What a wreck, Christmas shopping. It seemed in the moment that I begin my trek for picking the perfect gift from the shelves of a local retailer I forget everything I know about every person I’ve ever met. But here I was, scanning the aisles for what I know will match their wishes. So was everybody else, unfortunately. You can never describe the look of a Christmas shopper until you look one in the eye in the invasively cramped space in the aisle of a local Target. There is a mania to it, a wild-eyed panic that spreads across the country as they search for the perfect gift for their perfect person. There was a frantic jitteriness to every motion, and every word someone intended to say a rambling sentence followed. Bits and pieces of conversation floated around the room, sticking to my memory like superglue.
“Well, its gonna be our anniversary soon and they LOVE jewelry, right—”
“Do you have any perfumes by any chance, Tiffany? Tiffany’s good, now where would they sell it—”
“You know—you know what? This might work. It’s got a feel to it but something’s so off—”
The conversations melded together to form a melting pot of letter stew. I could almost taste the energy in the room, there was real electricity to it—that mixture of excitement and anxiety. I felt like I had become infected with the same uncertain mania. What would they like? Do I know their favorite color? Do they need a plant? What about makeup? Clothes?
Then I heard an ugly snot-filled sneeze loud enough that a man almost dropped the lamp he was carrying. I guess that’s the one thing that spreads faster than Christmas cheer: disease.
“You seem to be having trouble there,” A stuffy-nosed voice said behind me. It was a woman, with a flushed red face and puffy eyes. She wore a black padded parka buttoned up all the way and a single pen ensnared in her tangled frizzy hair.
“Don’t know what to get, huh?” she said.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Aside from it being written all over your face, you’re literally standing in an aisle dedicated solely to microwaves”.
“That’s not—well, no it is, you can’t deny it, I’m literally in…anyway, why are you asking me this? What’s it to you?”
“Well,” She shrugged, bouncing her foot on the beige checkered floor. “It's worth helping someone out, right? And someone as frazzled as you no doubt needs it”
“Oh? And what do you think I should get then?”
“How about an experience? You can buy one for cheap, you know. It can be anything from a scented candle they like to a book written by their favorite author—you know, something with the weight of nostalgic memory lane” she said, gesturing to the world as though it held the answer. “certainly you have some idea what that might be, right?”.
I looked around at the microwaves, seeing the imperfect reflection of my own uncertain gaze looking back at me. “Clearly I don’t”.
“Well, how about this?” the woman said. She pulled the pen out of her hair. “I bought this just earlier today. It’s a fountain pen that has this vivid mossy-green ink. And I bought it because I know my sister loves journaling. It’s a very calming experience for her, and it keeps her grounded in a way. And I know she loves these sorts of pens, so I got her one”.
“And how does this relate to me?” I asked her.
“What sends your loved one down memory lane? What reminds them of a happy little moment in their past, one that they would love to look back on?”
I looked down into the deep into the trenches of my memory. “I…I might have something. I don’t know exactly, but it's better than looking in the microwave aisle I guess”.
“Well, there you go,” She said, walking down the hallway. “Hope you find that perfect gift, and happy holidays!”.
I stood there, in the microwave aisle of a target, for a good few moments. And then I left. I strode past the white plastic shelves and the black counters and the tired cashiers and out the automatic glass doors to my car.
I wasn’t sure of what to get, but as I pulled out of that icy Target parking lot the idea began to solidify in my mind. It was either a moment of pure genius or I was signing my death wish, but I wouldn’t know until I tried, and so I left. I left that plaza and headed down the road and past cars and crowds and people till I reached a corner store with big black lettering that read “SMITH’S” because Smith was the name of the man who owned it, and I walked inside the store.
The shop was old, tinged with a hint of yellowed-fluorescent lighting and mold near the corners. But I kept walking until I saw it: A packet of Juicy Fruit Gum, covered in a glossy plastic wrapping. My boots clacked against the floor as I approached the cashier.
“How much?” I asked.
“That’ll be $1.39” The cashier responded, through lead-like lips and droopy eyes.
I handed them $2.00 with the same jittery hands that everybody else in that forsaken Target had. I have been infected, with the same nervous excitement, it seems. “Keep the change”.
The ride home was the most unbearable part of the whole adventure. Here I was, surrounded by the traffic of road raging madmen looking for pricey gifts they could wrap up in sparkly glossy wrapping paper, armed with only a yellow gum packet. This was the end, how my relationship would crumble to dust, leaving me a lonely man with $2.00 corner store goods and a broken heart. Then I arrived at the small apartment I called my own, trudging carefully up the steps to what I assumed to be my utter doom. 5 steps left to go. 4. 3. 2.
Then my door opened, and there she stood, wrapped in 3 blankets and a scarf and gloves hot cocoa cupped in one hand. Beautiful.
“You have returned!” She shouted, less like a dainty princess and more like a hearty war general, a ferocious smile painted across her face.
“C’mon, you said we could watch Lord of The Rings on Christmas Eve. Were you gonna bail on me?” she teased. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the toasty house. No wonder our bill was so high, it felt like a cozy oven in this apartment. Though it’s not like I could complain.
“So, do you wanna start now?” She asked, sitting herself down on the deep sunken grey couch, surrounded with an assortment of colorful throw pillows.
“Wait—wait. I have something to give you” I said.
The look on her face was almost comical, one eyebrow arched high up on her forehead and the other furrowed just above her eye.
“Mhm…well, what is it then? Flowers? A puppy?” She responded with a hint of sarcasm.
“No…no. Its this” I said, handing her the shiny glossy packet of gum. Then the words just began to stumble out on their own. “I’m not sure what you wanted—and then I remembered you LOVED Juicy Fruit gum as a kid and I thought—damn—I thought maybe you would want it? I know its not perfume, please don’t bite my head off—”
She waved my words away, fixated on the packet. “Oh my god,” she said, wide with shock. “I haven’t had these in years. I kind of forgot about them, you know? But—” and she broke the plastic wrapping and got out a small stick of gum and put it in her mouth and chewed. And her face lit up, eyes glowing with simple joys like it was the fourth of July. She was grinning like an idiot and I found that I was too, just because she was one of those people who made you smile even if you didn’t want to.
Then she stopped mid-chew and looked at me. “When did I ever wear perfume? What kind of joke is that? I’d much rather take gum over perfume any day. Now sit down so we can watch Lord of the Rings, you bozo, the movie has waited for you long enough”.
And so I did.