I was thinking about what to get my mom for christmas (if anything;" Nothing" is my usual solution to the problem these days).
And I remembered when I was little, like 7 or 8, my mom would give my brother and me each 10 dollars and set us free in the Sun Valley Mall (in Concord, where we lived then) to buy presents for the family. Usually I'd get silly cheap-ass toys for my brother and Old Spice for my dad (he must have had *buttloads* of that stuff!) And every year, I searched the mall for the most extraordinary, glorious, inspired gift for my mom to show her how much I loved her, how precious she was to me.
My brother and I had been going to parochial schools for years, not because we were a religious family but because my mom thought we'd get better educations. The only thing about that is that those schools end up raising the students as Catholic (or Episcopalian) sort of by nature, regardless of whether the kids and their families are practicing said religion. And mom never bothered to point out that we weren't actually Catholic. So I absorbed the religiousness like kids absorb everything, and never gave thought to it.
So, in searching out the Perfect Gift for my mom, I always ended up buying her the most jewel-encrusted shiny cross necklace I could find for five bucks. Golden ones, garnet ones, diamante ones. To me they symbolized the most special and perfect way I wanted to tell her I loved her in my little kid way, and I didn't really associate the cross with religion; it was just a familiar symbol of love.
My mom, being not really Catholic or anything else for that matter, always put the necklaces away into her jewelry box and never wore them, but I didn't notice that. All I remember was that she loved getting them, and I remember fondly the precious feeling the gift summed up about my mom, for me. Nowadays I get her nothing, but we shop at Macy's together the day after Thanksgiving, which seems like a tradition to her so it's okay with me. Anyway she certainly doesn't need any more cross necklaces.
After my parents divorced, I never got my dad anything else either. I hardly ever saw him, except when he took me to see him in Fresno for a weekend, a rare occurrence. When he divorced my mom he immediately remarried, to a horrible materialistic southern belle who was jealous of any contact my dad had with his own children.
I came to stay with them once, in the big white Colonial monstrosity my dad had built for her. He took us shopping in the big white Cadillac my dad bought for her. I was probably 10 or 11, and at that prepubescent age I was a bit androgynous-looking, with straight honey-blonde hair and ususally wearing jeans and t-shirts. I remember her trying to doll me up once, putting me in a dress and curling my hair into Shirley Temple locks, trying to fit me into her dream-house dream-car dream-life. I protested politely but ultimately she did her thing.
On one of these visits, we went to a jewelry mart. The stepmother oohed and aahed over diamonds and opals, and dad followed her around nervously, looking for a bargain that wouldn't rip a hole in his wallet. I remember leaning over a case of garnet jewelry, my January birthstone, falling ever deeper in love with the beautiful blood-red stones.
My dad came over to see what I was looking at, and picked out a gold necklace with a small, golden, garnet-faced heart pendant. And he bought it for me! I felt so special and loved as he clasped it behind my neck. It was the most extravagant piece of jewelry I had ever owned, and my daddy gave it to me, and it was a heart, so it meant he really did love me!
The stepmother was furious. Who cares, he divorced her later.
I returned back to the modest apartment where I lived with my mom and brother in Concord, and showed my mom the necklace.
"He's just trying to buy your love. It's pathetic!", she cried.
"No he's not!", I protested. Surely he'd come visit more if he could, I thought... and surely he'd pay his child support on time if he could afford to, I thought. I always defended him to my mom, who was raising two children on a minute income while my dad spent all his money on big white things for his handsome wife.
When my apartment in Pasadena was robbed, that necklace disappeared.
And as I told you, there is still a strong element of longing in my relationship with my dad. Now he's been married for 15 years or so to wife number three, who has a son and daughter of her own about the same ages as my brother and myself. For years and years I bitterly resented the two of them, especially the girl, for being the replacements for David and me in my dad's life. How utterly unfair that they should get to have him, the one thing in life I wanted most! What drove me to fury most of all is how they acted like he was a hero, and adopted him as their own dad in every way. Their own father had up and left them years ago, abandoning them and leaving them in financial straits, the bastard.
But didn't they know that this man they adored, my father, had done the same thing to us?
The cross necklace will always be the love I cannot communicate... and the heart necklace will always be the love I cannot have.