Everybody likes to get gifts, right? Not always. There was a Christmas twenty plus years ago when I turned down what would probably have been the nicest gift under my tree that year.
My first marriage began in April of 1967 and fell apart almost 23 years later. In October of 1989, after months of unsuccessful counseling, it came to an end, and Christian and I moved into a rented townhouse. There was lots of pain, lots of turmoil, lots of writing material, but for this blog post, I’ll skip ahead to Christmas.
The last thing I felt like doing was celebrating, but I felt like it was important to make our new living quarters into a home. I put up a Christmas tree and tried to make things look more festive than I felt. And we made plans. My parents were going to my brother’s for the holidays, and Christian and I were invited to go along. Christian was 17, a senior in high school, and had his own car. He was old enough to make his own decision about where to spend Christmas, but that didn’t make it easy.
“Grandma Pi is coming to visit Dad, so I guess I’ll go to Oklahoma with you. Next year I’ll spend Christmas with him,” he said.
“That sounds fair,” I said, although nothing about the situation seemed fair.
“She’s coming on the 21st. She wants to take us to dinner on the 22nd before we leave so we can visit and exchange gifts.”
“I can’t wait to see her. Is your dad coming, too?”
I need to add a bit of explanation here. Our divorce wasn’t The War of the Roses, but it wasn’t completely amicable. Once he announced his intention to pursue a divorce, he wanted nothing more to do with me, at all, ever. There were details to be worked out, but the few telephone conversations we had weren’t very productive, so we let our lawyers handle the negotiations. After that, he avoided any contact with me when at all possible. So Christian’s answer didn’t surprise me.
“No, he said he didn’t want to butt in on our visit.”
Christian’s next comment surprised me a little bit, but it shouldn’t have. His dad loved to shop, and he loved to give gifts, so Christmas was his time of year.
“He said he has a gift for you and he’ll send it over with Grandma Pi.”
In addition to surprising me, this revelation troubled me. It wasn’t the first time his gift-giving bothered me. He loved to take me shopping, install me in a dressing room, and bring outfit after outfit for me to try on. I often made some sales girl’s day by going home with a lot of what I tried on, and I often heard comments about what a lucky girl I was. So why didn’t I feel lucky. I got lots of jewelry for birthdays and anniversaries, and on Christmas, it took me hours to open all my gifts. My friends raved about what a wonderful and generous husband I had, but I felt like something was out of whack somewhere. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I kept my feelings to myself.
After my conversation with Christian, I once again kept my feelings to myself, but I was spending lots of time and money in counseling, learning not to stuff my feelings. A few days later, his dad and I had one of our rare phone conversations, and I brought up the subject.
“Christian said Grandma Pi is coming for a visit and wants to get together for dinner,” I said.
“Yeah, she’s coming in next week.”
“He said you wouldn’t be joining us but were sending a gift for me.”
“I know it’s a little awkward, but wouldn’t it be nicer to exchange gifts in person?”
“You know how I feel about that. I’d rather not,”
My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating. Expressing my feelings, especially to the man who had dominated my life for 23 years, was a big step for a co-dependent like me.
“I’d rather not have something delivered to me. If you don’t feel comfortable giving me a gift face to face, I’d rather you didn’t give me anything.”
The silence was deafening, but he recovered quickly.
“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, but you’ll be missing out on a really nice microwave.”
“That’s okay. Thanks for the thought.”
I’ve thought about that day many times over the years, wondering why it was so important to me to refuse a gift by proxy. I’ve had therapy, I’ve read books, and I even have a degree in psychology. I have some theories, but today I saw a post on Facebook that put into words what I haven’t been able to say.
Not what we give,
But what we share,
For the gift without the giver
~James Russell Lowell