I pass many months without thinking of my former spouse and the union that ended thirty years ago, a few days before Christmas. Christmas reminds me of W. not only because of that event, but because he was a "Christmas nut", the kind of person who couldn't resist Christmas-themed shops and decorated even the inside of closets.
A charming, highly social man, he would organize carol-sings as soon as December came and hosted an annual screening of "A Christmas Carol", with flaming pudding for dessert. His Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunts were legend, requiring rally-driver timing and the cooperation of streetcar drivers, shopkeepers and firehalls.
He drew the line at attire, but this week I saw a man in a Christmas sweater, featuring reindeer, a Christmas tree and presents and thought, I wonder if he'd wear that?
W. believed in big spending on gifts, and given our means, incurred a blizzard of bills that took months to pay. (We had no children together, for which I'm only grateful.)
When we parted, I gave years of luxurious presents to friends: an antique silk kimono to Jean, a Scottish cashmere sweater coat to Grace, a bracelet to Missi. In a kind of reverse "Gift of the Magi", I sold jewelry to replace the furniture he took.
In court one spring day, I noticed he was not wearing the Cartier watch that was my last gift to him, either.
I still love to choose and give gifts, but as a result of those years, no longer confuse a thing with genuine devotion, with the dailiness, patience and perseverance that build a strong marriage.
Marked by the marriage, if a present I receive (whether on Christmas or another occasion) entails major financial distress, I can't enjoy what I'm given.
The breakup itself had moments of light within the sadness. Alone and miserable on Christmas day, I tried to coax our cat (now my cat) out of a tree. Hearing my calls, the neighbours came over, one with a garden hose, figuring if Mr. C. were doused, he'd descend.
When he brandished the hose, I broke down in tears and revealed my new solitude. I spent Christmas through New Years being warmly received in their homes or with someone perched on my sofa with a mug of tea, barely alone for an hour till it was time to go back to work.
Thirty years later, I think of W. without rancour, and with appreciation for what I learned. That is a gift in itself.