The Gift

The Gift

Why was she keeping that box? Was she a child? For almost a year the Tiffany box had sat in a basket of toiletries (very near the toilet) and served as a reminder of her failure to hang on to jewellery and the disappointing quality of the earrings it had contained (though this didn’t preclude the former thought), the way the posts had bent and the backs were always loosening, forcing a certain paranoia tied to their wearing which was far from all the company promised in its advertising. Oh she pretended to have forgotten it and pretty carelessly housed it with hair clips and a foot file, but she wasn’t fooled. She was keeping it.

The studs had been a gift to herself on her wedding trip to New York City. She freely would have admitted if challenged that it was all a bit silly, she was a tourist, and besides, there was a Tiffany in Toronto. But for 50 years now women had worshiped and identified with Audrey in that cliché film, and she was unabashedly shallow and silly in her post-modern phony sentimentality wrapped in the values of a film about a whore saved by love and capitalist symbols. The marriage was to be in New York and so this was her souvenir: sterling silver balls, affordable, simple, yet, as always a cheaper substitute for the diamonds or pearls she imagined she suited. (She would never wear fakes! Real or nothing: so far, nothing).

Once you have coveted, worn, broken, lost and begun to resent earrings like this its hard not to regard the whole thing as phony. But like all phonies of this type she was utterly sincere about it. And like an abused woman with the sense knocked out of her rather then the knock that would kick-start her self-esteem and escape, all this had not cured her. She still loved Tiffany and had shamefully added a replacement pair of the shitty earrings to the secret / not-so secret list of things she carried in her head that he “should” surprise her with. Never mind that a replacement pair of sub par $100 (Canadian) earrings was hardly a rewarding choice for the intended giver or recipient, or that he didn’t take well to explicitly being asked for certain pieces of jewellery as a gift, it had never worked and often backfired in 13 years, she was never good at creating any magic at all and he didn’t pick up on hints or have the gift of gifting, which, perhaps, is only present in people who are highly susceptible to advertiser manipulation and naturally covetous themselves. She had developed various theories as she had spent her entire adult life, her formative gift receiving years, with him, and confusingly, considered among her guides trust fund babies in Vanity Fair who had huge rocks and lived in another culture where diamonds were affordable and social customs were taught early.

Perhaps someone should do a study on the generations of women who, rather than the thousands of ads we are exposed to yearly, were stamped early and permanently as wannabe customers and wannabe Audreys, like regenerated photocopies looking very little like the real thing, who was never real but a movie image created by a strange concoction of Truman Capote, the filmmakers, Audrey’s genes, her anorexia (which her biography reveals was caused by wartime starvation), Edith Head or Givenchy and the clean scrubbed streets of New York in 1955. None of it real. But very pervasive, as evidenced by the fact that the couple’s trip to buy these earrings on a Saturday near closing time in July revealed that thousands of tourists who never buy anything wander like cattle through Audrey’s Tiffany daily, embarrassingly reminiscent of theme park bodies, distracting from the magic. She wasn’t one of them! A packed elevator ride to the 4th floor led to the correct counter. As always, she was not treated like anyone special which fed her consumer appetites further, but after the salesclerk disappeared for minutes and minutes the earrings were presented in their corporately mandated fetishistic beauty, if with no love from the giver. Thrillingly, maddeningly, they were wrapped in 1) a “Tiffany blue” paper bag, 2) a knotted white fabric ribbon of good quality, 3) the box itself, 4) the foam inside boxes for jewellery, a falsely reassuring guide to the care of sterling silver, and are you sitting down? A lovely soft pouch in “Tiffany blue”, stamped “Tiffany and co.” with a snap for the earrings to live in. (Also included was a 15 page brochure of much more expensive jewellery modeled by Shalom Harlow, which was read and the appropriate shame and lust was internalized.) Because of all this, the package would have to be unwrapped, adding the admittedly unsavory reality of buying a gift for oneself. (One had to do what one had to do, and one liked to think of oneself as an independent woman). Oh - the reflective humiliation of the memory of retying the ribbon after to pretend that she could keep getting the gift. He never blinked. Tiffany had no effect on him whatsoever. His ability to resist advertising fascinated her and gave her the same curiosity and envy as a foreign culture whose language and traditions she didn’t know. She was in love with it and it was a puzzle she longed to crack. Maybe that was love. Perhaps years of no jewellery buying from him would be solved in this way. Or perhaps somewhere he felt inadequate too. She had no way of knowing. The earrings would be shortly inspected during the walk in central park, after the carriage ride which sounds like the height of tourist cheese but was really just a coincidence.

