In Another Relationship, Another Ending, I wrote about the purge I perform after a breakup. That got me thinking about some of the gifts I’ve given and received. Because, as the title suggests, this essay involves some ruminating, it got a bit long for my 750-word slot, so like Quentin Tarantino with Kill Bill I & II, I’m meting it out in two parts.
If your junior high school days were anything like mine, you were “going out” with someone by virtue of the fact that a guy came up to you and said, “Do you want to go out with me?” and you answered, “Yes.” That meant you could meet up after school and make out in the woods while doing your best to keep his hands off your breasts. Two weeks later, by arrangement through a third party, you’d meet in the hallway and one of you would say, “I don’t want to go out with you anymore. But I still want to be friends.” The friend bit was a lie.
In eighth grade, I went out with Matt, my first “relationship” that lasted more than two weeks. This made Matt my first real boyfriend, one I needed to trade gifts with.
The established gift for your long-term boyfriend then (anything past two weeks was long-term) was an ID bracelet, purchased not at Grant’s or Woolworth’s, but at the small jewelry store next to Baskin Robbins. Matt and I were firmly in the long-term category, so to the jewelry store I went.
I examined each ID bracelet in the carousel display case, trying to find the best one my $5 could buy. After much agonizing, I selected one I believed wouldn’t turn Matt’s wrist green and ordered the engraving. (It read Matt, because it didn’t occur to stupid me that his name was Matthew, even when the clerk asked.)
Matt’s gift to me was a heart necklace. I heard rumor before he gave it that it was very expensive, in the order of $10. When I received it, I had mixed feelings. While it was sweet, the blue stone that was supposed to be an aquamarine—my birth stone—was clearly not anywhere near the correct hue. I could tell that the “silver” was something other than precious metal, evidenced by the fact that it soon peeled, exposing copper.
I wore it faithfully for the rest of the two-plus months we dated, and again the second time we tried to make a go of it, but I always found it lacking. What a little snot I was. It may not have been made of the best materials, but it was bought with a sincere effort to please me, and I realize now it was one of the nicer gifts I’ve received.
When I turned 40, I was seeing Gary. Our gift exchange at Christmas had been disappointing. He gave me some books, one of which I was aware he had visited several book stores to find. I was looking forward to seeing what it was, because I presumed it had been selected for me, perhaps something about film or writing. But it turned out to be an obscure book of dark short stories that he had especially liked, and I could barely get through. I suppose he was trying to share part of himself with me, but honestly, I didn’t get it. I liked the other two books (which introduced me to David Sedaris and Dave Eggars), but was not very happy with the main gift: gloves.
A gift of gloves can say a lot about a relationship. I bought a pair for Jon, my boyfriend in tenth grade. We had been seeing each other for two months—the same length of time I was seeing Gary when he gave me gloves. Jon lacked a pair of gloves and would often wear one of my white, fluffy mittens, and I the other, while we held each other’s bare hands or warmed them in the other’s pocket. Even though gloves would break up this cozy arrangement, they were a logical choice. The ones I chose were sheepskin, purchased from Deerskin Trading Post, and I signed the card as my mother suggested: “To keep you warm when I’m not there.” That was a good gift—something I knew he needed but that also showed the right amount of affection.
(He gave me a silver teardrop necklace that I quite liked and that seemed to be given with reciprocal affection.)
But it didn’t feel at all good to receive gloves from Gary. They were cashmere-lined, brown leather driving gloves. Elegant, but wrong. They didn’t go with anything I owned, nor did they especially seem like me. But most importantly, the gift was impersonal and far too consistent with Gary’s desire to keep me at arm’s length. Granted, we hadn’t been seeing each other very long, but we were deeply involved; the L word came two weeks later. But you’d never know he felt that way from the gift.
Tune in next Monday for the rest of my ruminations on gifts, including my most and least favorite gifts ever.