This is my own personal Gift of the Magi story, only instead of a husband and a wife, it involves a brother and sister. (And instead of their giving up what they most cherish to give the other something to complement what they most cherish, this one involves no such sacrifice on the part of the sister.) (That sister would be me.)
A few weeks ago, my brother asked me where my collection of short stories titled Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie was. He hadn’t seen it on our bookshelf, and he wanted a story to use in one of his classes. I looked at the bookshelf and around the bookshelf and under the bookshelf, but I couldn’t find the book. My heart sank. I loved that collection. Where could it be? My brother said he thought it had been in my ‘give away’ pile back when I was preparing for our move to Chicago. I couldn’t believe that I had done that, but I was in an intensely minimalist mood at the time, alternately taking truckloads of items to the trash can and Salvation Army. Maybe Blasphemy was one of the casualties– maybe in my zeal I had given it away because I saw it as excess weight. The thought made me sick.
After texting my mom to look for it at my parents’ house and making a note to myself to look for it when I was home over Thanksgiving, I resigned myself to the fact that I had stupidly put it in the wrong box and would have to live without it from now on. (I have a fatalistic view of my personal library.) Not one to let people down without a guilty conscience, I found a PDF version of a story that would work for my brother’s class and emailed it to him. He didn’t end up using it but said it would have fit perfectly. I felt a little better.
A couple weeks went by, and one day, when I got home from work, I saw a book-sized package on my porch, addressed to my brother. We order a lot of packages, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to find one there. I set it on our kitchen counter for him to see when he got home and went about my evening. What was weird to me was that after he got home, when I looked at the package, I saw his name crossed out and my name written above it. I was 90% sure that wasn’t how it was when I brought it inside, but because my brother plays innocent during pranks, I– true to form– doubted myself. He just said they must have made a mistake and that it had my name on it, so it must be for me. I shrugged, finished whatever I was doing around the house, and finally opened the thing. To my honest-to-goodness surprise (albeit not to anyone else’s), it was Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie. A brand-spankin’-new copy. There was even a note inside:
Hi Alyse, An early Christmas present, in case you run out of reading material before then. I had a feeling you’ve been looking for this one. Sincerely, definitely not your brother
It was so sweet, not least because he did it without expecting anything in return. My siblings and I don’t usually buy Christmas gifts for each other; we usually just pick a name or (like this year) don’t buy anything at all. I tried showing my gratitude, even though it seemed weaker than how I really felt, and when he went to the bathroom, I went to the shelf to find a place for it.
I stared at the puzzle for a few seconds before spotting a book that looked like the perfect size for the one I would be replacing it with. I stepped forward, put my hand up to pull it out, and right before I did, I read the spine: Blasphemy. By Sherman Alexie.
The book had been there the whole time.
I yelled. (Because Caleb was busy at the moment, I had to yell through the bathroom door to tell him what happened.) I wanted to melt into the ground. I felt terrible. He had done this incredibly thoughtful thing, and then I had to ruin it by making it redundant. Back into the package and through the mail the book had to go; between the legs went my tail. He came out of the bathroom, and we came up with all the reasons we had missed it the first several times we looked for it: the writing was small, the spine was white when we were looking for a blue one, there was nothing to catch our eye, etc. Yet it had been the first book I went to move when I got the new one. Kills me.
By now it should be clear how this parallels the Gift of the Magi (as in, not much). There is a common thread, though: two people sacrificially getting each other what they no longer need. My brother got me a book I thought I had given away that I actually still had, and I got my brother nothing (which he definitely didn’t need). But no matter how sad it seems, in the end in both cases, there was nothing left to do but laugh. (Actually, I don’t really remember how The Gift of the Magi ends. Let’s just say, for the purpose of this post, it ends with them laughing.) So laugh we did.