Typical of someone with humble and hungry origins (and same or lower economic strata now, a temp job worker with no high school diploma), the fear of losing the earrings after the wearing on the trip required them to live in their pouch, foam and box most of the time. Everything was like diamonds when you have little and have been frequently told by your mother, still your lifetime’s largest buyer of gifts of this type, that you lose everything! (She had lost, well, thrown away on the front lawn a cheap ring from her high school Romeo, lost her mother’s own high school boyfriend ring, lost or given away to other boyfriends claddagh rings, and to her misfortune had grown up in the eighties so had worn her share of cheap, plastic, likely fluorescent earrings and other jewellery, but had blocked this out and fortunately, managed to lose all of it. Gradually, the notion that the earrings were bought with the purpose of not only satisfying some deep symbolic shallow Hollywood love story need, and to be a souvenir from the wedding trip, but also meant for everyday use brought them out of their box. A child of the 70’s who longed to identify with children of WW2, she knew how to ration and get her money’s worth! Worn most of the time, these earrings notably survived almost getting lost in the tent up in the wilderness, and lasted 6 months from the marriage trip. They made her happy - the religious ritual quality of the little pouch did its job. But they were still lost. Who to blame, her stubby fingers and worrying over the backs and posts? Or the manufacturer, who would laugh and say, you get what you pay for, and that packaging was worth as much as those earrings, dear! Shalom Harlow looking balefully at you in expensive black and white photography, carelessly wearing $40,000 on her wedding ring finger. Might as well have been her extended middle finger.

The backs loosened, they had to be watched. Spot checks had to be done throughout the day. Somehow, the posts were getting bent. Faulty, but the thought nagged that she couldn’t keep anything nice.

The death of the dream occurred on New Years Eve, a drunken haze where fun was had by the group but she never liked to be out of control, share a room with other couples and be told she snored all night and they had had no sleep. One earring had escaped its spot check, she blamed wearing her hair down, slipped off during the New Years evening, a fact she was not to drunk to miss. It was probably during the countdown. She and her friends looked all over the dirty carpet of the ski resort bar where they were spending the evening in vain. The next day, she awoke with a life-changing hangover that gave her the unshakable feeling that she had murdered someone, she felt so low. It wasn’t over the earring, it was just Jan 1. In a way it was a relief, they were really a lot of work. Jewellery is probably meant for people who can afford to lose it and replace it, but this thought contradicted every thought she ever had about the specialness and the metaphysical effects of 20 years of “ A diamond is forever” magazine ads.

How freeing it must be to have a sense of entitlement that enable some people to actually throw Tiffany boxes away. As disappointing as the project had been (another study, the link between women’s jewellery and disappointment), she still had the bag, ribbon, box, and care guide, foam and pouch. Maybe she could take care of things. How do you keep things safe besides keeping them in a drawer in 3 layers of protection? Here was the proof. Or maybe she just liked reminding herself of her self-created, avoidable, disappointments.
The Gift. An original work of fiction by Jacqueline Howell. 2007
Picture credit: Tiffany & Co. , whom I still love pathologically and whose website is, currently, breathtakingly divine (though, sadly, uses flash).

1 comment:

KC said...

what a great story!