.