Julie's Christmas Sweater
May 1, 2002
Blue and big and rough all over
by Nate Hendley
ulie was my girlfriend at university. We met during frosh week and ended up going out for four years.
Blonde and vivacious, Julie was a lot of fun to be around. She was high spirited and this always brightened my mood. She was also smart and patient and willing to proof-read my essays, pointing out spelling mistakes and errors of logic.
If Julie had a flaw, it was that she had terrible judgment when it came to giving presents. Gift certificates are my idea of a great present. Bland, inoffensive and always well-received. I bought Julie certificates for everything from movies and restaurants to books and records. I told her to give me the same, but she never listened.
For my nineteenth birthday, she bought me a beer-making kit. Being a big fan of barley-based drinks, I thought it was a terrific presentuntil I opened the box. Inside, I found a plastic bag filled with what looked like sawdust and a lengthy list of all the equipment I needed and steps I had to follow to brew the perfect beer. After laying out a hundred dollars for the necessary gear, I ended up with a couple dozen bottles of something that tasted like ginger-ale mixed with industrial alcohol. I fobbed them off on my unsuspecting dorm-mates at a very drunken end-of-term bash.
For my next birthday, Julie gave me a European-style beer flute. Made of glass, the flute was about three feet long and two inches wide.
It would have been a marvelous present, except that it was impossible to clean. I tried shooting water down its neck, and ended up getting soaked. I tried poking the inside of it with a potato skewer, but it wasn't long enough to reach the bottom. No matter what method I used, I was unable to remove all the grime that accumulated inside the flute. Grime turned to fungus and soon, my birthday present began to resemble a test-tube inhabited by bacteria culture.
I ended up throwing the beer flute in a garbage bin and made up a story about breaking it at a party.
But it was during our third Christmas together as a couple that Julie gave me the ultimate bad gift.
Instead of buying me something, she decided to make me a present. I think this was to demonstrate how much she loved me, a gesture that both impressed and terrified me. I certainly had no desire to reciprocate and make something for her.
It wasn't too hard to figure out what my present was.
Every time I passed by her room, I could hear the click-clack of knitting needles.
Whenever I knocked on Julie's door, the clicking would stop and there would be a long pause before she let me in.
I assumed she was making me a sweater or maybe a winter hat. The whole enterprise filled with me anxiety, however. Julie had never displayed any interest, much less talent, in knitting. And, unlike a beer kit, I might actually have to wear whatever she was creating. I wasn't sure if I was up to that level of commitment.
I took Julie's hand-made present as a sign of things to come. I could see us, five years down the road, with a couple of kids and a small house replete with hand-crafted knick-knacks. Julie had been hinting at marriage, and seemed to be waiting for me to propose, something I wasn't prepared to do. As much as I loved her, I knew I was too youngand immatureto settle down.
On the evening before Christmas break, I finally got to judge the results of Julie's knitting frenzy. I was summoned into her room and told to stand by the dresser and face the bedthe same bed we'd slept in countless times. I stared at her collection of blank-eyed teddy bears and waited, fidgeting. I could hear Julie giggling behind me as she removed her hand-crafted present from its hiding place.
'Turn around,' she ordered, and I did.
Julie stood before me, holding out her gift for me to inspect.
It was a sweater, that much I could tell. The sweater, made from light blue yarn, was unusually big and oddly proportioned, as if she had used a hunchback as her model.
'What do you think?' Julie beamed, her voice giddy with expectation.
'I can't wait to wear it,' I lied, as I ran my hands over the sweater's rough, uneven surface.
As Julie watched, I took the sweater from her and put it on. I fit my head and arms through the appropriate holes, then pulled the garment over my shirt.
The bottom end of the sweater hung down to my knees, while the sleeves crept past my fingertips, making it look like I had no hands. If I were a hockey player, I could have worn it over my shoulder pads without stretching it one inch. The material chafed at my wrists and felt heavy and hot.
I walked around the room and gazed at myself in the full-length mirror on Julie's dresser. I tried hard not to scream at my reflection. It looked like I was wearing a huge, blue Easter egg made from cheap yarn.
Julie scrutinized my face as I pretended to be impressed. Then, she leaned forward and uttered the words that I was dreading.
'Do you like it?' she asked.
With a smile that would have won me ovations in drama class, I gazed at my girlfriend and told her I loved her present.
'But it's so big,' she said. 'Maybe I should have made it smaller.'
As much as I wanted to agree with her, I knew well enough to keep lying.
'No, no,' I protested. 'I like it just the way it is.'
A sudden inspiration flashed over me. At the time, I was involved with a university writing group. My fellow crafters of prose liked to wear baggy, over-sized clothes. It was a fashion statement that seemed daringly radical on a campus full of preppies.
'It looks bohemian,' I proclaimed. 'It's the kind of thing an artsy would wear. I love it.'
Julie beamed and all was well that Christmas.
By giving the garment an undeserved status as a 'specialty' item, only to be brought out for solemn, artistic occasions, I managed to avoid ever having to wear the damn thing. I sometimes put it on when visiting Julie's dorm, but that was it.
Sadly, neither the sweater nor our relationship out-lasted graduation.
Julie and I split up at the end of our last year in university, after I admitted to a fling with a female bohemian from my writing group. Julie dumped me, which was something of a relief because it meant I no longer had to worry about being a reluctant groom. I felt guilty, however, that she had invested so much time and energy in our relationship, only to see it fall apart. Just as she had invested a huge amount of time and care in the Christmas sweater.
Unfortunately, the sweater was ugly as sin, and about as unappealing as the idea of getting engaged after graduation. Which is why, instead of saving it or giving it away, I got rid of Julie's Christmas sweater within days of our break-up. Just looking at it made me feel guilty. I couldn't keep it, and I didn't want to donate it to charity. If I gave the sweater to the Salvation Army, I ran the risk of seeing it again on some street-person, a rather frightening possibility.
I dithered for a while then tossed the sweater in a garbage bag full of kitchen scraps. It seemed the fitting place for a present I hated from a girl I once loved.
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