Holidays aren’t the only time one can receive gifts and I had received loads of gifts from my family members when I got my first place. I’m Mira and I achieved living-on-my-own status at 33. It’s a two-bedroom duplex apartment and after too many years of paying off student debt, I finally got to move out on my own. I love my family but living with them forever can make one feel restricted. And I never lived with friends because every time I saw friends live with friends, they ended up not friends; socially claustrophobic. So, I accepted the lesser of the two evils and finally have a place that is just mine. And when one receives gifts, one learns just how much other people do NOT know them (and consequently, one starts questioning one’s own assessment of others). I say this because I don’t drink coffee. I know that surprises a lot of people because my long wavy almost black hair that I keep topped with a faux-pearl decorated beret and my thick-rimmed black glasses that go over my mostly green-hazel eyes really gives people the ‘artist-who-runs-on-Starbucks' vibe. But I actually started out doing web-design but turns out that’s a dime-a-dozen industry. Unless you are somehow the elitist, best of the best (aka knows somebody at the top in a company) you’re not getting that job. Thus, dead-end-job after dead-end-job years later, I went a tech school for coding-courses and after the courses they set you up with several interviews. Here I am with a good job, my own place, and house-warming gifts; several of which are coffeemakers. Yes, a slew of my loved ones came to my aid to help me pack and move and celebrate my good fortune by giving me.... coffeemakers. My dining room table is currently adorned with lines of Mr. Coffee's and Keurig's. Maybe this is a reflection of how addicted to caffeine everyone else in the world is. I don’t really do too many hot beverages. I only drink tea when I’m ill or have a sore throat and the little satchel bags are fine for my occasional hot cocoa. Only a couple of people gave me gift-receipts for plausible returns. Which, I understand it might hurt people’s feelings to consider their gift as a return, but it really is just a fact that a lot of gifts, while thoughtful, are unwanted. Just like I did not want nor need nine coffeemakers. How did I end up with these without the givers knowing of the repetition? I didn’t have an official house-warming party or anything. During the first week of my moving in, people dropped off gifts bags or packages arrived with gift-notes individually and often didn’t stay to watch me unwrap the gift. A bit rude perhaps but I was grateful because after the third or fourth coffeemaker opening, I’m not sure I could have controlled my face’s look. I felt I had to return them in ways so that the givers didn’t know I returned their gifts. It makes me feel guilty and it seems hurtful-someone took the time and their money to get you a gift they thought was practical. Ans while I’m sure most of them would understand not needing nine coffeemakers, My Aunt Mira, whom I’m named after, would be particularly difficult to deal with as she has NO understanding whatsoever. She is infamous for throwing fits at what she considers unappreciated gifts. She once ripped the turkey apart at Thanksgiving at our house when we didn’t put out the novelty ‘strawberry-infused-pickles' she’d brought. She’d gone on a massive rant about spending her hard-earned money and ‘didn’t travel here just to be put-out and disrespected like this’ before she stormed out. We just thought she had bought them as a joke because the thought of pickled strawberry anything churns the stomach. I’m pretty sure I’d be in for it if she saw me returning a coffeemaker-even if it wasn’t the one, she’d got me. I felt a cold sweat forming at the thought of that confrontation. My stomach took a dip as I thought about anyone else catching me returning their coffeemakers. Part of me wished I could shrug it off since apparently nobody knows I don’t drink coffee. I also wished you could just go out of town and return gifts at other stores for moments like this but that doesn’t fly.
I thought pseudo-carefully about this. If I tried to return the coffeemakers in multiple trips out, I’d increase my chances of getting caught. No, I had to do it in one run. And I had to do it on a day when most people are working. Today is Saturday. Okie. Here’s the plan; I can get the returns from the online-packages that come with return labels, and no one will know. I just have to go to the post office or drop-off points; but I’m a really bad liar. I have lied, everyone has, but I don’t get away with it. So, if someone asks me ‘what’s in the box’ and it’s one of the givers, I’m doomed. I just have to fully avoid all of that.
