Memories of Christmas and a marriage's end

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.)

Binge Christmas gifting signaled a deeper issue, an attempt to fill a lack. Gifts cannot substitute for love, mend a breach or close a chasm of longing. In fact, over-the-top gifts scream, Here, take this and leave me alone. Or in his case, I feel guilty.

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.


materfamilias said…
such an honest and moving post, Duchesse. What a hard way to learn that very valuable lesson about gifts -- part of what makes you the gift blogger extraordinaire. I must say, it's a story much easier to hear knowing you've had many, many happy years with the Duke, who we knows gives wonderful, extravagant, yet also appropriate gifts.
NancyDaQ said…
How true. My current husband isn't much for giving material things, but that's not so important because he brings so much to our relationship.

I love receiving presents, but they often can come with too many strings attached.
Toby Wollin said…
Actually, what your post reminded me of was a girl I knew in college who got engaged and insisted on a ring in a jeweler's window that her fiance blanched at and had to borrow money from his father to buy for her. "I want you to know what you're getting," she'd told him. And he did - because they were divorced a couple of years later.
LPC said…
I'm so glad to know you have found happiness. There's nothing worse than those first months after divorce becomes real. It was almost hallucinatory.
frugalscholar said…
I've only had one husband, so I can't even imagine the misery of divorce. So strange to think you may never see this person again--or even know what happened to him. As in many folk tales, you got a beautiful story out of it---perhaps his last gift to you (and you to him).
Jean S said…
...and what wonderful, thoughtful neighbors! I hope you are still in touch with them, even if they've moved away...
Beatnheart said…
a sad story but it looks like you came out triumphant in the end..Please pop by my blog...I’m having a GIVEAWAY.
Demi-pointe said…
So many of your posts are gifts. Wrapped in this thin flat package of black and white steel - they still reach out and touch. Thank you for all of them.
Rubiatonta said…
Thank you, Duchesse. It's almost as if you'd made me a cup of tea yourself... and it's good to be reminded that there's "another side" after the really hard part.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Thank you; am always reminded of the bleakness of that holiday season. My parents offered me a ticket home but I thought I could tough it out- mistake!

Nancy: I don't like 'strings'- and don't think of the things he gave me as having conditions, but I objected to how much he spent. If someone has the means and wants to give me something fabulous, fine :)

Toby: I'm feeling defensive about this anecdote. My first impulse, is to say I did not demand these things. But in truth, I liked them just the same and was kind of a spoiled pet in that marriage.

LPC: Absolutely hallucinatory and sometimes literally as I'd go days without being able to sleep (till saw a doctor.)

Frugal, Oh, I know what happened to him, all right- including his subsequent marriages.

Jean S.; With most, yes, I am. They have gone through their own changes, as you can imagine, in 30 years.

Beatnheart: Had I remained alone, it still would have been saner and healthier than staying with him, but at the time I was devastated.

Demi-pointe: Thank you, sincerely.

Rubiatonta: I saw a therapist then, because I knew very little except that I did not want to make that mistake again. Seems to have worked. (Of course I've made different mistakes!)
Susan said…
A very poignant post for this time of year Duchesse. I always look forward to your posts.

Just a reminder to everyone that "things" can be quite empty.
Well, you've sent me a present there. You know what it is... was Mr C a black cat too?

First husband was an "early adopter" of 1980s excess? It can be very hard recovering from such a person, in material terms, which makes the psychological recovery harder as there is less opportunity to treat oneself to a few solitary pleasures or outings with empathetic friends.

I'd have a hard time living with someone that sociable, even if he didn't overindulge in gift-giving. Oh sure, I love a good party, but I need time alone (or with partner, or a good friend) to think and chat.
diverchic said…
Oh, honey, I remember that wanker. You truly are cut from the finest duchesse compared to his hopsack. He was like a crispy Indian poori - nice and hot and all air inside.

Such a thoughtful and poignant post.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Mr C. was in fact a Burmese but I couldn't find a pic of a Burn in a tree. This looks a lot like him.
When Mr. C. got down from that tree he was spitting mad and badly scratched his rescuer- he knew that hose was trained on him.

Ex, as in "excess"?

diverchic: Oh right, you would remember him. Well OK, you said it, not me.
Anonymous said…
What a curious man, your former spouse. Your post caused me to think of a former husband, now deceased. No rancor there either. That's a good feeling.
Kojima said…
Dear Duchesse... this was a touching post. Since we are too far away for a good cup of tea.. I won't bother to elaborate on my own ghosts of Christmas past. I will admit that I love your posts because I inevitably have to refer to a dictionary.
What brought me true laughter was diverchic's comment. Recently a few of my very best girlfriends have been visiting the holiday hells that divorce can bring.. and we generally refer to what we call "the break up mantra" (from the Last of the Mohicans):
*INSERT NAME HERE, you are a man with a few admirable qualities, but taken as a whole, I was wrong to have thought so highly of you
Cheers Ladies... to memories .. and to true happiness!
s. said…
*sniff* What a wonderful post, Duchesse! Is this the ex whom you mentioned on your blog long ago... who insisted on sharing a Christmas eve dinner with (sobbing) you because he wanted to feel that he wasn't deserting you during the holidays? As for the presents, yes, kindness and steadfastness are gifts I value above almost anything else.
Maria said…
I love how honest this post is. It was recommended to me by a mutual reader of our blogs, and I'm thankful that she recommended it. I'm actually going through a break up right now, and of course the holiday season only makes it more difficult. My husband is very much like W, he loves Christmas and goes all out with presents, this year will be the first in 10 years that I spend it alone. I'm glad to hear that you can now think about him with no rancor, I hope that one day I can do the same.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Thank you; the things, in retrospect, were intended to assure me all was well when it was not.

Terri: I think bizarrely extravagant gifting (to the point of big debt) is not all that unusual. Sometimes I see parents do it with children, too.

Kojima: diverchic always had his number. After we split THREE women took me to lunch (together) to tell me I was better off. They had all slept with him. Glad you, too are happy!

s. Yes. He announced his decision around Dec. 22, moved out and a few days later took me to Christmas dinner (Windsor Arms, you can imagine!), where I wept nonstop. Mr. C got out when he brought me home.

Maria: I'm sorry. May I suggest, if you can, spend time with friends even if you think you are "no fun". It took years before I could regard him with appreciation. Thought it was a great tragedy, but today would not want to be with him for anything!
Thank you for sharing your story. When we learn from heartbreak, that is the gift.
Duchesse said…
Carmie: I could not have said it better. Does take time, even though we might wish it did not. Thank you.

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