How You Know

Sometimes, with Christmas gifts, it really is the thought that counts

Marry the man who gives you socks for Christmas.
Say you’ll spend the rest of your life with the guy who squirrels away a few pairs for you, in the days and weeks of early December, as gifts. He’s the one who remembers to stop on lazy Sunday afternoons at the small store you like to peek into on Bleecker Street, the one that contains wares you never think to purchase because they’re too decadent and frivolous for your entry-level salary. He thinks of that, when he passes the storefront, and enters.

Marry the guy who tells the sales clerk you don’t like the feel of the scratchy woolen kind in the bins out front. He thinks you’d like the cotton-blend ones, with a bit of cashmere woven into the fabric, because on days when you can’t afford to ride the subway, you walk thirty blocks to work in high-heeled boots. He tells the clerk that even though you’re a native New Yorker, you still need something soft. Perhaps even more so because of it.

Marry the man who hides the socks in a place he thinks you’ll never look. You live together in a three-hundred-square-foot railroad apartment, three floors above a leafy street in the West Village. Plausible hiding places for Christmas gifts are scarce in such a dwelling; so much disbelief is already suspended in the limited space you inhabit together. But you know he’s the one even when you argue with him in the windowless, claustrophobic box that dubious rental agents shamelessly call a “living room.” You respect him, so you silently promise yourself not to search for his winter surprises. You don’t want him to work that hard. Besides, he’s Jewish, and all this Christmas-ness is still somewhat new to him. This makes you love him even more—the way he takes on so much of who you are and welcomes it into his life.

Marry the man who makes an effort, late on Christmas Eve, to roll the socks tightly into colorful spirals, like cake frosting rosettes, and place them in a bundled bunch at the bottom of your stocking so that the giant sock looks just as it did on Christmas mornings when you were little—overfilled, bursting, and magical. He can’t afford to give you much, and he knows you don’t want much to begin with. But he wants to give you the felted memory of childhood, on special mornings like this.

Marry the guy who thinks you’d look cute in a pair of boldly striped knee-highs with a brightly colored contrasting toe box and heel. The one who beckons you to rest your end-of-workday feet in his lap and absentmindedly rubs your pinky toe with his thumb and first finger while he reads the “Week in Review.” Who knows that you can’t stand to be tickled because it’s a loss of control you can’t yet endure at twenty-five. Who threatens to deliciously betray that trust with a sudden flick of his index finger on the sole of your foot. You pull back reflexively and faux-pout, but he motions for you to return your foot to that soft place on his thigh. He laughs at your hesitancy and promises he won’t go any further. You stretch out your leg again and find the place where your foot was resting, the patch of over-washed denim that still feels warm. You’re a feral animal sometimes at this age, still mistrusting and hyper-alert. You dart in and out of maturity, still unsure about the concept of lifelong commitment. But he soothes you. He settles you. You’re beginning to sense assurances and—for the first time, you realize, in all of your still-young life—certainty. This is the man you marry.

The funny thing is, he doesn’t want you to wear socks to bed. Your feet are always cold, but he doesn’t care, he says. He tells you to rest them along his shinbone or between the arches of his soles. He falls asleep like that, somehow. All the time.

You marry the man whose long-ago gifts still sit at the back of your sock drawer, nearly twenty years later, and whose love has been constant and overflowing and everywhere you turn. You let him tickle you now, relentlessly and sweetly. There’s never any time to read the paper on the couch while lounging together on Sunday afternoon, but he still gives you socks every Christmas, in the toe of your stocking. They’re always the kind you like or didn’t realize you needed. Thick, non-blistering ones for the new hiking boots you just bought. Lightweight running socks with Dri-FIT fabric because you’re on the treadmill again. Soft ones, still, with bold stripes. Every year.

About the Author

Kathleen McKitty Harris

Kathleen McKitty Harris is a native New Yorker who now lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in the Rumpus, Literary Mama, Brain, Child, and McSweeney’s.

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