Appreciate the Wrapping
by Jacqui Pitt
“Where did you go, you piece of wannabe origami!” Grumbling, Travis Voiche reached under the bed, carefully keeping the weight off his right knee as he grabbed the elusive paper that he had knocked off the desk Stephan kept beside the bed. Straightening back up, he sat on floor by the bed, and looked at the creamy piece of folded paper. The words printed on the front shook him to his core.
“Stephan!” Travis’s voice croaked out of his throat. Trying again, he called out louder,
“Yeah?” Stephan Rocxiv answered as he stopped just inside the bedroom doorway, leaning against the jamb as he dried his hands with a dishtowel. “Hey, why are you on the floor? You know you’re supposed to be resting.” He moved toward Travis.
“What is…” Travis’s voice trailed off as he looked at the leaflet in his hands. Unable to get the words out, he waved it at Stephan, who immediately turned pale.
“Wh-where did you find that?” Stephan asked quietly.
“I knocked some stuff off your desk, and it fell under the bed,” Travis replied in a near whisper.
“I didn’t know whether the stuff was important, so I picked it up.”
“Instead of calling me?” Stephan asked, walking over. “Trav, you’re still recuperating from some major surgery. Bending and twisting isn’t good for you.”
“I know,” Travis said. “But, what is this funeral paper all about?” He waved the leaflet in the air.
“Well,” Stephan said, taking a deep breath. “I’m not sure how to explain…”
“You aren’t sure how to explain?” Travis exclaimed, tearing up. “I suggest you figure it out, Stephan!”
Stephan looked at his best friend and the leaflet the other man held.
“I think it’d be better if I showed you,” he replied, holding his hands out palm up, and wiggling his fingers toward Travis.
“Showed me?” Travis looked up at Stephan, confused. When Stephan just wiggled his fingers again, Travis reached up and grabbed his hands.
“Carefully,” Stephan warned as he started to pull Travis up. Once both men were standing, Stephan leaned over and lifted Travis into his arms.
“What are you doing, you idiot?” Travis cried, smacking Stephan on the shoulder.
“Doc said no strenuous movement, Trav,” Stephan replied, carrying him into the living room and placing him carefully on the sofa next to the two dogs who had been napping on the cushions.
Straightening up, Stephan moved over to the shelving beside the television and DVD player, and grabbed a slim case. Silently, he transferred the disc inside to the DVD player. Holding the case, he walked back to the couch, nudged the dogs off the couch, and sat down on the opposite end. His hand trembling, Stephan slowly held the case out to Travis so he could see the cover. When Travis took the case, Stephan leaned over to the coffee table and grabbed the remote. Placing the remote on the couch by Travis, he stood again.
“I need a drink,” he said quietly. “Want one?”
“Yeah, water,” Travis whispered quietly, still staring at the DVD case. He was still staring at it when Stephan returned with two icy bottles of water and handed him one.
Returning to his seat, Stephan picked up the remote and asked, “You ready for this?”
“Y-yeah,” Travis whispered, not looking at Stephan.
Sighing inwardly, Stephan started the video, then leaned back, his focus on Travis’s face.
Upbeat music started playing, grabbing Travis’s attention in time for him to see the words
“Welcome to Celebrating Renae’s Life!” form across the screen. Travis gasped as the screen filled with happy people at a sun-filled meadow party in the wooded area behind Stephan’s house.
Whoever had the camera was dancing around the meadow, catching people laughing, eating, and dancing. Several minutes conversations played on the screen, most filled with laughter. About ten minutes into the DVD, Rick, Travis’s brother-in-law raised his hands to his mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle.
“Hear ye, hear ye! One and all! ‘Tis time to begin,” he shouted. “So shut yer yappers and take a seat!” He motioned dramatically toward an arrangement of seats that faced a wooden podium made of – Travis looked closely.
“Is that my sled and dresser from my parents’ house?” He asked, a small smile on his face.
“Yeah,” Stephan replied. “Rose made it.”
