When it came to men and dating, Heather had a few mantras. One was, “Every woman should receive at least one piece of serious jewelry from an unserious relationship.”
Her friends knew that her proclamations were 50 percent tongue in cheek and 50 percent bravado. After all, the most serious piece of bling that Heather had ever received was a sequined tree ornament, no doubt procured at an after-Christmas sale.
But that didn’t stop her from hoping, especially after she eyed the impressive diamond collection of Candace, a co-worker with the placid beauty of Gwyneth Paltrow. Candace collected diamonds with the same casual abandon that school boys gather Pokemon cards. When Heather complemented her on a glimmering diamond tennis bracelet, she shrugged, “Oh. This thing? It’s from that stock broker I dated last year.”
When Heather remarked on a diamond necklace, she was equally blasé. “I took the diamonds in a ring from the car dealer I dated and had my jeweler remake it into this.”
But Heather’s boyfriend, a middle manager at the phone company, was clueless in the gift-giving department. God knows he tried. After Heather happened to mention a pet rat from her childhood, he bombarded her with vermin accessories. He found a baseball cap with a rat logo, a rat calendar and a book about the rats of New York City. The same thing happened after she admired the frogs they spotted in the lily pond at Huntington Gardens. The next thing she knew, her closet looked like an amphibian refuge, filled with frog T-shirts, nightshirts, socks and caps.
Heather was about to tell him about her nephew’s affection for Barney the Dinosaur, but she stopped short, lest he start a quest for all things purple and prehistoric.
At the same time, a male friend who wanted to be more than a friend, chose well. His presents weren’t diamonds or pearls, but aspirational items. He called them “tokens,” but they reflected how Heather wanted to be seen, not as she necessarily was. His tokens included an elegant leather clutch, as soft as butter; an antique fountain pen and a book of her favorite poetry. Unlike the gifts from her boyfriend, his gifts made her feel that he knew her and who she wanted to be. Beautiful, elegant, unique, special.
When her boyfriend noticed that she never wore the caps or socks or T-shirts and didn’t hang the calendars, he began to doubt his choices. He figured he couldn’t go wrong with gift cards and switched to cards from local chain restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory in Old Pasadena or the Olive Garden in Monrovia. (Why didn’t he know that she hated chain restaurants?)
As time went on, his gifts became even less personal and more off the mark. She knew that he had reached an all-time low when she opened an envelope with the most generic gift of all, a Starbucks card. How is it that they had been dating for two years and he still didn’t understand that she liked her two percent lattes from Euro Pane (the original location on East Colorado Blvd), not Starbucks?
He must have sensed her dissatisfaction because he warned her that the “perfect gift” was waiting under the tree. She opened the small box while he looked on, eager and hopeful. But she couldn’t hide her disappointment when she saw his selection and realized that he still didn’t know her. The engagement ring was a shiny yellow gold, not a subdued platinum. The shape was a fussy pear instead of a classic cut. The band had a gaudy etching. Heather became sadly aware that she had finally received a serious piece of jewelry from an unserious relationship.
She knew then that everything was wrong: the ring, the relationship and her early mantra about men and jewelry. She put the ring down and looked longingly at another box, the one tied up in luxurious, double-satin ribbon, from her friend who wanted to be more than a friend.
© Copyright 2016 Susan Carrier. All rights reserved.
Susan Carrier lived in the Pasadena area for more than three decades, and now lives and writes in Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s adapted to desert living, but she still misses Euro Pane and is in an endless search for a decent bowl of ramen.