I checked the time and saw it was 11:14am. My bank closes at noon on Saturdays. I grabbed a hoodie from the closet that I haven’t worn in years (and honestly forgot I had) due to it being in storage and zoomed off to my bank to get a bunch of cash out. I also called work to tell them I needed to take a personal day on Tuesday. A lot of people take random Mondays off to extend their weekends and I couldn’t risk that. Tuesday was a much safer bet. Okie, okie, it’s coming together now. I went to the nearest store, and I parked in a very different spot than I usually would. Before I left the car, I took my beret off and found a hair-tie in my console and put my hair up in a messy bun. I found the popular hair-style lazy and ugly, but now I’d blend in. I took out a huge pair of sunglasses that fit over my glasses and pinched my cheeks vigorously to add color. I didn’t use a lot of makeup normally. I also sat there biting my top and bottom lip to redden them up too. I pulled on the old hoodie, which I realized as I pulled it over my face could have used a wash. Okie, I’m not me. I’m....Carrie. I practiced saying “I’m Carrie” a few times before I got out. I speed-walked inside and used cash to buy some VISA gift cards and some cheap makeup.
Okie, okie, we’ve got this Mir...Carrie. I got online and made up a temporary email address and used that and the gift cards to order some things for Tuesday. Like a wig; I needed one that would be very different from my hair but not draw attention. I ordered one that was shoulder-length light brown with highlights, and it came with a wig cap. I didn’t know what that was, so I opened a new tab, signed out of my YouTube log-in then looked up putting on a wig. I also added a cheap floral-pattern A-line dress to my cart that I would never before consider buying. The YouTube video also led to me a ‘cosplay on a budget’ video that taught me for cheap shoes, go to Goodwill. Geez, I’d wished I’d watched that before I’d come back home. Thank the universe I hadn’t bought the dress yet and I was still in my disguise. I clicked to remove the dress from my online cart and just bought the wig. I then re-bit at my lips and pinched my cheeks as I raced out the door to Goodwill. I was still nibbling my bottom lip at the first light when I realized I could have used the makeup I’d just bought instead of irritating my skin like this. Oh well, no time to dwell on that; we’re on mission. I went to the local Goodwill and bought shoes for only $10 and a similar dress for $5. On my way back to my car, I considered renting a car tomorrow. But that seemed outlandish, even for my current antics. Besides, my car was a tan sedan, not a red corvette or something that turned heads. I got home and hid the whole ensemble under my bed before getting out of my last-minute disguise. And getting the knots out from that bun took forever. I also chose one of the coffeemakers to keep just in case guests came over and wanted coffee. I stored it still in-box in a cabinet I currently wasn’t using for anything else.
The next couple days were me being jumpy and avoiding everyone out of fear of revealing anything. Sunday, I got the online return labels printed and then used the scan-codes to track down what stores the other coffeemakers had come from so I could return them. I also practiced putting the wig on and good thing I did because I needed to go back to the store to get bobby-pins. I washed the dress and sprayed the ‘new’ shoes with Lysol disinfectant spray to remove any uck and odor. Lucky for me, I work remotely from home and only had a few zoom meetings to contend with on Monday and focusing on work kept me calm.
Tuesday arrived at last. I had barely slept for the anxiety Monday night but also because I waited up until 2 am to sneak the coffeemakers into my trunk surreptitiously. I got up, showered and tucked my hair into the wig. I had to admit I didn’t look too bad with light brown hair styled like this. I just didn’t look quite like me, which is exactly what I needed. I’d watched some makeup tutorials and did myself up to look even less like me. I used some light brown eyeshadow to do what the person in one video called ‘contouring’ on my nose and cheeks and it changed the shape of my face! I also used an older pair of glasses that were the ‘no frame’ style and really didn’t look like me at all. Perfect. Not-my-style dress and ten-dollar shoes on and I was ready. I even skipped my usual perfume. Not that I thought someone would actually sniff me out, but in college I had learned that the sense of smell is most associated with memory. I went this far and wasn’t taking any unnecessary risks.
I went off to the drop off points and post-office first for three of the coffeemakers. I paid in cash. All clear. I took a deep breath as I gripped my hands around the steering wheel. Now was the REAL mission. Having to go to the various stores unnoticed and convince them to take back their coffeemakers without receipts. Another deep breath. I told myself ‘I got this’ and turned the key.
