Once inside, he laid out the presents in a row. It was a tradition we called "the birthday walk," and presents were arranged to be opened in order. First the card that said "I'll give you the world if you accept my love." The next package was the obligatory socks and underwear we always gave one another. Next were a few gifts I can't even remember but they probably veered toward goofy or sexy. The last gift was a big square box.
"Go ahead. Open it!" his impatience getting the better of him.
I ripped open the wrapping and inside the box was an old globe from the forties that lights up from the inside. I had admired one a few years ago. He remembered. I looked up in surprise and reached and hugged him. I kissed him, feeling the warm bristles of his mustache. He was so happy by my reaction, he smiled through the kiss.
The globe was promptly put right on the dresser that sits to the left of the front door. I turned it on and its soft glow lit the darkening room. We sat on the couch and kissed and talked until we made our way to the bedroom.
Billy moved back home four months after my birthday. A few years later, we had a bad fight. After a battle, Billy would measure with his fingers how big the fight was. Little fights ranked an inch or two between his thumb and forefinger. Medium fights rated an outstretched thumb. Rarely were arms used.
But this fight had real teeth to it and damned if I can't even remember the ignition. During our argument, Billy accidentally swung his arm around, while standing by the globe, and knocked it to the floor. The globe's glass shattered and I retreated to the bedroom, shaken by its loss. I could hear Billy sweeping up and when he was done, he came into the bedroom and apologized. I didn't accept it and gazed at the television with defiance.
The next day, after the emotional dust had settled, Billy exclaimed, "That was a big fight!" This time his arms stretched wider than any fight we ever had.
Over the next few months, the garage was suddenly off limits to me. Billy spent a great deal of time locked inside. It was always his domain anyway with his workbench and tools and his growing collection of stuff that was rescued from the neighborhood garbage bins.
At Christmas that year, we opened our presents. They were the usual little gifts leading up to the grand prize. The amount of gifts, no matter how small, were more important than the actual present. I bought Billy a CD burner, a scanner, some socks and underwear, and assorted goodies. It was always gift-for-gift. First me then him then me. I opened up all of my gifts and was happy with the booty I collected.
"Wait a minute, Mister, you have one more!" he said as he popped off the couch and ran to the garage. He brought back one more box. A big square one wrapped in Santa paper. Not having a clue what was in it, I ripped apart its Santas and inside the box was the globe. He took every single piece of that shattered glass and glued it seamlessly back together with painstaking detail. It was whole again.
From that day forward, the light inside the globe has never gone off except to change the low wattage bulb inside. It sits in the same spot as it first rested, sharing the top of the dresser now with Billy's folded flag and his dogtag.