I NEVER THOUGHT of myself as one of those ungrateful Uptown girls until my boyfriend of three years brought me, from Italy, a piece of hand-blown glass boasting vibrant primary and secondary colors.The Ringling Brothers could not have created such a bold and zany replica of a clown.Yes, this was my souvenir from the city known for amore.
I hated it before I even saw it. Upon his return from Italy,Tom called me to make plans for us to reunite after our two-week separation.
“I’ll see you Saturday so I can give you your present,” Tom enticed. “What’d you get me?” I asked.
Like a used car salesman trying to convince some sucker that the old clunker on the lot was really a vintage driving machine, he said, “It’s a clown made of Venetian glass. It’s from Venice.” (I’d already figured that from the “Venetian” part.)
To add insult to injury,Tom shared that he’d also bought one for his sibling, except hers was a dog. He bought us the same gift? “I love mine,” she shouted from the background. I wanted to shout back, “Keep mine.You can use them as bookends.” Instead I did as my mother taught me when faced with any gift; I thanked him.
I had two days to psych myself up to graciously receive the comic statuette. I loved Tom, I reminded myself, and a bad gift giver did not a bad person make. At least he thought of me, I said to my reflection.
This is what New York women are often reduced to: pretending chicken shit is chicken salad just to not be alone in the big city.
I was upbeat and welcoming the evening that Tom showed up at my house. I hugged him and pressed my lips hard and long against his. Pulling the white box out of the plastic bag, I acted as though its contents were a complete surprise.With the top off, I clawed at the white tissue paper in anticipation, with the hope that he’d been joking about what he got me. But no, there it was: the handblown Bozo. At that moment, I didn’t know which to cry over more: the clown in the package or the one sitting beside me.
I’d never been able to pull off a poker face before, so I don’t know why I thought I’d get away with it that time. I couldn’t help my mouth from dropping open as I looked into the colorful jester’s beady glass eyes. I picked it out of its little cardboard coffin, weighing it in my hand, the way a pitcher gets the feel of the baseball before he’s about to throw it. “Gee, this is heavy,” was all I could muster. Tom then explained how it wasn’t hollow.
No, it was a chunk of glass that he watched them create. I couldn’t have cared less. He told me it was a fascinating process. I stifled a yawn. He mentioned that his sister had preferred the clown, but because it was more detailed than its brown canine counterpart, he let me have it. I half smiled.
To show my pretend appreciation, I nuzzled his neck and kissed his cheek, before I placed the fragile fool on the top shelf of my bookcase and suggested we go out because I did not want to have to look at it anymore.
This was not the first time that Tom had disappointed me, but I just wasn’t ready to dive back into the demoralizing New York dating scene. I chose to push the whole episode out of my mind, which I did rather easily since denial was the cornerstone of our relationship and “Pagliacci” had been relegated so far from eye-level.
It was right back in my face, though, when my well-traveled aunt came over a few days later.
“What’s this,” she said, pointing to my new keepsake. I swallowed hard and proclaimed, “That’s what Tom brought me back from his trip.”
Never one to pull punches, she put her hands on her hips and said what I had been afraid to even think. “All the beautiful jewelry in Italy, and he got you this?” My aunt, who had toured extensively throughout the country, knew of what she spoke and began to recount every piece of bling she recalled seeing on any number of her adventures. She ended her tirade with the reminder that “the thought does not count.”The gift itself says what the person thinks of you. Clearly, my boyfriend felt he was like a brother to me.
It took a while, but I broke up with Tom. “Pagliacci” was not the reason, but more like the beginning of the end. Being out there, when the “there” is a city of eight million and the women outnumber the men, is scary. Ending up alone in a relationship is even scarier.
Two years later, I was cleaning and could not for the life of me get the vacuum to suck up a small piece of paper that was lodged in the rug in front of the bookcase. I became so frustrated that I started to run the vacuum over its target more forcefully. The final time, it rammed into the foot of the shelving, shaking the piece of furniture and its contents. Some knick-knacks rattled, a few books tipped over, but one thing fell to the ground and shattered into what looked like a million Venetian glass pieces.
Tom’s offering had shown me that our romance was a joke, but I got the last laugh.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, is available on amazon.com.