Eight days until Christmas and there remain a couple of gifts with which I am struggling. I am typically a fairly good gift-giver, honing in on things that the recipient will enjoy and that may have special significance as far as our relationship goes–that on the surface, it’s one thing, and underneath, it’s also something else–a reason to make them smile, a private joke, something special.
One person whose gift(s) I have been struggling with is Jason. I figured “Hey, we haven’t been going out long, so it doesn’t need to be an ordeal, right?”. Right? But then he said “Oh, I was thinking about getting you a new monitor for Christmas.”
…Crap. Not that it would be an unappreciated gift, but now what I’d already purchased was woefully inadequate. I needed something better. But what might he like? I don’t know him well at all yet! I messaged our mutual friend Tristan with “I need some help with Jason” and he immediately responded with “I’m Switzerland! Neutral!” “Whoa, whoa, we are not fighting, I just need help with gift ideas!” “…I don’t know, I’ve always had a problem getting gifts for him, too.”
…Double crap. I thought, and thought, and thought, the six brain cells I had left grinding so furiously that smoke began to waft out of my ears and the air began to smell vaguely of fried pork and ozone. I finally copped to him, “I’m sorry, but I have no idea what to get for you for Christmas. What do you want?”
“I’m sorry, did you say socks? S-O-C-K-S, socks? Socks are not a good gift. Traditionally in my family, socks are a gift which is cried over*. Try again.”
“Maybe a t-shirt.”
Socks and a t-shirt. The fabric of our lives. This is what led to this totally-slick text message I sent today: “What size t-shirt do you prefer? If you were getting one as a gift which is not to say that you are?”
*My little brother used to be more excited for Christmas than any other kid, EVER. When the JC Penney Christmas catalog arrived, he would pore over it obsessively, composing an extensive list, circling things, and dog-earing the pages. As the holiday approached, he would search the house up and down, looking for packages he could poke or prod. One year, he triumphantly announced he knew what he was getting for Christmas because he had found the list he made in our mother’s jewelry box with certain items checked off. A week or two before Christmas, my mom would put out the gifts from the family under the tree, and the sparkling wrapped packages only served to increase my brother’s frenzy and intense desire to open them NOW. Every night, he would plead with my parents to be allowed to open one gift under the tree, just one, please, just one, because he just couldn’t take it any longer. My parents had various ways of dealing with this request. One year, my mom told him he could open a gift early, but that she had a special one for him in the basement and that she would go and get it. She went to the basement, quickly placed a shiny quarter in a box, wrapped it, and brought it upstairs. The rest of the family laughed raucously while he cried in his bitter disappointment, because as a family unit we are cruel, adept at hurting one another, and each take genuine pleasure from terribly mean jokes. Another year, the week before Christmas, my mom had made a large pot of chili, which my brother, a notoriously picky eater, refused to eat. She bargained with him–if he ate an entire bowl of chili, he could pick a present to open from under the tree. Watching my brother gag while forcing chili down his throat made for a poignant Christmas scene, particularly when my dad remembered the reason for the season and snapped at my mom, “JESUS CHRIST, Jill, don’t make him vomit at the table!” Under twinkling Christmas lights, gagging all the way, my brother finished the chili and dashed for the tree, picking a package he’d had his eye on all week. He ripped through the paper, opened the box, and found several pairs of socks, and cried, and cried, and gagged, and cried, while the rest of us laughed. To this day, I don’t recognize a holiday unless someone is crying.