“Rosie?” Travis’s voice wavered slightly as he watched the video.
“She said it was important to do it this way,” Stephan replied.
“Do what?” Travis asked, still staring at the screen as the last few people took their seats.
“Watch,” was all Stephan would say as Rose walked up the aisle between rows of seats to stand beside the podium. Turning to the camera, she motioned.
“Stephan! Get up here!” The image jolted a bit before becoming still as it was attached to a stand. Stephan’s image then came on screen and walked up to stand behind the furniture podium. Facing the crowd, and squinting into the sunlight, he started to speak.
“Thank you all for coming today to help us celebrate the life of Renae Marie Voiche,” he welcomed the group. “We all know that when Travis finds out about this, well, the shit could hit the fan. But we’ve all loved Renae for so long, and we need to celebrate what she has brought to our lives, and how she has gifted us with her presence.” As Stephan’s voice began to break up, Rose wrapped her arm around him in a side hug and spoke up.
“We asked that you all bring items that remind you solely of Renae, wrapped up in biodegradable wrapping – we don’t want Travis to murder us for killing the planet! – “ she grinned as everyone laughed, then continued, “and I know a few people want to share what she meant to them and why they are putting certain things in our time capsule of sorts,” she patted the side of the small dresser that acted as the podium. Looking around, she smiled as a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Watching Travis, Stephan saw a matching tear rolling, and quietly handed over a tissue.
“Renae has been my twin sister for our entire lives,” she grinned at the group through her teary eyes. “We had a sucky childhood, since you all know our parents,” she laughed at the shouts of agreement. “And we all know that our father, ‘the head of the family’ as our mother liked to call him, was, is and will always be a nut job.” Rose reached into her pocket and pulled out a huge nut that was covered in colorful paint.
“We found this the first year we went to boarding school,” she held it up for everyone to see. “And we painted it to look like our father on one side,” she swiveled it to show the image. “And our mother on the other side.” She swiveled it again. “And made a promise that when one of us had broken free from the nut house, she’d give it to the other. And when the other had broken free, too, we’d bury it. I broke free when I married my Rick,” She smiled at her husband in the front row. “And now Renae is free from the nut jobs we knew as parents.” Smiling, but with tears tracking down her cheeks, Rose opened a drawer in the small dresser, tossed in the nut, and slammed the drawer shut. “And good riddance!” She cried out. Still smiling through her tears, she walked herself and Stephan over to sit by Rick.
An older man moved slowly up to stand beside the dresser. Turning to face the group, he removed his broad-brimmed hat and held it, worrying the brim as he spoke.
“Miss Renae and Miss Rose were like daughters to me the whole time I worked on the gardens at their parents’ house,” he said. “Miss Rose always managed to blossom in the horrible growing conditions at that house, but Miss Renae never managed to do anything right in their blind eyes.” He glowered for a moment. “She always tried to help, but something would go wrong, or she’d get the blame for someone else screwing up. Including me,” he admitted. Reaching into his hat, he pulled out a length of orange extension cord that had been clipped and woven into a circle.
“A few years ago, my eyesight started to go really bad, and one day while trimming the edge of the lawn, I trimmed right through my extension cord,” he told the crowd. “Unfortunately for me, the head nut job of the household saw it happen, and decided it was enough to send me packing immediately.
“Now, I wasn’t able to pack all my items up, as I was ejected from the estate pretty quickly, but that evening during dinner, my wife and I had a visitor. Miss Renae had packed all my items up for me, and snuck them out of the house,” he told them. “She even brought me the broken extension cord. She said it was to help me celebrate getting out of that evil place. She said that it was a sign that I had broken free from hell,” He sniffed and dug out a handkerchief. Dabbing at his eyes, he continued,
“She told me I wasn’t to worry about my income, as she had taken care of it. She even had a part-time job lined up for me, so I wouldn’t get bored,” he chortled, motioning to where Stephan was sitting by Rose. “Apparently, her young man had bought a piece of land and had no idea how to take care of the plants.
