Women are allowed to change their mind, right?
You have been together a month, maybe two. It was whirlwind and all, that electric “getting to know you” phase when every single thing is new and fascinating and terrifying because this just might be it.
Call it one of life’s five defining moments. Big.
These are the days of compulsive teeth brushing and mouthwash rinsing and closet organizing. These are the days of being sure that everything you can think of is just so, from the arrangement of the throw pillows on the sofa to the presentation of the poached salmon and asparagus with hollandaise over a bed of rice pilaf on your earthtone flatware.
And the wine, good Lord, the wine. Not one of those six-dollar Ingles specials. Are you a troglodyte, a cheapskate? And not a hundred-dollar Bordeaux. Are you a hedonist, a snob, with a second mortgage on your house to pay for your petty indulgences?
Something in between, then, a nice Oregon Pinot Noir. You know she likes those. You wrote it down.
She wrote down: “Doesn’t like cheese (this is going to be a challenge).”
But there’s another thing. This is not the first of life’s defining moments for either one of you, which means that even though you are caught up in the current of your raging passions and such, the valuable lessons that were defined so vividly for you in previous relationships have affected the manner in which you paddle your craft.
In other words, it is best to steer away from the rocks. So somewhere in between bites of scrumptious poached salmon and sips of your wonderfully elegant wine, she clears her throat and pauses, a sign that the course of the conversation is about to change.
“I know this may seem awkward,” she says. “But I need you to know something about the holidays, which includes my birthday. It is going to be absolutely crucial that you do not ruin these days. I will need them to be important to you. I will need them to be perfect.”
“Of course,” you say, but without an immediate notion of what would naturally come next, so you repeat it. “Of course.”
“I am sure that must sound weird or something,” she says. “And you would probably never do something like that on purpose. But there is a way to do this and a way not to do it.”
You are nodding in vigorous agreement. Her argument is unimpeachable, although you are not yet sure exactly what it is.
“For example,” she says, “You should never, ever buy me an appliance as a holiday gift. In fact, just go ahead and rule out anything that has a plug. If it can be plugged in, that’s a total catastrophe.”
“A catastrophe?” you say. “Anything with a plug.”
You are thinking of all the things — all the possible gifts — that come with plugs. So many plugs. It’s a huge swath of potential gifts just wiped out. You take another drink of wine. You sense there is a history behind all of this, but you are wise enough to stay far, far away from it.
“An absolute catastrophe, an utter catastrophe,” she says, pushing a sprig of asparagus from one side of her plate to the other. “I am not saying at all that I expect jewelry or anything super expensive or fancy. I just need it to be thoughtful, something that will show me that you really wanted to get me something special.”
“Special,” you say, “But not necessarily jewelry?”
“Not necessarily,” she says, smiling and taking a drink of her wine.
For 20 years, you make her holidays as special as your imagination and practical realities will allow. A hundred gifts. Never one appliance. Nothing with a plug.
And then, about two weeks before her most recent birthday, she says, “I’m going to tell you something that may shock you. In fact, I am pretty sure it will. It’s about my birthday.”
“Well, let me sit down then,” you say. “Should I pour myself a stiff drink?”
“I want a Roomba for my birthday,” she says.
“Seriously?” you say, because you are, in fact, shocked.
“Yes,” she said. “I want a good one. And I also want a good garlic press and a vegetable slicer.”
“Are you ill?” you say. “Did you fall and hit your head on a rock?”
The Roomba — a good one — is ordered, wrapped and gifted, along with a garlic press that is “the Cadillac” of garlic presses and a very capable vegetable slicer. But the Roomba is the star of the show.
For two weeks, the Roomba does its thing all over the house, whirring and zigging and zagging every which way before docking itself perfectly, like some alien spacecraft. The floors are sparkling clean. The dogs have fled to higher ground.
“This is my favorite gift you have ever given me,” she announces brightly one day. “I have named him ‘Gerald.’ He is simply magnificent!”
Very well then. Just wait until Christmas. That’s when she will meet Lawrence.