b r e a t h i n g
r o o m
20 Dec 97
because we're going to newyork for christmas and new years and won't be able to celebrate with b's family, we drove down today to palo alto to exchange gifts with her folks and leave presents for her sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece. This meant a nice, calm quiet afternoon and dinner, with grant and betty. they're very friendly as easy to get along with, even as they become more eccentric. i will miss being there when the kids, adam and emily, open their loot, although in some ways its less traumatic to just hear their phoned thankyous later. any time i see that brave, stiff-upper lip, disappointed look on a kid's face, trying not to let on that you gave her this same little house book last year, i'm overwhelmed with that kind of empathy that's almost selfish, so much do i identify with the child and slip back into reveries of my own failed attempts to hide my disappointment.
even as my parents fretted year after year that they couldn't give us enough or the right things, we always seemed to have overflowing gifts at christmastime. who knew how much debt had to be sweated off at least halfway into the next year? but my parents made the mistake of sometimes promising too big, or forgetting, or simply being unable to follow through. i think my older sister jennifer suffered from this the most, and it doesn't take much prodding (or it didn't last time i remember, which admittedly was years ago) to get her to recite the litany of presents that materialized never or too late (years late) to satisfy: a camera, a typewriter, a watch. Or maybe watches have always been my thing. my mother still feels guilty since i reminded her that in my senior year in college (long after i should have cared about such things) they promised me a new watch for my birthday, but then weren't able to get it together for the next few weeks stretching into months. by the time christmas rolled around, sure enough one of the gifts under the tree was a watch. what they didn't grok, though, was that this meant that christmas, already dangerously close to my end-of-october birthday, had completely eclipsed the one birthday present i'd been promised that year, leaving me, technically, with none.
all this came back to me just a few years ago when my parents made me the gift of another watch, a beautiful gold watch engraved on the back. unfortunately, it was a lemon and a comedy of errors (i laughed through my tears) led me to have to return it repeatedly to the fancy-schmancy newyork watch company i refuse to plug here. first it kept bad time, then the hand fell off. when those were fixed, the crystal promptly broke and around that time i noticed a typo in the engraving. eventually, the broken watch sat on my dresser top or shoved into the back of the top dresser door (the one with all the voodoo in it), reminding me whenever i noticed it of this petty curse, having something to do with watches (time?), birthdays, and my parents, this tiny gnat that could literally bring me to tears.
when we were in england in september of last year, briggs bought me a beautiful new, sturdy-looking watch at harrods. mostly black, it was my pride and joy, looking equally as good with my typical black jeans and t-shirt attire as it does on those much rarer coat-and-tie occasions. then friday, running late, the finding stuff chapter of my be book written and me trying to get my be to connect to the net over my isdn line so i could upload a gzipped, tarr'd collection of the art files (screen shots i'd captured) for the chapter, heedless and in a hurry, i smacked the watch hard against the side of the keyboard and the stem broke off. i must have really gotten chewed out once when i broke a dish or glass or something when i was little, because every time i notice something's broken, or worse that i've smashed or ruined something, i'm momentarily stricken, dumb as if dead, and then i carry around this eerie black wound until i shake it off. i've learned how to get past it, mostly the usual thing, noticing the feeling, letting it play out and radiate through the body until satisfied or digested, but i'm still amazed at the raw power of that uh-oh, i'm in trouble feeling.
Copyright © 1997