“Can I just get rid of these?” My mother turned around to show me a pair of scissors in a neon-green sheath.
They’re herb scissors, which are really just adapted ribbon cutters and sold to culinary tool junkies at a premium. They were a Christmas gift last year from my then boyfriend and were put to use at exactly one family gathering before being promptly relegated to a bottom drawer.
“They’re stupid. You can use a knife.”
Like the knock-off Pop Phone he had also given me, I decided these were fated for an afterlife courtesy of the Good Will.
This time last year, I was in a not so unserious relationship with Frank Hampshire, a nonathletic but good-humoured project manager. In early November, he started fussing over what to get me for Christmas. He was an online shopper — I mean, he bought EVERYTHING online, from pots and pans to couches, to dinner, to dry cleaning — and wanted to get his orders in early enough, in time to use any “frequent shopper” coupons he had earned since Black Friday the previous year (seriously, I’m pretty sure the guy will never have to pay for another dumpling again on Seamless.)
I had a fairly simply list. In fact, it included only one item: gold hoop earrings. I had mourned the loss of half a pair at a dance party at MoMA a year earlier, and missed having such a staple in my jewelry box. They didn’t have to be real gold, I said. I was sensitive also to budget, (even if his salary was exactly twice the size of mine), and to ease of access. So I gave him a list of 4 pair all that clocked in under $100 and all available at stores within walking distance from his apartment.
“I haven’t bought a girl a pair of earrings since high school,” he told me. “It turned out she didn’t even have pierced ears.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. My ears are pierced. Remember that time my earring got caught on your scarf?”
“Yea. No. Isn’t there anything else you want?”
So instead of earrings, I got a stocking full of nick-nacks — the sum of which totaled to well over the $50 of those Middle Kingdom Cylindrical Bead earrings I saw at the Met. A red Pop-Phone knock-off, a case of my favorite pens (Pilot Percise, fine), the aforementioned herb scissors, ear buds, a “fairy bottle” jump drive loaded with 2 pirated movies, Molton Brown Bath Gel in Pink Pepperpod, Kheil’s body lotion, and another item or two I can’t recall. 85% of the items were put to good use, and I suppose that meant I had won, even if I didn’t get my earrings. The herb scissors and the pens were supposed to be the thoughtful gifts — he knew I liked to cook, and sometimes we cooked together, and he knew I wasn’t allowed to buy those pens on my office account (too expensive for a not-for-profit pen.)
Gold (plated) hoop earrings were also thoughtful. But I suppose, that was too much of a meaningful commitment.
There’s a gigantic, golden hard-cover book on my nightstand, and it’s been sitting there for two years now. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present” was a 2012 Christmas present from my already-ex-boyfriend. We had broken up not even a month earlier and the gift exchange had been unplanned. We met for a fancy dinner as a way to usher in our new era as “just friends.” We split the bill. And then we surprised one another with “a little something.”
I knew he traveled and got painfully dry skin in the winter, so he got a bar lotion (with a manly scent) from Lush. I got the academic art-history meets sociology tome by a Columbia professor. His gift was absurdly thoughtful and meaningful. On our first date, he compared me to a Klimt painting, and when I opened the paper to see the cover, the significance of the subject didn’t escape me.
“You can read it so I don’t have to,” he said when I hugged him. “It’s too many pages.”
“There aren’t enough pictures.”
I made my way through the first 50 pages — there’s underlining and a note or two in the margins. Unlike the Pop Phone and the pens that have been lost or have run out of ink, it’s a less disposable gift. A metaphor perhaps for these two relationships past.