I’m a first born. Responsible. But sneaky. My brain likes things that are precise, exact, perfect. Or close to it.
Being in charge of younger siblings while my parents worked, we had a lot of free time on our hands without someone constantly watching us. By the time I was in high school, I met the qualifications-whatever those were-to make sure everyone was looked after for a few hours after school and chunks of time on weekends while one parent made their way home and the other left for work.
One December, I decided to rearrange gifts so they looked like what my sister and I liked to call “commercial” worthy-what you’d see on TV. Our packages didn’t have large puffy fabric bows, but foil bows you got in a bag of twenty for a dollar. Our imaginations filled the void. It was important for us count them. How dare anyone have more than me. Size mattered too. If one of us had a larger gift, what could it be?
At my age though, I figured out the size of the gift didn’t equate the amount of money spent on it. I also had not quite learned that gifts weren’t the real reason for the season. Gifts were THE reason for the season and I wanted to know what I had coming. Periodically, we’d all choose a gift, give it a shake, and take turns guessing what was tucked inside.
This year, I had gifts that didn’t make much sound. Too old for boxes with a heaviness that slid from one end to the other-some sort of toy. I knew who had Barbies, skinny boxes with skinny perfectly-figured blonds on tiptoes inside. I outgrew those, but still helped French braiding their hair when no one was looking. And narrating their dates with Ken because the younger ones just didn’t understand how it really worked. I started watching Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless during school breaks, so I knew a thing or two. Those soundless packages only meant what every teen girl wanted: clothes.
But which clothes? Jordache jeans? A Guess? shirt or sweater? What had I drooled over at the mall recently? It could be anything. But I need to know which one in particular. While the younger ones played, I nonchalantly took a package after having made a picture-perfect TV commercial worthy set-up. No adults were home. I was the next “adult” in line. Fourteen wasn’t too far from eighteen. The younger ones played or watched TV. With three other siblings in a small house, the bathroom was the only place for privacy.
I took a beautifully wrapped package, from my grandma, and headed off to do my business. I turned the fan on so everyone would know it would be while before I was done. I took the package and turned it over and over wondering where it was from. The wrapping was fancy, not the K-Mart paper that wrapped the other gifts. My uncle was behind this one. They asked for wrapping from the store that sold it or he spent a little too much on wrapping paper without my grandma knowing it. Either way, this was the one that intrigued me most.
I turned the box over and found the tape at the bottom. I started picking at it with my fingernail, carefully, like picking at a Band-Aid that’s stuck on too tight. Surprisingly, the tape easily peeled away from the paper without leaving a mark. I sucked in my breath. No on had banged on the door yet. Breathe…I flipped it to the other end to try the other side. The tape easily peeled off again.
Stuck, I had to decide what to do next. If I kept unwrapping the box, would I be able to put it back without anyone suspecting it had been opened? What if I couldn’t get it back the way I found it? You know how you open a box and the contents just don’t fit the way they were packaged? What would happen then? Do I stop here and wait a few days like I’m supposed to?
Supposed to. I was tired of that. I usually do what I’m supposed to do. I’m in theater, I can act like I’m surprised even if I know what’s in the box. No one will ever know.
I kept going.
I completely unwrapped the box, being careful to leave the tape attached. I found a plain white shirt box. We usually used old boxes from around the house to wrap gifts. This one came from not Wal-Mart or K-Mart. As I lifted the top, I discovered more tape. I needed to hurry because someone would need to use the bathroom soon. My heart pounded when I accidentally ripped part of the box. Dang! The tape stuck to the box more than it did to the paper. I’m the only one who would see the box during the unwrapping chaos of Christmas morning, so I continued.
After removing the lid, I discovered neat, white tissue paper gently enclosing the gift, adhered with a round gold seal. Whoa! Super fancy. I knew that would tear, so I lifted everything out and slipped out the gift from one end. I drew in a breath. A pink collarless, button down shirt with mid-length sleeves and a pocket on the left side seemed to smile at me. It even smelled fancy. I could wear it with…everything! I loved it! I silently shouted, jumped for joy, and imagined myself squishing my grandma in thanksgiving. No one was around to relish my joy, but a party of one was enough for me.
With the fan still going, I didn’t have much time. I now faced the task of reversing my actions: folding the shirt where it creased, slipping it back into the tissue, placing it in the box, re-taping the lid, and re-wrapping the gift. It went much more quickly this time, I didn’t have a choice. I calmed myself down, flushed the toilet and washed my hands, all the while grinning as I glanced at the box. I got a sneak peek at my gift. With a little more time, I could open them all, but not today.
I walked back to the living room with the gift behind my back. I side-stepped toward the tree and dropped it back into the pile. No one noticed. I went back to rearranging them again. I picked up one of the skinny boxes, my youngest sister’s name on it. I called her over. “Want to know what you got for Christmas?”