I opened one of the shoeboxes and inside was a thick stack of cards and letters. I wondered with whom Nicole might’ve been so enamored as to have accumulated such a collection, but as I removed the stack from the box and began thumbing through the envelopes, I saw that all of them were from me: birthday cards, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, letters, I Love You notes, every card and letter I’d ever given her over the years she must’ve saved. The earliest one is dated 1987; she was six years old.
In disbelief, I read every single one, many of which I barely remember writing. In a card dated August 1996, I’d written, “This card is so pretty, I wanted to get it for you. Every time you look at it you will think of how much I love you. You’re my angel, much more beautiful than the one on the front of this card.”
In a 1997 Mother’s Day card, I’d written, “You probably think it’s strange for me to give you a Mother’s Day card, but if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be able to celebrate this day. I’m glad to be your mother and wouldn’t trade you for anything. Being your mother has taught me faith and courage. I really do believe you are worth your weight in gold.”
And in her 18th birthday card, I’d written, “For your 18th birthday, I chose emerald earrings. In Revelations 4, the rainbow that surrounded the throne of God, John said, was like unto an emerald. That’s why I chose them for this special birthday.”
Nicole spent the summer of 1990 with Mama. During this vacation, I wrote to her frequently. Nicole had saved those letters, too, and had stacked them together separately. In one of the letters, I had taken a blank sheet of paper and plastered it with eight lipstick kisses. I forgot I’d even made the kiss page, but there it was in the box. A kiss from the upper right corner of the page had been torn away. Instinctively, I knew that Nicole had removed it to keep with her at all times, a portable kiss stashed in the hip pocket of her jeans.
After spending hours reading all the notes and cards I’d written to Nicole over the years, I placed everything back in the box and reached for the second box. Inside were more letters, but these were from others. A stack of about 40 letters from her boyfriend were together in an envelope box. I reached in the stack and pulled out a random letter. He’d written: “Baby, What’s up? First thing, where do you get off calling me a Chipmunk Punk?” I folded the letter, placed it back in the envelope, and returned it to the stack. I lacked the energy to read 40 letters from two on-again, off-again lovesick teenagers.
Another stack was from her younger sister (her father's daughter). In a letter dated October 1998, her sister wrote, “If I tell you a secret promise not to tell, so here it goes I got my first kiss two months ago and that was very special to me. I have kissed him twice now. Some of my friends tell me I am sprung on him, but that’s ok because there is another boy I like.”
There was a letter from her friend Sheena dated November 2005. Friends since they were girls, they’d grown closer with age. The letter is addressed, “Hello my beautiful friend,” and continues with some general catching up. But then Sheena's heart opens up the way a flower opens to the sun:
“I get the feeling you’re tired, Nicole, like things are wearing on you. But let me just say that I am continuously encouraged by you; by His strength in you; by your willingness to endure. You are beautiful and amazing. I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and loving you and I’m so encouraged by you simply being you—not having to do anything… just you being Nicole, beautiful Nicole. I love you, girl. Please know that.”
I folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope. Sometime after Nicole’s death when a few friends and I got together, Sheena said something that lodged itself in my heart; it was a beautiful statement that only a friend could make. She said, “When Nicole loved you, she loved you with all she had.”
It was true. I can bear witness to it.