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September 11, 2011 / jwaxo

Mission: Impossible (Knowing Gifts)

Don’t even get me started on this game.

With any present-giving celebration, it’s almost tradition to try to find out what you’re getting beforehand. Don’t ask me why; I’m sure you can’t give a proper answer, either. As kids, once you’re past the age of five you understand that even if you know what you’re getting, you still won’t actually get it until the event comes to pass. Christmas, birthday, Easter candy, whatever: you may see the gifts stacked up, unwrapped, in the top shelf of your parents’ closet, but you’ll understand the amount of trouble you’ll get in if you so much as rearrange the order of the presents. You also understand, after the first time it happens, that it’s not as exciting opening that giftwrapped item when you know what’s in it. There’s some kind of disappointment that, oh, it was what you saw, half-hidden, behind the shoe tree.

But that somehow doesn’t stop this strange game of hide-and-seek between you and your parents.

Not that there are many good spots to hide presents in a house that you’ve lived in for nine years. Eventually our parents resorted to sneaking up to the crawlspace over the garage on Christmas morning to pull the presents out. Even then, I held the ladder when my brother crawled up there some weekend in June.

Imagine this, but with me gibbering and fretting in fear of injury or, worse, groundation.

One year, around Christmas, we found presents hidden in the most obvious spot: the bottom cabinet of the ancient-seeming bookcases my parents eventually passed on to me when I moved out. The gifts were all wrapped, which was almost better than unwrapped: we sorted through them with glee, guessing at their contents, wondering whose was whose. Later, my mom pulled me aside and, holding back a clever smirk, revealed she knew that we had gone through the presents. Even though they were wrapped, even though they were in an obvious spot, she still took the time to tape a single hair along the underside of the door.

The lesson here is that, no matter what steps you take to prevent it, no matter how carefully you hide the presents, early you wrap them, ridiculous alarm systems: the weakest link is not any of this. The weakest link is who you tell.

I admit, freely of course, that I was always the weakest link in these situations. I was six years younger than my sister, three younger than my brother, and was dragged along on all kinds of shopping trips. This resulted in me being involved in some pretty big secrets and being too young not to gleefully reveal big hidden things that I had discovered or, worse, been asked specifically to keep secret.

You always know when you give up a secret like that, too, because the look on the faces of the intended recipient(s) make the saddest expressions.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw, why’d you have to tell me?”

The joke around the house became, in no uncertain means, “don’t tell Jeffrey, he’ll tell everyone.” Like some kid in a Life cereal commercial or something.

Of course, in this outpouring of related events, there’s one specific time that I remember me getting “the reveal” early.

The year: 2000. The new millennium. Video game technology had been leaping forward at an incredible rate, and we had been seeing advertising for the Nintendo 64 everywhere. Stations at Fred Meyer, magazines, dentist offices, the rich kids who lived behind us, everywhere. For the past four years. I oh-so-desperately wanted an N64. Oh-so-desperately.

When I heard that my sister’s seemingly-grownup boyfriend had smashed his N64 out of rage I nearly cried. What a waste! He could have just given it to me! Truly this altruistic act would bring joy to his life.

My twelfth birthday approached.

I’m not certain what my birthday wishlist comprised of, but I know there was at least one item on there: a Nintendo 64. And, one night, naturally just after having gone to confession, my brother and I were hanging out in the back of the church, bored out of our minds.

“I know what you’re getting for your birthday,” he taunted me.

“Really? What?” I asked, gleefully. “No, wait. No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!”

He was confident. “You’d never guess, anyway.”

“It’s not an N64? Right? Right?”

But his face was too easy to read. It was my first guess. The grin creeped out and he started laughing. “And with some Mission: Impossible game!” he confirmed. “From the Trading Post.”

And, even though it was exactly what I wanted, even though it had been on every birthday and Christmas list for the past four years, opening the wrapping paper that late April morning was nowhere near as exciting as it could have been. After all, I virtually already had an N64 with a game. Why would it be exciting to finally get it?

Surprise is the majority of the gift.

I also don’t think anyone played M:I but me. It wasn’t that great.

Plus, it came with a 100% save file. But more on that later.

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