The power of reclaiming objects.

A long time ago, in a fit of pride, I bought my significant other a watch. It wasn’t exactly a designer watch, a small step up from the plastic watches children run around with in their childhood. I gave it to my boyfriend as a gift late one evening.

A watch, gold with an open face.
Surprisingly, I actually own this one.

This is remarkable for two reasons. One, I din’t have the money for it. We were about to move, leaving a comparably quiet and cheap town for a bustling city with a higher cost of living. Not to mention the security deposits, the first month’s rent, and some expenses that would still remain from our previous situation. At the time, I was the one with more funds and better credit, so I took on most of the expenses, despite my lack of employment in our new destination.

This, as you may be screaming at your screen, shaking your head at my past self, was a mistake. But I was twenty-two, and it was a mistake I needed to make. Another fifty dollars worth of kindness is a drop in that bucket, and this was an experience I needed to have early.

The second reason this is notable is because of the gift itself, the watch pictured above. Before we left our home, our three roommates, and our comfort zone for this new adventure, I’d been employed at a bank.

I was proud of this to a degree I won’t be able to fully explain. Not only was I the first of our friend group to get a “real” job out of college (full time, weekdays, 8 am–4:30 pm, decent pay), but I was able to recommend a few of those friends for positions in other locations and departments of the company. I had what I considered a career; I worked in the operations department processing disputes of fraudulent charges on debit cards. If we hadn’t moved, I truly believe I would have continued working in the bank, switching between different parts of the operations department if I ever needed a change. The bank was growing rapidly and so was I, feeling responsible and mature in my budding adulthood.

The fact that I had gotten the job at all was a fluke honestly, a fact I was acutely aware of. I had no special training or particular skills that they should have hired me for. I wasn’t an accounting or finance major in college. I never would have expected that I’d like working with numbers and money before I did. I probably should have considered it actually.

See, my grandfather was a banker.

Legend goes that he started as a teller, moving his way up to managing his branch. I imagine him as a calm, gentle presence, steady and constant. I don’t actually know this, as illness took him around when I was seven years old. I’m sure someone in my family could describe him more accurately, give me a more dimensional view of him as a person, but I don’t have a desire to ask. There are only three things I have from him:

The idealistic image I have about who he was, a photograph infused with more love than I can fathom, and a wristwatch.

Properly discussing or describing the photograph would take a whole other blog post, possibly even several. Suffice it to say, though I remember him very little, I have plenty of proof that he loved me.

It is because of this that I treasure the watch, in a real, dragon-guarding-it’s-hoard kind of way.


There is a certain atmosphere to a bank. While many are changing, out of necessity, to catch up to modern day priorities, change comes slow to the industry. A lot comes slowly to a bank, actually. Bankers will insist on taking their time, not only because a lot of them have antiquated systems to work with, but also because they simply must insist on doing everything right the first time. There’s a deliberate nature to the work, care in every drop of their presentation. As such, visually, a banks have moved along to to the present slowly.

Sure, there are a lot more women around the bank then there probably would have been in my grandfather’s day. Tattoos, as well, are slowly becoming acceptable (I find that notable, as I have a few). But success at a bank means looking a certain part, and almost everyone is in full business casual at all times. Look around a bank and you’ll see a lot of blacks, grays, blues, and impractical shoes.

And watches.

I guess it goes with the older, slow paced feeling. Working at a bank can be like watching the second hand of a watch move along, a consistent, reliable movement, a slightly old-fashioned vibe. Either way, this too, appealed to me. Wearing my grandfather’s watch, following in his footsteps — I was proud of who I was developing to be.

So when my significant other got his real job, no longer delivering pizzas but rather getting a $50,000 a year offer in an office job, we moved five hours away to accept it. I was proud of him, of us, a young couple in their first apartment without roommates, successful young professionals.

Perhaps it was for me that I bought the watch. Wearing my grandfather’s symbolized my success, that I’d found my place in the world. All that pride, all that maturity, all that responsibility communicated by one accessory.

After all, as much I enjoyed looking at the watch, and can read it, I almost never used it to tell the time. It was the wind up kind, and I often forgot to keep it running and in sync with reality. What I read from it had nothing to do with time.

So when we moved into our new place, I gave him a watch of his own, a gift for the man I was so incredibly proud of.

I think he wore it about five times.


If you follow my blog posts, you probably know that the recipient of the watch and I recently broke up. It was a mutual separation, differences in personality and ideals. We spent more time deciding how to split up all of our possessions than we did discussing if we should break it off. We’d recently moved into a different apartment, and in all the chaos a lot of our random knickknacks never made it out of boxes. I’m going through them now, slowly.

I found the watch packed away, gathering dust.

The band has been changed from the original. I have the old one somewhere still. I’d bought a new band, and a tool to remove them with, when I noticed my significant other didn’t seem to like wearing the watch. He said he didn’t like how it felt, and I was hoping a new band would fix the issue. I never did quite pin down what his discomfort was, but the watch spent two years sitting in a bowl where we put our keys. He’d taken it off one day and never put it back on.

So I took it.

I’ve only worn it once or twice so far. I’d picked out the color for him — gold really isn’t my style. While I wear black very often, I probably would prefer a brown or a tan, natural leather to the bands. Still, for me, wearing the watch has nothing to do with how it looks.

Like with my grandfather’s watch, I wear it for meaning. To me, it symbolizes maturity, a growth in my life, pride and confidence. This one even has an open face, showing the movement of the gears inside, revealing secrets about it’s inner workings. When I wear it, I feel like I’m looking into my own face, studying my own workings, my own choices.

Perhaps I’ve made some mistakes. I’m sure I have, in the time since I bought this. I’ve often been accused of being too nice, too giving, more concerned with other’s well-being and success than my own. Does taking back a gift make up for that? A single act of theft, an unapologetic statement in wearing it where he can see. Something for myself, pride returned to it’s own body.

Is that okay? I hesitated when first pulling the watch from the box I discovered it in. I was asking myself that question, trying to see if I had an answer. Most of the time, I’d have no idea how to go about taking back a gift. That’s how convinced I am that it isn’t okay, in general. It’s simply not done, not possible.

But here I am, wearing this. I’d call it a hand-me-down, as my ex probably would give permission for me to take it. Someone should wear it, right? But I didn’t bother asking.

Despite the long pause in which I contemplated this, I never did decide if this is “okay”. I played both arguments over in my head, turning them over with the watch. Then I stopped asking. I put it on, unanswered, unquestioning.

I’m not sure if I like the watch. I’m not sure what exactly it means, or where my decision to take it came from.

But, like my possible mistakes, for better or worse, I know this watch is mine.


An image of the author.

I’m afraid you’re going to have to excuse a little extra vanity for this one. I know, you’ve probably already excused a lot, given how long this post has become, but here’s me wearing stolen goods. (is it still stealing when the purchase shows in your Amazon Order History?)

2 thoughts on “When is it Okay to Take Back a Gift?

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