One Christmas, my ex–who was infamous for being a lousy gift-purchaser–accidentally bought me something wonderful. Well, he paid full price (which as you know I would never condone), but it was wonderful anyway. He bought me a pair of “wicked good” slippers from LL Bean.
I despise the New England habit of labelling things as wicked in order to convey their fabulousness as much as the next transplant, but friends, these slippers live up to their name. They are soft and warm and comfortable and last forever and I may just marry mine this winter. They are that fab. Everyone who sees my amazing slippers covets them, and I am forever gently rebuffing folks with, “NO! THEY ARE MINE MINE MINE AND YOU CAN’T HAVE THEM!”
In fact, the ex coveted them as soon as they arrived. So I did the appropriate thing, and waited two years until a pair in his size showed up at our local Bean outlet and then got him some. There’s wicked good, and there’s wicked expensive. I’m not saying these slippers aren’t worth their full retail price, I’m just saying I’m cheap. Anyway.
Winter rolls around and you will find me in my wicked good slippers just about every moment that I’m here in the house. I’m wearing them right now! (And what are you wearing? Oh, wait; that’s a different sort of entry altogether.) It is one of my greatest hopes that I will die with these slippers on and people will fight over who gets to pry them off my cold, dead feet.
It was only natural that when I found myself in a relationship, post-ex, the object of my affections would one day find himself admiring my slippers. And admire he did. And I returned the favor by visiting his place and laughing so hard I nearly peed when he pulled his ratty K-Mart slippers out from under the bed. Because I am sensitive that way. But once again, I found myself making regular trips to the Bean outlet to search for slippers.
I have mentioned this man here, before. He was a dear friend from my college days… a relationship where the occasional spark always managed to come at the wrong time… timing never worked in our favor… and I assumed he would forever be my “what if” guy. A few months after I filed for divorce, the planets aligned themselves and I no longer had to wonder. It was long-distance, but manageable. Things were amazing. For a while.
The children and I spent Thanksgiving with this man and his family, last year. We had a wonderful time down at his family’s house (the kids have known him as a family friend since birth, so there was no explanation necessary for them other than “we’re spending the holiday with friends”). The next day the kids went off to spend the weekend with my ex, and I was supposed to commence with a rare long weekend with my paramour.
I forget many of the details, but the Cliff Notes version is this: a delightful family-centered holiday and full approval from his entire family of not only me, but my offspring, as well, had freaked him right the hell out. He handled it with all the grace and dignity and self-awareness of your average bachelor, of course. First he picked an argument over nothing, then he commenced telling me how this was no longer any fun for him, and by the time he was into the full-on little-boy tantrum over not having everything in the world his way, I’d hung up on him.
My weekend was spent crying, drinking, sleeping, and waiting for him to show up on my doorstep to apologize. All of my friends were out of town for the holiday. I felt completely alone, humiliated, and bewildered. Saturday night I sent him an email asking if he was going to head back home without even talking to me (I couldn’t take it any more), and he immediately mailed back that he was already home and had been since shortly after our phone call. And that was it.
Well, I thought that was it.
The following day (Sunday afternoon) he called. He was wracked with remorse. He was afraid he’d screwed up the only good thing in his life. He loved me and couldn’t imagine losing me. We talked for about three hours. I told him I wasn’t sure I could move past this. I did what any woman in my place would do: I told him I wasn’t sure, and let’s see what happens if we take it slow; and then I started polling all my girlfriends.
The overwhelming opinion was that he’d had an attack of cold feet not uncommon to his species. Many of the women I spoke with assured me that good, trainable men had done the same and lived to be acceptable, sensitive mates. It’s a big step, picturing not only a life-long mate but children, for a bachelor, and all that family togetherness just tripped a circuit in his brain. Give him another chance, most urged.
So I did. He made it up to me every way he knew how, and when I finally came to trust that Thanksgiving was an isolated incident, I came out on the other side telling myself we were stronger and better as a couple and he was growing and learning and all that sort of stuff that I desperately wanted to believe.
The Bean outlet didn’t come up with a pair of slippers before Christmas. So I bought him other presents, and he bought me some presents, and we had nearly a week of bliss together while the kids were at their dad’s.
Sometime in February I found the slippers. Sure; it was early to be buying them for next Christmas. But they’re hard to come by, and I could just put them away. I brought them home and tucked them up in a closet, smiling to myself to think how much he would love opening them next Christmas. Then I would tell him how far in advance I’d bought them, and he would make fun of my extreme bargaining tendencies, and I would threaten to return them… it would be great.
In March, the divorce was finalized. Huzzah! We planned a party. I bought the food; he bought the alcohol. He invited his friends and family and we planned to burn my marriage certificate. We spoke of the future.
And then, Monkey spiked a fever the day of the party. I called to cancel; I told him we’d have to do it another day because Monkey was sick. He kept saying things like, “But everyone’s already planning to come!” and “Can’t you just give him some medicine and put him to bed?” My stomach tightened. “Look,” I hissed, “I was looking forward to this as much as you were, but my child is ill and I can’t have a party tonight. I’m sorry my life is interfering with your fun.”
It took a few more weeks before it all fell apart, but of course it did. He was too busy running away and hiding to even do me the courtesy of breaking up with me; finally I told him I was tired of this, and I’d told him long ago not to ask me to choose because he wouldn’t win. He clearly wasn’t ready for an adult relationship, and I had enough children already, thanks. He didn’t ask me to reconsider. He didn’t protest. He seemed relieved.
Me? I went on with the rest of my life and quietly shattered into about a billion teeny tiny pieces. Where I’d once been so pleased that I’d managed such a healthy recovery from my divorce, I now suffered all the trauma twofold–everything I’d put off acknowledging about the loss of my marriage, and everything that goes along with losing a fantasy romance. I started resigning myself to a life of loneliness, because only an idiot would go through that again.
I forgot about the slippers until I started cleaning out closets a few weeks ago. There they were, a reminder of the hope I’d once felt. I toyed with selling them on eBay along with a scathing, witty diatribe about their origins. Maybe it would be one of those famous auctions where the price goes sky-high because people are so entertained to hear about how bitter I am! Maybe he would come across the auction and be gripped with regret! Or maybe I should just grow the hell up.
Yesterday, I took them back to the outlet and returned them. The saleslady didn’t even bat an eyelash when I confessed I’d bought them so long ago. “No problem!” she chirped. “Any time you have a receipt you can return any time!” No public humiliation for him; just some money credited back to my account, and the small hope that his feet–always so metaphorically chilly–are literally cold this winter, as well.
My feet are toasty in my pair. Maybe there’s hope for me thawing, yet.