“When I heard that this celebration was happening, I took a piece of that cord and wove this,” he held up the orange circle. “It’s to signify that she broke out of hell, too, but found herself in the process.” He quickly stuck it into a drawer and started moving to sit down.
Stephan stood up, walked over to the old man, and helped him sit where Stephan had been listening. Turning, Stephan walked back to the dresser-podium, and turned to face the crowd again. Lifting his hand, he shaded his squinting eyes, and looked at the group.
“I think that if this gets maudlin, I’m going to definitely be murdered when Travis eventually sees the video,” he smiled softly. “So, I’m going to be the last official story today, and ask you to write yours out on the paper on that table,” he motioned to his left. “and put it with your item when you put it in the dresser. That way, it can be told without more people crying.” He grinned at the laughs.
“My item is related to how Renae and I met,” he held up a piece of wire net, grinning at the laughs that came from certain members of the audience.
“When Renae and I were in sixth grade, we met at the chain link fence behind my school. Renae and Rose were home from boarding school for once, and were walking down the block by where my friends and I hung out after school.” He grinned at the memory.
“Leon, my best friend, saw them, and had a huge crush on Rose immediately,” Stephan teased the huge man sitting in the back of the crowd by his wife. “And climbed the fence to meet her.
“Well, I had to join him – hey, we were sixth grade guys!” he protested the laughs. “And my shoelace got wrapped around a broken part of the chain-link at the top of the fence. So, I ended up falling over the fence, but my shoe stayed on, so I ended up just *ahem* hanging around while Leon hit on Rose.” He grinned at the groans.
“Renae climbed the fence to help me get free, and became my other best friend from that point on,” Stephan said. “After she helped me down, she fist bumped me at that chain-link fence, said ‘hey’ and then walked off with her sister.”
“And that’s when he fell in love with Renae,” Leon called out.
“Absolutely – which surprised me most of all!” Stephan called back to more laughter. He grinned and told the group, “Later that night, I went back to that very spot with my daddy’s wire cutters and clipped a chunk out. I knew I’d marry the owner of those gorgeous green eyes someday!” Stephan put the chunk of chain link fence in a drawer while everyone else laughed and whistled. When the group had quieted down again, he continued,
“Feel free to bring your items up whenever. We’ll bury the dresser and sled in this meadow after Travis gets home from the hospital and the doc says he can come out and see everything,” Stephan paused for a minute, took a deep breath, and said,
“We all know that Travis might get pissed about this, and I promise that I will make sure he sees the video when it’s time. I will do everything in my power to help him understand that we aren’t making fun of him with this. Renae has been an important part of our lives for many years, and we are all so happy to have Travis now, but Renae’s his past. She’s also ours. She was the first form of Rose’s twin, and the first way I got to meet my best friend and my true love. We get Travis from now on, but we needed to celebrate Renae for the gifts that she brought to us. It’s my hope – well, our hope,” he motioned to Rose and Rick, who moved to stand beside him. “It’s our hope that Travis will come to celebrate Renae with us when he’s ready, and will see how much our love for her let us love him so much. Thank you for coming.” Rick held up a remote and pushed a button, and the lively music from the beginning of the party started playing again.
For the last few minutes of the video, Travis watched those he considered friends and family move to put paper and items in the dresser and then start to dance and laugh again, celebrating Renae.
Travis’s gaze remained glued to the television screen for several moments after the video ended. Turning to Stephan, he asked,
“Why? Don’t you want me this way?” He motioned to his body.
“Travis,” Stephan scooted to the middle of the couch where he could reach his best friend. “I love you, no matter what shape you may take. Three eyes, fourteen arms and legs, talking hair, anything.”
“Then, why?” Travis asked, anguish spilling from his every pore. “I hated Renae. She was so wrong for me.”
