A Very Fiber Optic Christmas
by Tracy López
The year is 1998 and it is our first Christmas together as a married couple. Carlos and I have moved in with my parents, unable to afford a place of our own. Living with a gringo-family has been an eye-opening experience for Carlos. He spends a great deal of time simply observing and trying to understand what in the world is going on. Christmas morning and his gift to me, reveal he still hasn’t quite figured it all out.
After our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls, we gather around the tree to open gifts. I’m most excited to see what Carlos got for me because the week before he had gone to the mall and bought my gift by himself, refusing to give me a single hint. The gift is rectangular and slightly bigger than a shoebox. I tear away the paper and open the box.
“What… is it?” I ask.
Carlos sets it on the table and plugs it in. Color-changing fiber optic flowers and a plastic hummingbird come to life, glowing. Carlos twists a key on the side of the strange lamp, and a song I immediately recognize, (despite not being a fan of Broadway), as “Memory” from the musical “Cats,” begins to play.
It is the tackiest thing I have seen in my entire life. It looks like decor from a cheap Chinese buffet.
Carlos turns to me, smiling nervously, “Do you like it?”
Do I like it? Does my husband know me at all? How could he think I would like something so tacky? … I don’t dare turn to look at my family, who are most certainly suppressing laughter.
“It’s so…pretty!” I lie, giving him a kiss and thanking him.
Eventually we move out of my parent’s house. Eventually I put the lamp away in the closet. Carlos, a man of detail, notices immediately.
“Where is the lamp?”
“The one with the flowers that I gave you for our first Christmas.”
The truth finally comes out. I explain as gently as I can and teach Carlos the new English word – “tacky,” but he still seems puzzled by my dislike of the lamp. He insists that in El Salvador, people would love such a lamp. What isn’t to like? Flowers, lights, color, music! I feel ashamed that I hate the lamp, that he now knows this, and probably feels a little hurt. I know that he chose it for me carefully, and gave it to me out of love. My mother’s voice chides me inside my head: “It’s the thought that counts.”
The lamp back upon the table, I learn to love it in my own way over the years. The lamp reminds me each day that Carlos and I come from very different places which can sometimes result in very different thinking. And, although I tease Carlos when we see fiber optic decorations at Chinese buffets, I’ve come to realize that the lamp he gave me was never the gift in the first place – looking at the lamp and remembering how much Carlos loves me is the gift, and there’s nothing tacky about that.
Tracy López is a writer of multicultural fiction and non-fiction. She is also the author of the Spanglish culture blog Latinaish.com.