Visitors to Knott’s Berry Farm, the redheaded stepchild of Anaheim amusement parks, are well familiar with Montezooma’s Revenge, a nasty torture device masquerading as a roller coaster in the heart of jam-land. The ride is basically one long curlique. You get dragged up one side, shoot down through a loop, and zoom up a tower on the far side. You pause for one horrifying moment at a terrifying height, then slide back down the tower, backwards through the same loop, and then you crawl off to die.
This vomitous experience is a perfect analogy for my month of December. I crawled onto the ride right after Thanksgiving, not really paying attention to what was going on around me. I rushed through the loop of the first week, trying to get everything together for the kids’ end of the year festivities in what little time I had to plan them, then ZOOM- off to Orlando for a week. I arrived back, took a breath, and then WHOOSH, off I went the next day to pack the apartment.
Two days later, wheeeeeeeeeee the movers were in the apartment. This is where the roller coaster would normally stop, but I was in a reverberation loop that wasn’t done throwing me around just yet. It’s December 21st and you just moved in! YOU HAVE TO DECORATE FOR CHRISTMAS! Track down the presents you sent to various locations! The kids are waiting on you! ZOOM through the loop yet again. Yes, I was feeling nauseated by this time.
I awoke on Christmas Eve with a sick sense of horror, thinking the ride was done with me but knowing I was hovering once more at the top of the tower. I ran through a mental checklist: Kekoa was back in the house, check. Dogs are reunited, check. Tree is up, check. But I’m sliding backwards! My stomach is in my mouth! What am I missing? Then it hit me:
I had totally not finished Christmas shopping.
Which would be fine, normally- what’s one less thing under the tree, right? But here’s the problem: I had nothing for my husband. Like, not a thing. Because he’s hard to shop for and I kept thinking I had time, but now it’s Christmas Eve and somehow I never managed to get it done.
And he’s the kind of person who would say, “It’s fine, really,” and he would mean it, because he likes to buy himself the things he wants anyway, but I wasn’t OK with it because I am not the kind of person who can just watch their significant other sit under the tree with nothing to open and not feel a tremendous rush of guilt and remorse. I have neglected pretty much every thing in my life the last 2 months, blog, family, health- in pursuit of the simple act of survival, but this was inexcusable, even for me.
Which is how I found myself bleary eyed and exhausted, standing in the parking lot of the Fashion Valley mall at 8 am with a bunch of other embarrassed looking people (mostly men) furtively peering in window fronts for just the right thing that says, “Thoughtful, so thoughtful it took me 24 days of shopping to find it.”
For reasons I still don’t understand, I decided that the thing my husband really needed was a tagine. He would have a tagine and it would be marvelous and we would ride off into the cinnamon scented sunset of Moroccan cuisine. So I bought one, not really paying attention to the size of the box.
I bought a few more things here and there, rushing a bit because it had started to rain cats and dogs on the unsuspecting populace, and if there’s one thing I hate more than last minute shopping, it’s last minute shopping while cold sopping wet. I sloshed back into Sur la Table to get the tagine, and then I realized- wow. That is a big tagine.
“Do you have a bag this would fit in?” I asked.
“No,” said the ambivalent seasonal employee.
“Do you have tape handles?” I asked
“Tape handles?” she replied.
“Yes, like they use down the row at Williams-Sonoma,” I hinted. “You make a handle out of tape so you can carry the box.”
“Oh, tape handles,” she said. “No.”
“Service bay for drive by pickup?”
“No.” She hefted the box into my arms. “Be careful. The sidewalk out there is super slippery.”
There are things one does in life because they want to. There are things one does out of penance. Hefting a massive unwieldy box of pottery through a sea of slippery people in a rainstorm while teetering on unwisely selected wedge heels is one of those things I accepted as the universe’s solemn punishment for my matrimonial negligence, a penitential pilgrimage to the furthest reaches of the parking lot made worse by the cramping in my arms and the occasional twist of the ankle as I tried to balance the thing on the escalator railing.
The only thing that made it worth it was the absolute certainty that I had, at last, found an interesting and cool thing my husband was sure to be surprised by. He LOVES Moroccan food. He loves to use weird utensils on the grill. Pistachio scented couscous is way better than that lame-o smart thermostat thing he asked for which was backordered through January anyway. He would love the tagine. He MUST love the tagine. It was a representation of atonement for all the things I had screwed up and let fall by the wayside the last six months, weeks upon weeks of late night peanut butter sandwiches and empty refrigerators and bare toilet paper rolls. Now, it announced, we are back on track. New house, new kitchen, and new tagine.
After wrestling the beast into the car, driving it through the maelstrom of rain back home, then waiting for it to dry out so I could wrap it, I finally got it wrapped and maneuvered under the tree, an impressive box of thoughtful proportions.
It was the last box my husband opened yesterday.
We watched him peel the wrapping back, eyes wide, one hand on the chair and one on my slightly sprained back.
He looked at it. He traced the label with his finger. He raised his eyebrows. Lifting his eyes to mine, he took a sip of cocoa and said,
“What’s a tagine?”
(NSFW warning for language)
He was totally cool but I suspect he was doing this on the inside. Fortunately for me he has what I lack, the gift of perspective. We’re all together, and that’s all that matters (or so I hear.)
Maybe I should have stuck a bow on Kekoa’s head and called it a day.