“I know, Love,” Steven replied, gently pulling Travis to him. “She was the wrong shape for you, but that’s all she was – a shape. She was just part of you, your childhood. You have always been Travis, just trapped in a Renae-shaped body. But that body is part of so many memories for so many people. They – We – needed to celebrate those memories. Trav,” Stephan thumbed away the tears streaming down Travis’s face.
“We love Renae because she is part of your foundation. Your experiences as her made you so very strong, and made our lives so wonderful. I know you are Travis, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that you can finally be who you are meant to be, and I love you – and always will.”
“But you love Renae, too?” Travis asked, confused. “How is that possible?”
Stephan wanted nothing more than to snuggle Travis close, but he knew that his best friend – his true love – wouldn’t allow it until he explained things better.
“Trav,” Stephan began carefully. “You know how whenever you get a present, you take forever to open it?”
“Yeah,” Travis nodded, letting Stephan pull him a bit closer to rest his head against Stephan’s broad chest.
“Why do you do that?” Stephan asked quietly.
“Because the way the gift is given matters, and the packaging needs to be appreciated, too!” Travis answered, leaning his head back so he could look at Stephan’s eyes.
“Exactly!” Stephan exclaimed.
“Huh?” Travis questioned.
“Travis, you are the most important gift I’ve ever received – in my entire existence – I hope you know that,” Stephan said. At Travis’s slow nod, he continued, “Well, for twenty-six years, you were wrapped up in a Renae-shaped package. That’s how I got you.
“You see it as you spent so long in the wrong shape and type of body, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Travis replied. “It was like being in a prison – I was supposed to act by one set of rules, according to the body that people saw, but it wasn’t right. Not for me.”
“And I get that, I do,” Stephan reassured him. “And I’m glad that you finally get to be your true self, Love. But you need to understand that while Renae represents hard times to you – times we all wish you could have avoided – to many of us she was the wonderful wrapping that surrounded the world’s best present for over two decades.” Moving Travis back gently, Stephan took a tissue and wiped the tears that freely flowed down both men’s cheeks.
“You don’t resent my having the hormone injections or the surgery?” Travis’s chin trembled.
“Never!” Stephan told him. “Actually, when you told me that you were trans, I was a bit relieved.”
“What? Why?” Travis exclaimed as Stephan blushed.
“Well, before I met you as Renae, I knew I was gay,” Stephan admitted. “I was so confused when I fell for someone who appeared to be a girl. I had a bit if an identity crisis.”
“For how long?” Travis asked.
“Big time, for about a week, when I started to think about it,” Stephan said. “But when you sat me down to have that talk, I didn’t know that it was at the very back of my mind under mental laundry until I went home that night with a strange sense of relief. Though I was glad to realize that my Gran was right – I fell in love with you, not with the shape you took.”
“I can’t tell if your Gran is the wisest or the corniest person ever to live,” Travis teased Stephan.
“Oh, both,” Stephan reassured him. “Definitely both! So, are you okay with the celebration now?”
Travis sat quietly in Stephan’s arms for several minutes. Then, taking a deep breath, he nodded.
“Yes, I think I am.” Leaning back a bit, he asked seriously,
“Is that how all those people felt?” Travis waved his hand at the television screen and the video they had watched.
“Did you see the last line?” Stephan asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Travis admitted. “Things were a bit blurry by then.”
“Here,” Stephan used the remote to the point in the video he wanted to show Travis. Pushing play, he waited. The end of the party was playing and it faded to black. After a few seconds, the screen reverse faded back to the party scene, but this time everyone there was gathered behind a huge piece of paper that spelled out in large, colorful words,
“Appreciate the wrapping. Love the gift! We love you, Travis!”
Pausing the video, Stephan and Travis sat and stared quietly at the image. After a few minutes, Travis mumbled something.
“What did you say, Love?” Stephan asked.
“Appreciate the wrapping,” Travis repeated, squeezing closer to Stephan.
“Love the gift,” Stephan replied, gently hugging Travis.
“Love you back.”
© 2014 Jacqui Pitt