I was 16, had my driver's license, was in my prime of teenhood. My younger sister, Jen, and I had our Operation: Christmas routine mastered. Looking at the portable stereo in my hands, I was going through the motions—not faking my happiness at having the device but feigning surprise in receiving it.
By Christmas morning, I already knew that my parents had bought it for me. They had purchased it in the fall, long before any snow had fallen. Not only had I found it in their bedroom, I had opened the box and played some cassettes in it, had bought the required D-cell batteries to power it, and had taken it to the General Burns Park, where I played Genesis' Duke while my friends and I hung out on the swings.
I always had it perfectly packed up and returned to its "hiding spot" when I was done with it.
Earlier in the morning, while Jen and I snuck downstairs to pre-unwrap our gifts, I practiced my surprise in unwrapping my mini ghetto blaster. She didn't know that I had already discovered this gift.
The only true surprise I would have had would have been to find out, after months of playing with it, that the portable stereo wasn't, in fact, for me; that I had been breaking in one of my sisters' gifts. But I was fairly certain it was mine: I had asked for one for my birthday, that March, had made it clear that, having not received it on my special day, that "Santa" (my brother was just two at the time, so we weren't spoiling the magic of the holiday) had better deliver.
My faked surprise wasn't captured in the photograph that my father took, but my genuine satisfaction was.
However, looking at the photo now, it's hard to narrow on the expression on my face. It's hard to get beyond the mass of bushy curls on the top of my head.
While my hair gets unmanageably wavy when it grows long, it doesn't curl. A year earlier, I had my thick head of hair changed to a tight 'fro, and let it continue to grow over the next year. If I were to grab the rings in the front and pull them straight down, they would extend to my lips.
It wasn't until later in the school year, in 1982, after receiving my yearbook, that my hair would change again.
My class photo, which I had already seen, wasn't the most flattering, but I expected that as my hairdo grew, it would flow over my shoulders and down my back. Looking through my yearbook, seeing our high school concert band, my eyes scanned the group photo, seeking out my friends and myself.
As I sat in the Red Room with my friends at J.S. Woodsworth S.S., I puzzled as I came across someone I didn't recognize. "Who is that girl?" I asked, pointing to a stranger at the back of the group, on the risers, with the other trumpeters. As I studied her further, I added, "And what is she doing, wearing my shirt?"
It was a black Led Zeppelin t-shirt with the artwork from their fourth album, with the robed man at the top of a summit, holding a lantern, the light illuminating a woman who was climbing the mountain to join him. It's the symbolic image for their song, "Stairway to Heaven."
The lighting of the group shot was such that my hair cast a shadow over my face. As a woman, I wasn't very attractive.
Seeing myself like that, I realized that I wasn't looking good as a guy, either. Less than a week after seeing myself in that yearbook photo, the mass of hair was gone.
Sadly, the rolled-up jeans remained in style for a little while longer.