When we first married, Flash thought I was an anomaly. “You’re the only woman on earth that expects her husband to have superhuman powers.” I simply wanted him to know what I wanted, in the way of gifts. Surely, he knew me well enough to know what I liked.
But in case he didn’t, I dropped hints when my birthday or anniversary or any other holiday approached. When that failed, I hoped my every desire would travel from my brain to his, when our pillows touched at night. After five years of marriage, the lack of a black Jaguar in my driveway was proof that Nocturnal Osmosis doesn’t work.
“Just tell me what you want. I can’t read your mind,” he would plead.
“Well that’s not very romantic,” I countered. "It takes the mystery out of it."
“I've never met another female who expected me to be a mind reader," he told me. “Other women don’t do that.” To prove his point, he conducted his own Gallup poll among female colleagues, then reported back to me, “They don’t do that with their husbands.”
"Of course they’re not going to tell you they do. They work with you. They don't live with you, and aren’t married to you. You should talk to their husbands." Flash abruptly stopped his research project.
Eventually, I gave up on his not-so-super powers. Romantic notions, in the hands of an untrained male shopper, can bring shoes the wrong size, movies you already own and have watched together, pounds of candy right after you begin a diet, and scratchy nylon anklet-style socks.
It was time to implement The List, but thinking of items was challenging. I’m a doer, more than an owner. Tickets to a play or a concert mean more to me than trinkets, and they don’t have to be dusted. But planning outings is more time-consuming for Flash, requiring more than running to the store 48 hours before a special occasion. However, when it comes to Christmas, Flash asks for The List a whole week ahead of time.
“I need your list.”
“It’s December 18. You’re just now asking for The List?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“For 11 months? Okay, I need some boots.”
“What color? What size? How high do the heels need to be? Pull on or zip up? Short or tall?”
“Black, low heel, this high on my legs,” I said, pointing to a spot two inches below my knees.”
“Oh, forget it. You’re picky about boots.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Finding perfect boots takes months of research; Flash had six and a half days.
“By the way, if you paid attention, you’d know what I want.”
“I do pay attention. You just keep changing your mind.”
“No. You don’t listen.”
“Sure I do. But I forget, if you don’t write everything down. Isn’t there anything else you want? Underwear or socks?”
“Underwear or socks? Who wants underwear or socks for Christmas?”
“Me. I used to get them every year."
“You poor kid. That explains a lot.”
“I got toys too, but underwear was always under the tree.”
“It must’ve been exhilarating.”
“It didn’t bother me.”
“Okay, Mr. Practical, here’s the thing. Never, ever get underwear or socks for me, for any occasion, whatsoever. Never. And I’ll buy them for you when you need them – put them on the grocery list. They're not worthy of wrapping paper and ribbon.”
“Fine. Make a list, or I’m buying you underwear.”
The threat was real, so I started writing. My list included silver earrings and a coral-colored blouse.
A week later, we’d just finished opening presents on Christmas morning.
“Do you like your blouse?”
“I do,” I responded, making sure I had a lilt in my voice, feigning excitement.
“Go put it on. You don’t seem like you love it.”
“I’m not sure it will fit.”
“Don’t you wear a small?”
“Sometimes? When do you not wear a small?”
“When I wear a medium. It depends.”
“On what? The phase of the moon? The price of crude oil?”
“On how it’s made. I’ll try it on.”
I modeled my blouse. Flash was thrilled with his selection. “I like it,” he said.
“It’s too small in the shoulders.”
“It looks good.”
“And the armholes are too small. It’s cutting off the circulation to my armpits.”
“Yeah, just yesterday I heard about a lady who died from armpit asphyxiation. Tragic.”
“It makes me feel claustrophobic, Flash.”
“You can handle a concert with 60,000 other attendees, but that blouse makes you want to run outside for air?”
“I can’t help it. I never wear anything like this. In 24 years, have you ever seen me wear something like this in public? Have you met me? It’s too blousy over my stomach. I look six months pregnant, and I can’t feel my arms anymore.”
“You said you like things that hide overage in the waist area.”
