I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the gifts and presents we gave each other. You always thought my love language was gifts, but really it was quality time- which made this past year especially difficult. Your love language was words of affirmation which I think is one reason why our emotional marriage worked.
The first gift you ever gave me was the little chalkboard you carried over on the bus that first weekend you stayed over at my childhood home.
The second gift you gave me was the stuffed lion from FAO Schwartz with the little note which I read on the dim bus back to Jersey excitedly that said you were praying for me every day. He is sitting her next to me on the bed.
My first Christmas gift from you was one of my favorites- the silver bird necklace from Tiffany’s because you said you were my “bird.” We began the tradition in 1999, our first Christmas, of exchanging gifts at around midnight when everyone else was asleep in my house. I loved this tradition. Last year was the first year we didn’t do this and I’m not sure why. I think because you’d just gotten back from the tour a few days before and we had to wrap our gifts or we thought maybe it’d be nice to let Audrey see us exchange gifts. So, for our last Christmas, you got me clothes from your tour in Europe- but mostly it was from H&M which I thought was funny. There was a pair of silver leaf earrings too that you decided not to give me at the last minute. You said in Sweden hanging in some flea market they looked really pretty but now you thought they looked cheap so you’d sell them on Ebay, but I told you I wanted to keep them. I am glad I did. You also got me two pairs of pajamas because I’d been saying how I was tired of sleeping in the free T-shirts you got from your old office job and sweats. I wear these pajamas every night.
For my first birthday with you as my boyfriend, you got me the famous Pakistani outfit. You took me to Bryant Park Grill (also the last place we ate together), and just as I was about to open it, you told me, “I don’t know why I got this for you- it’s an Indian outfit.” “Haha,” I said, “You’re funny.” But no, it really was a complete Pakistani (not Indian) outfit. You’d seen it at a street fair and just “thought you’d look pretty it,” you said. You said that a lot to me. At first I was pretty disappointed, but I remember later that night we went to the Marriot in Times Square and had ice cream in the lounge and I went and changed into the outfit and sat in the middle of the busy hotel in the baggy white and patterned pants and long shirt and scarf with bells on- literally.
For my 30th birthday you bought me beautiful silver leaf earrings with a tiny flower of pearl attached. For my 32nd you bought me beautiful pewter colored lotus stud earrings- both of these were from boutiques in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
One birthday you laminated a card you drew that was called “Julia Day.” “This card entitles you to one day with Dan doing anything you like” and in fine print things like, “not to exceed $250,” and “expires exactly one year from today.”
For many birthdays including my 30th and this past one- my 34th, you wrote me beautiful songs and in a completely endearing way- sat at the piano and sang them to me late at night in your best voice, looking up at me in between while trying to remember the lyrics- something you struggled with.
On our wedding day, you gave me an English soccer jersey.
When you came back from Korea in January of 2000, you brought me a ton of gifts. We had missed each other so much. We met in the city and wound up downtown at a coffehouse called “Kavehaus.” It was a frigid, windy day, and so we sat in there for hours. Slowly you gave me one gift after another. They were cute and silly gifts – some of them- nothing expensive- a piece of ginseng root floating in water, cute little Korean business card holders, lots of Korean stationary saying things like, “now is the time this love arrives sweet blossom.” But you gave me each one with such a sense of delight in watching me open them. That day is still the coldest I ever remember being, and inside that coffeehouse just off the cobblestone streets, I felt so safe and warm. I treasure that memory ten years later.
I always wanted to learn to play the piano and wound up taking lessons one year during my grad school for writing. One year, I suggested maybe you could pick out a keyboard for me for Christmas. I remember picking you up at the bus and you carrying this giant box and saying something like, “I guess this year is no surprise.” I did my best, but you wound up using that keyboard most of the time, carrying it to gig after gig. Audrey bangs around on it now all the time, trying to play the way you did for her. She calls it “appa’s piano.”
You bought me clothes a lot even though I’d tell you often that it was harder to buy women clothes so just don’t worry about it. You bought me a large dark grey wool cape one year. I felt like I was wearing a giant blanket when I wore it, but I did. You bought me a whole wardrobe from JCrew online one year because you used to be obsessed with this website called Slickdeals.net and found a bunch of coupons on there. “Slickdeals- I’m telling you.” you used to say. While they weren’t things I necessarily would’ve picked out for myself, I loved that you got them for me and wore them all for many years. You knew I didn’t go shopping often for myself, so you were always trying to treat me in that way.
One Christmas while we were still dating, I was surprised to open up a box and find a little ring- made of a red and white striped plastic straw. It was a straw made into a star. I wasn’t thrilled at first, because like many times, I just didn’t know where you were coming from…but in reality, you always had some very thoughtful, meaningful reason behind everything you did. You explained to me that someone had made one of those back in college, and you thought it was the coolest thing…so you’d struggled and worked at learning how to make it and when you finally did- you decided you would give it to “the” girl one day when you met her. This is my favorite ring second only to my wedding ring.
There are many more gifts- pieces of jewelry, and stacks and stacks of homemade little books, cards, and other contraptions you worked on for hours…sometimes you’d come over and tell me “I need another hour,” and disappear into my room to work on your “gift.” You made me lovely books where you tell me something else you love about me on every page, or some other reason why you were so great and I should be your valentine. I have them all and will always treasure them. These days it is still very painful looking at them. People like to say, “Oh, but that’s so wonderful that you have those.” But it’s not, not now, not yet. It’s painful because it feels like all of that has been taken from me too. “When she died, I felt that I had lost my most important link to the past, as if whole chapters of my life story had been suddenly torn out,” writes Jerry Sittser. Yes, that is why it is so difficult to see remnants of this past life right now.
I was going to detail what I could remember about all of the gifts I’ve given to you but it’s getting late and I am drained.
I have to thank you for all of the beautiful things you’ve given me over the years Daniel. You were always trying so hard and always so happy to see a gift well-received. I, on the other hand, was not a great receiver of gifts all the time. Not because I didn’t appreciate them, but because I have a hard time receiving in general. At your funeral, I spoke and a few of the things I covered I’ve now read are the most important things to say when someone dies unexpectedly…things like forgive me, thank you, and i love you. So, here again, because we didn’t get any final words- I want to thank you for loving me in this way and leaving me with these precious reminders..esp. the cards and homemade things. You might not have known how excited I was to receive them- and how I read them over and over again. And how I will.
There are so many gifts that were yet to be given. Our anniversary- the day after I buried you. I found the card you were working on in your computer…but I wonder what else you had in mind. You told me you’d hidden little things around the apartment, but it’s strange because I’ve yet to find any of them. The last time I spoke to you on the phone, I told you I’d found the Newman’s Own Mint Oreos (my favorite) hidden behind the tea…you seemed upset that I’d already found it. I crushed some and made ice cream in the ice cream maker which I served at a play date I hosted the day before I got the phone call. The last day I remember feeling like myself- the old me. That ice cream is still in a container in my freezer though I did throw out the extra cookie crumbs that were in a baggie in the fridge. The cookies in that ice cream are the last gift you ever gave to me.
“There’s more…” you said, “just little stuff.”
There’s more…there’s more…I hope there is. I hope there is more.
Oh Julia, I hope so badly that you can find more and more little treasures. I'm sure they will reveal themselves in time. What a wonderful gift to have a husband who was such a giver- you are a lucky lady.