I went to the first location, a Wal-Mart, and as I popped open my trunk, I fervently looked over my shoulder with my heart trying to escape my chest. The parking lot was more empty than I normally saw it. I took some more deep breaths as I carried two of the remaining five coffeemakers. I went straight to the return station. My stomach and heart sank as I saw I was third in line. I was hoping with the parking lot being empty and it being a Tuesday morning that I would be first in line. My anxiety was in vain though, because after only one minute (that felt like 20) another worker opened the computer in the second line of the return area and offered to take me. I put the coffeemakers on the counter.
At first, she seemed dubious about taking them, but I explained that they were given to me as gifts, and I didn’t need them.
“I don’t want any money for them! I’m not trying to exchange them or anything. I didn’t even open the boxes. I just don’t need a bunch of coffeemakers. Please? Can the money just be put back onto the buyers’ cards?” I pleaded.
The cashier called the manager over and I explained the whole thing again.
“Yeah, we can take them back. I can see the seal-tape on all the sides, so it shouldn’t be an issue. But you really can’t get cash back for them” the manager warned.
“That’s completely fine! I just needed them off my counter!” I replied and thanked them a few times before scurrying out of the door.
Three coffeemakers and two stores to go. Next stop; Target.
Due to zoning things, I don’t understand, Target and Walmart had to be so many miles away from each other but that’s okie, because the large strip area that had Target also had the last store, Meijer’s nearby.
I more confidently took the two-Target coffeemakers inside and it went similarly to Wal-Mart's return except I was the only one in the line this time.
I pulled across the way into Meijer’s parking lot and went right to the check-out desk. I was just casually vibing, waiting my turn being second in line when I almost choked on air when I glanced over at the checkouts and saw Aunt Mira in line!
Oh gawd, Oh my gawd. What do I do? Was this the one she bought me? I couldn’t remember, so many coffeemakers on the table were hazy to decipher their bringers. I felt a shiver and my lungs collapsing because I forgot breathing was a thing.
‘Just look away, she can’t tell it’s you’ I reminded myself. Although, it didn’t make the rock in my stomach go away. I quickly darted my head in the other direction. I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder as I saw Aunt Mira finishing her checkout and heading to the exit. The right behind the return desk exit. Oh gawd.
Maybe I should have spent Sunday writing my epitaph.
She was walking closer, and I tried to avert my eyes again but then out of the corner of my eye, I saw her narrow her eyes at me.
Oh gawd, she stopped walking and was staring. Maybe I should have added padding or gotten a strawberry blond bob. Maybe I just should have stored the coffeemakers and sold them online! Why didn’t I think of that until now?!
“Excuse me, young lady” Aunt Mira said sharply, just a few feet from me.
I saw everyone turn to look at her; it was only four people but still. I swallowed as discreetly as I could and curtly turned my head not all the way to look at her too.
“Y-yes Miss?” I said, trying to make my voice several octaves deeper.
She narrowed her eyes a little more and put her hands on her hips.
Here it comes. She’s going to verbally lay me out in this store and then call my mother. And probably the local radio station too.
I sucked in a breath as I looked at her in wait, not ready to socially die.
“I bought my niece a coffeemaker just like that one. What’s wrong with yours?” Aunt Mira demanded.
Oh. My. Anything. She didn’t recognize me! My disguise worked! But now I had to say something was wrong with it. And I’m terrible at lying. Oh no.
... Wait. Wait, I didn’t have to lie! Because she didn’t know it was me!
I used my faux deep voice to say “Friend bought it for me, but I already have one”
By this time, it was my turn and I stepped up. The Meijer’s cashier didn’t even ask about it but just started scanning it in.
Aunt Mira’s face looked enraged, and her voice rose “You wouldn’t be MY friend anymore if you returned MY gift! A gift is a thought and it’s the thought that counts. Returning gifts is wrong and disrespectful! You ought to be ashamed! And your dress is the ugliest frock I’ve ever seen! And that makeup is prostitute makeup. I would expect someone who dresses like you to not have any idea about decency or manners!”
She stormed off and stalked with her cart out of the store still ragefully lecturing about disrespect as she left.
All of us looked out after her for a beat and the cashier turned back towards me.
“What a psycho. I feel bad for anyone friends with or related to her” he said shaking his head with a hard blink and a sigh.
“Me too” I replied.