The tipping point in gift-giving

I had my first Internet video chat with my husband at noon on Sunday.
It cost me 50 bucks to get set up for the premier event with the purchase of a camera the size of a doughnut hole, embedded with a microphone.
Due to the procrastination virus, I had a small window of about eight minutes from the time I installed the gizmo’s hardware in my computer and the moment of truth when Pete and I would see each other for the first time in 43 days.
All this amid chewing large pieces of my chocolate bar in Olympic record time, washed down with a glass of cold milk.
I smiled and shifted my gaze back and forth between looking into the camera lens and checking out my own reflected image in the little window in the bottom left-hand corner of the computer screen—smoothing out the beginnings of the chicken neck that I see has sprouted at Year 48 under my chin.
Startled, I also wiped away the white milk moustache that stared back at me.
And then suddenly, “ding,” and there he was.
I haven’t seen Pete since March 9 and he looked like a million bucks smiling at me through that little webcam from halfway around the world. Gone are the scraggly and wiry dreadlocks of a northern backcountry miner. Pete now sports a wonderfully-buzzed head of peach fuzz.
He has a golden tan that also looks like a million bucks right about now, given that Mother Nature is having technical trouble keeping the temperature above cold around here.
But the best treat of all wasn’t the eye candy. It was the first three words that came out of his mouth when he saw me staring at him through the camera lens like a google-eyed deer as I hoped to high heaven the video connection hadn’t been made until after I’d picked my nose.
And no, the three wonderful words he said were not “I love you.”
It was even better than that.
“You’ve lost weight,” he said. “I can see it in your face. It looks skinnier.”
I swallowed the last chunk of Twix chocolate bar I’d been hauling on and choked out a “really?” and then coughed and laughed almost hysterically as I realized how thankful I was that he couldn’t see anything below my neck because that’s where everything had gravitated, sagged, and settled when I sat down at the computer and undoubtedly was the reason why my face appeared thin.
“Thanks honey!” I replied, sucking in my “Buddha” as the ceiling opened up and poured sunshine on the moment. “You made my day!”
We had 29 minutes before the system at his end would shut us down—and thus, time flew. We are never guaranteed a good Internet connection or one at all, so we made the most of it.
I moved the webcam to pan around the kitchen (sweeping over the carcasses of two resting inmates in military dog school) to show off the big box ready for the mail of the items Pete forgot to pack for his seven-month stint in Afghanistan that included his housecoat, leather slippers, a gym towel, and another blanket.
He then proceeded to tell me about the box of presents he had just put in the mail for me, purchased from an Afghan marketplace. I smiled at the thought of perhaps a beaded hair comb and maybe a necklace or two.
Nope. How about a camel spider encased in acrylic and a fake scorpion that hisses and jumps out the box when you open it?
And he seriously thought this was cool.
Didn’t this sort of thing happen before? Pete’s genuine and enthusiastic announcement of “I have a present for you,” followed by me expecting gifts of shiny trinkets.
I had tagged along, following him with a curious eye to the back of his truck (at long last, I’d thought to myself, he finally bought me a jewellery box). My anticipation had been high as a kite.
Then he heaved on the door hatch and there it was . . . a buffalo skull?
It just lay there with empty eye sockets looking at me, still in the process of being “cleaned” by the bugs. One molar, embedded with brown stuff, had popped out, leaving a gross cavern in the jaw.
And it smelled bad.
“Well, what do you think?” he had said, clearly proud.
I didn’t have it in me to turn him to stone.
And now, here I was with a strange sense of déjà vu and a tracking number for a box being mailed to me with spiders and scorpions in it and, oh yes, a tablecloth, a ball cap for my dad, and a package of cheap cigarettes for Cohort #1.
I looked straight into the webcam with my poker face, fetched a big smile from my reserves, and said, “I love you, too, honey”—all the while thinking about the box I was about to re-pack for him as soon as the Internet connection was turned off.
Yep, my pink bathrobe, my pink towel, my bunny slippers, and my pink blanket.

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