When I was married to The Loser, I never got thoughtful gifts. He would realize on Christmas Eve, after the stores had closed for the holiday, that he didn’t have a present for me. That would trigger a quick run to a 24-hour convenience or drug store and on Christmas morning, I would find my gift under the tree – often still in the bag bearing the store’s name and logo. The Loser’s standard choice was cheap cologne in scents his grandmother might have worn.
By the time of our divorce, I must have had a half dozen bottles – still nearly full. For birthdays, he attempted to put more thought into the process – but that thought seemed to be about what would benefit him – not what I would like. He gave me a vacuum, so that I might better clean the house, and a rowing machine, so that I could lose some weight and be more attractive. I did not request any of these gifts – and all seemed more like a criticism instead of an act of love.
When we married, I told Doc about The Loser’s track record and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that I expected decent, thoughtful gifts from him. He tried to comply – giving me jewelry for every holiday, anniversary, and birthday for the first two years. I appreciated that he was trying to make me happy – but the jewelry cost too much for us to afford, not enough to be quality stuff, and I didn’t wear much jewelry. I gently let him know that I didn’t expect jewelry at every occasion – the gift itself was not important to me – it was the thought behind it. I just wanted to know that he cared enough about me to get to know me – my likes, desires, and things that gave me joy – and that his gifts, however small, reflected that.
You see, I’m the kind of person who likes to learn about someone and then, when I’m out and about – sometimes months before the big day – I’ll see something in the store or online and realize it is the perfect gift for them. When I saw that it reflected or contributed to their favorite things or hobby, I snapped it up – excited – because I knew they would be excited and happy to receive it. The gift didn’t even have to be elaborate – often, I’d just be at the grocery store and in the checkout line, I’d see Doc’s favorite gum – so I’d pick up a pack or two for him to let him know I was thinking about him that day. The important thing for me was that those I loved knew that I loved them – that I cared about them enough to learn more about them and that I thought about them often. I’ve never been very physical in my affection and I didn’t often express my love or appreciation out loud – but my gifts were my way of demonstrating my affection.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything to Doc. Perhaps I should have realized that, just because I felt something was important, not everyone might think the same way. I initially thought that Doc just was baffled about what gifts to buy for me – so when birthdays and Christmas rolled around, I started suggesting things that I might like. This seemed to frustrate him. I think he really wanted to do it on his own – he would decide on a gift, but if I unknowingly preempted him and told him what I would really like, or if I opened the gift and didn’t react the way he thought I should, I could see that he was hurt. This is not to say that the gifts Doc gave me were failures – he gave me perfectly lovely gifts every so often – but I don’t think he ever realized that the best gifts he gave me were not the most expensive or elaborate. The best gifts were the times he made me feel like he truly loved me.
The best gift I ever received from Doc was back in 2000. We were living in New Orleans and Doc had received orders to transfer to a base in California in December. We decided that, as the kids were still in school and one was due to graduate, he would go ahead of the family and I would stay and handle things until we could join him in the spring. One day, about a month later, I got a card from the post office saying that I had registered mail waiting to be picked up. I drove over, signed, and was given a small package that Doc had sent.
When I got to the car, I opened it up….and found my wedding and engagement rings.
I hadn’t worn my rings for several years, as I had gained some weight and they didn’t fit my chubby finger anymore. Without my knowing, Doc had taken my rings from my jewelry box before he left and, once he got to California, he had them resized for me. As soon as I saw them and read the note, I burst into tears. I sobbed – out of control, ugly, gasping for breath sobbing – for several long minutes. I was stunned – because my reaction came out of nowhere – I wasn’t expecting it (and as we’ve established, I don’t usually allow my emotions – especially strong emotions to show). I wasn’t crying because I was sad – I wept because it was the perfect gift and I was incredibly touched.
I regret that I never told Doc how much his gift meant to me. I thanked him, I’m sure – but I never told him how deeply moved I had been by his thoughtfulness and the fact that he wanted those rings on my finger again – a symbol of the fact that I was his, as his ring (which never left his finger in all of the years we were together) was a symbol that he was mine.
I don’t know where my wedding and engagement rings are now. A year ago, yesterday, when Doc told me he was done being married to me, I took them off and left them on his nightstand table. When I looked next, they were gone. His ring disappeared from his finger shortly afterwards.
It took me months and months to stop using my thumb to rub the underside of my finger where my rings used to be. I was always a bit surprised when I discovered they were missing, as the practice of using my thumb to play with my rings when I was stressed or worried had become second nature for me. Those rings were my touchstone.
The indentation in my finger where my rings used to be is nearly gone now – there is just the faintest mark to indicate that they ever used to be there. It’s only noticeable to me. Or maybe there is really no mark at all – perhaps I’m just imagining it is still there.