It is Christmas morning, 2012. I am especially emotional because of my raging second trimester pregnancy hormones. As my boys frantically shred apart hours of my oragami-precision wrapped packages under the tree, I don’t even care. Their excited shrieks over each toy is evidence that I have indeed chosen “cool” gifts. I feel like an adequate mom today and I am proud. I hosted Christmas dinner for my mother-in-law’s family two days before. I feel grown-up and capable.
My husband Scott, mans the video camera steadily and captures the entire scene under our half-lit Christmas tree. The second strand went completely out the day before and we were both too lazy to attempt finding the culprit bulb; a tolerable imperfection to the morning. I smile at him but he misses it, caught up in the joy of our two sons. Instead I hand him a stack of carefully chosen gifts which I’ve wrapped in sparkly red paper just for him.
He opens the first box and holds up the fair isle sweater he’d asked for months ago and next, the supple brown leather boots he’d been eyeing a few weeks before and gave me a thumbs up of approval.
I only see one package under the tree from him to me and I really don’t mind because I had only really wanted one material thing and I won’t even be able to wear it now as my belly has begun popping out a little too far to be contained by the old “rubber-band-through-the-button-hole” trick. The thing I want most is the thing I’ve wanted every year since we’ve been together; a heartfelt letter. And I feel at last, this year, he must have remembered.
I had put together my usual 8 minute video slideshow presentation for him with pictures from the course of the year and slipped it into his stocking last night. I have made one for him each year for the past 4 years. He says every year that’s his favorite gift. Surely my sentimental husband knows the value of a handmade gift and anticipating my hard work has thought to put pen to paper to write me my long awaited Christmas letter.
I open his gift to me; a pair of matchstick corduroys in the wrong color. But no matter, I didn’t really want that anyway. I shuffle through wisps of tissue paper feeling for an envelope. Nothing. But maybe in my stocking as I have done for him…?
I stand stiffly from cross-legged sitting and hobble to the fireplace to take down the matching snowman stockings. I hand him his and see his eyes light up as he removes the DVD case containing the video photo montage. “Thank you for remembering,” he grins looking down, genuinely touched.
I open my stocking and find five packs of gum, a phone charger for the car, and toothbrushes for on the go. “Apparently, I have bad breath…?” I laugh. I keep feeling for anything else. A piece of paper, a card, even a Post-it for Christ’s sake… Nothing.
I look up at him trying my best not to look disappointed. “Now your phone won’t be dead in the car all the time,” he chuckles. I give him a weak smile and clasp my hands together, still holding onto a glimmer of hope: Maybe he’ll present it later in the day. The kids have begun asking us to open their toys and I feel like I am disarming bombs un-twisting all of the plastic ties restraining action figures and trucks to sharp, thick sheets of cardboard in plexiglass-like plastic. I cut my hands several times but free at least half the toys and ask them all if they want to watch the movie I made for Daddy.
The boys shout, “Yeah!” and Daddy stands with the disc and we all go to the television to watch. The boys snuggle with their father on the big couch while I sit alone on the love seat. The slideshow begins and so does my mental self-critique of my work. Although, I have gotten better at this; learning to time the slide transitions to the beat of the music, figuring out how not to chop off the tops of people’s heads with the auto-crop function applied to each slide. And as always, I manage to squeeze a few tears out of my husband as he watches the images of our boys change and grow from January to December of this past year. I also included a slide of our most recent ultrasound which makes him smile over at me through tear-brimmed eyes. When it’s over, he plays it again.
I go to the kitchen and make chocolate chip pancakes for the kids and hash browns, ham and eggs for him. The morning goes on as a typical weekend morning would. He lies on the couch flipping through channels and the kids play with their new toys.
My heart sinks a little each hour as the realization sets in: He forgot again.
And somewhere over the course of the day, my resentment at his thoughtlessness becomes so thick and intolerable that I explode without warning after the kids are in bed for the evening. “You know, the only thing I really wanted from you has been forgotten again for the ninth Christmas in a row!”
He cleverly retorts, “What the fuck! Then tell me what the hell you want!”
I sniff back pitiful tears and respond shakily, “I don’t want to have to tell you.” I slam our bedroom door closed. Now, I lie in bed with a fierce headache caused by a cocktail of hormones and the day’s repressed tears now spilling all over my cheeks, into my ears and onto my pillow.
Then I hear a tiny (and slightly annoying) voice sing-songing in my head a quote I’d read recently, “Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to love you doesn’t mean that they don’t love you with everything they have.”
I heave out a deep sigh and wipe tears from my eyes. It’s true, I suppose. I know the robot-husband loves me. He just sucks at showing it. But he did cry over my video. And he had allowed me to eat my dinner in peace by watching the kids over at my parent’s house earlier in the day. And he had started the car before we left because he knows how much I hate being cold. Fuck. I hate when I have to apologize for being mellow-dramatic.
I swing my legs back over the edge of the bed and go out to the couch where my husband lies with his arms crossed angrily and a furrow set firmly on his brow. He glances at me and then back to the TV.
Sitting by his feet, I quietly try to frame my next words into something thoughful and eloquent, but I am too damn tired. Finally, I say, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off like that.” His expression softens microscopically and only I can detect it because I have known him for so long. But he still doesn’t budge. I know it’s because that was not explanation enough. He is a man, after all.
I press my lips trying to decide if I should go on. “I just wanted my letter,” I explain softly.
He drops his arms and rolls his eyes then pulls me to him.
“I did forget. And I am sorry. You really did such a good job making Christmas so special for everyone, I forget that I need to do it for you.” I feel my ugly crying face forming in my trembling chin, red nose and watery eyes which are much too big for my face. So I bury my head in his shoulder and cry, “Thank you for understanding.”
And there was my Christmas miracle: Validation.
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