We had opened nearly all our gifts. Only a few remained. My sister and I sat cross-legged near the tree, toys and boxes and wrapping paper strewn about us.
“Why don’t you open the big one,” my mother suggested to me. “I think you’re going to like it.”
I smiled. Weakly, no doubt. I knew what it was. I had known what all my gifts were. I was tired of this. I hated pretending to be surprised. I wish I hadn’t done what I’d done. . . .
When I was in sixth grade, one of my favorite TV shows was “The A-Team,” with, of course, Mr. T. So my friends and I, of course, loved to pretend, when we played, that we were the A-Team. And that got even better when my best friend Jeff got for Christmas the toy gun that the A-Team guys used on the show: the A-Team M-24 Assault Rifle. It could change from a pistol to a rifle, had a scope, and it shot suction cups and did other stuff boys like. It looked like this:
The gun was so cool, so I had asked Santa for it.
A month before Christmas the following year, Jeff asked me if I knew if I was getting the gun. I said I didn’t know.
“Why not?” he said.
“Because I don’t know,” I said.
“Why don’t you look,” he said.
“Look?” I said.
“Yes. Don’t you know where your parents keep your gifts.”
“Yes. I always do.”
And Jeff proceeded to tell me what he was getting for Christmas and he seemed to not mind already knowing. I had never thought of doing this. But I was curious to see if I was getting the gun.
Two weeks before Christmas that year I woke for school, walked downstairs and faked being sick.
“What do you want for breakfast?”
“Actually, I’m not hungry. I’m not feeling well.”
“Really? You look fine. What’s wrong?”
“My head and my stomach hurt,” I said, not looking at her.
My mom looked at me closely. . . . Finally, she said, “Do you think staying home is something you need to do?”
“Yes. I think resting would help.”
“Okay. Go upstairs and rest. I’m going to take your sister to school.”
And that was that. I was staying home. Not to avoid anything.
I was staying home to see what was in my father’s closet.
An hour later, the house was quiet. I realized I had about one hour to carry out my devious act. I returned downstairs and was actually very hungry so I quickly scarfed down breakfast and then made my way towards my parents room. It was a small bedroom. We lived in a Cape and their room was downstairs. I realized I’d never been in my parents’ room before when no one else was in the house. I began to feel like an intruder, breaking into a temporarily unoccupied home. I heard from downstairs the furnace kick on, and heated air being pushed through the ducts in the walls around me. The ticking of my dad’s alarm clock. Muffled sounds of traffic from outside. My mom’s perfume lingered in the room. I tiptoed in, the floorboards creaking, and walked toward the closet.I decided it was now or never.
I opened his closet.
Hanging from hangers were all my father’s dress shirts and pants and ties and belts. I noticed that nearly all my father’s shirts were a different shade of blue. On the inside of the door was a long mirror and taped all around it were illustrations of mine: baseball players and the Ghostbusters and Yoda. I couldn’t believe he’d kept all those drawings. On the floor of the narrow closet, visible under the hanging dress pants, was a large shopping bag. I thought about how I’d known for years that this was where my parents hid our gifts but that I’d never considered – not for a moment – going through it. Before now. What happened to me?
I spent the next two weeks pretending I didn’t know what I was getting for Christmas. I liked being able to tell Jeff that I was getting the same gun he had, and we couldn’t wait to play with those guns together. But I wasn’t as excited for Christmas morning that year.
Everything was just as it normally was. The tree looked great and my dad had lit a fire in the fireplace and soft holiday music was being played and everyone was happy and taking pictures, but I was pretending the whole time. And I realized I wasn’t good nor did I enjoy pretending.
When everyone was done opening their gifts, I was, as usual, thankful. But that year, I was thankful that the morning was over. I was thankful I got the toy gun I wanted. But more thankful that I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
Faking it was burdensome, and took the joy and magic out of Christmas.
I never peaked again.