“Hide it, yes. Pitch a tent over my abdomen, no. And it’s beige. I’m a Winter; I look good in white, not beige.”
“Now you’re a season?”
“Yes, according to my color analysis in the 80s, I'm a Winter. But sometimes, because I’m over 50 and don’t care, I dip into other seasons. But never beige; it blends in with my face. I look like a pale Mrs. Potato Head.”
“Whatever. There was no coral anything, so I picked out beige. What about the silver earrings? Do you like them?”
“I love them. I have some exactly like them in my jewelry box. Been wearing them for two years now.”
Flash sighed. “Okay, Rachel. Take them back.” He was comparing me to Rachel Green on Friends.
“I’m not Rachel.”
“Oh, you’re Rachel. She returns everybody’s gifts.
I quickly reviewed, in my head, several gifts Flash had given me in recent years. I was never going to watch that 10-pack DVD set of nature films. The heavy earrings he gave me on my last birthday almost pulled my lobes off. But I kept the jewelry box I didn't want. Of course, Flash doesn’t like everything I buy him, either, but he doesn’t return gifts. Somehow, he reasons, wasting money is better than taking gifts back to the store; it spares my feelings.
“If you’d stick with The List, you’d do fine.”
“I forgot it at home the day I went shopping,” Flash confessed.
I know the playing field of gift returns is not leveled. My record of unwanted gifts has surpassed the length of the U. S. Constitution. I fear I’ve looked my gift horse in the mouth one too many times. Eventually, one Christmas morning, I’ll wake up to empty boxes under the tree. He’ll tell me to go shopping for myself and get what I wish he had bought me. It will save both of us time. Or maybe he’ll name a star after me or a give a donation in my name to the Society of Picky Women – gifts that can’t be returned or exchanged.
But for now, Flash still tries. He bought me a nice bottle of perfume for my birthday this year.
After we’d had cake, I fessed up. “Thank you, but I don’t wear perfume anymore. I don’t want to waste this money.”
“You love perfume. What do you mean you don’t wear it? Since when?”
“Since two and a half years ago.”
“But it was on The List.”
“From 2013. If you’re going to make changes to The List, you need to tell me. But I usually do okay.”
“Really? Santa left scratchy nylon anklets in my stocking last year. In public, I wear white cotton socks that fold down. Cutesy socks with pictures on them, I wear around the house or with boots. But I never wear scratchy socks.”
On Mother’s Day, Flash made a card for me, cut fresh roses, and cooked lunch. He was a doer, giving me things that money can’t buy. But I missed my traditional store-bought gift picked out by Cowboy.
“Did Cowboy get anything for me this year?” I asked a couple of days later.
“No. Since both of us were sick over the weekend, we didn’t get anything.”
“Okay. But it’s the first time in 18 years I don’t have a gift from Cowboy.”
“He helped me cook lunch and pick the flowers.”
“Oh, okay. That was nice.”
Still, I wanted a present from my son. My self-professed I'm-a-doer-not-an-owner theory was about to crash and burn. “I love when Cowboy picks out something I can keep forever. Something that won’t be digested or wilt.” Something that can collect dust, I told myself.
After dinner that night, Flash and Cowboy went shopping. Cowboy came back with a four-movie set - films I love, but didn’t already own. I squealed with delight, and hugged him. “He picked that out all by himself,” Flash said.
“Great job, Cowboy. This is perfect.”
Then Flash handed me another gift, from him.
“You didn’t need to buy anything for me,” I said, pretending to mean it.
“I know, but I wanted to.” He looked excited.
I opened the gift. It was all the seasons of Reba, one of our favorite shows.
“Awww. Thank you!”
“You like it?”
“Of course I do. I also liked it when I bought the same set for you last Christmas.”
“Are you serious? Return it.”
My gift-bearing husband had come around to my way of thinking. There were no tears shed, and all feelings were intact. As the Return Queen, I eventually get everything on my list. It’s a way of life. And I encourage Flash to do the same, when I strike out. Unless, of course, it’s underwear he's already tried on.