It was during one of our first special occasions, Mel’s birthday, that she gave me a list of all the things she wanted. It was a list of ten things, printed off our computer, using green comic sands font.
I didn’t have to get everything, she said, just a few things. “I just wanted you to have plenty of options,” she said. And when she said, “Plenty of options,” what she really meant was, “I’m testing you.”
But I didn’t know that yet.
I recall that she wanted a humidifier, a trip to the day spa, a silver band to go with her wedding ring, some new pants…
The list made me feel in control. It reminded me of a good map that might lead me to in the right direction to get some loving.
I took her list and bought the first two things on it (a humidifier, and a trip to the day spa). They also happened to be the cheapest things on the list, which says a lot about my priorities at the time. I was in college and newly married. I was anxious about everything, especially money. I didn’t really understand where money came from, or how to get it, and I was still trying to figure out where it all went. Money was confusing and powerful, so I did my best to hang onto it. In my mind, I saw myself as being frugal. Mel, on the other hand, saw me a cheep.
I also got her a birthday cake from Baskin Robbins (her favorite ice cream place), and a dozen roses.
I got up early on Mel’s birthday, around 6AM. I’d stored the cakes and gifts at my mother’s house. I wanted it to be a surprise. I bought the roses at a grocery store because no florists were open that early in the morning.
My mother was kind enough to wrap the humidifier for me. It really shouldn’t be that hard to wrap a gift, but I often run into multiple problems. I cut the paper too short, which means I have to add a random patch of wrapping paper that makes the gift look like a black car with a grey passenger door. Or I cut it too long, but don’t realize it until I’m well into the project. I’m too invested to start over, so I end up doing one of two things: Crumple up the extra paper and tape it to the present, making it look like a tumor. Or I try to cut it to fit after I’ve already started, which makes the present look like Mickey Rourke after he had all that plastic surgery. All of it I find very frustrating. If I had to pick between wrapping presents and slamming my junk in a car door, I’d take the car door.
Anyway, everything I bought her was piled up in the passenger seat of my pickup, and I recall looking over at the roses, the cake, and the neatly wrapped present and thinking, I got this shit down! Other men suck at special occasion, but not this guy! Best husband ever!
Mel’s birthday is in June. It was already hot in Utah. The high for the day was probably in the high 90s. At the time, we were living in Provo, renting a small two-bedroom house about one mile from the home I grew up in. It was a farming community. The kind of place that stays quiet all day.
I got home with my gifts a little after 6:45 AM. Mel was still asleep. I placed all the gifts on the kitchen table and put the cake in the freezer. Then, I made breakfast: waffles, bacon, and eggs. I lit some candles and placed them on the table. It was about 7:30 AM once I was finished.
I went to wake up my bride.
“Hey, babe,” I said. “Happy birthday. I got a surprise for you in the kitchen.”
At the time, Mel worked two jobs. One was at a local garden center. The other was as the night casher at a grocery store. She probably got home the night before around 2AM, which means she probably didn’t get to sleep until after 3AM. But I didn’t really think about that. I just thought about how sweet I was being.
Mel didn’t say anything. She moaned, reached up, placed her hand on my face, and pushed me away. This was not the first time she’d done something like this. The year before I had run a 10K. The race went right past the condo we were renting at the time, and when I woke Mel and asked if she was going to come watch the race, she placed her hand on my face and pushed me away. I was offended then, too, but it was the same situation. She’d been up all night at work.
I didn’t realize this at the time of her birthday, but Mel values sleep more than anything. Although having kids has changed her values some, she is not a morning person, while I am. It took me a few years, and a few cranky early morning fights, to learn this.
I assumed that Mel would be happy to see my surprise, I assumed that she could smell the breakfast I’d made, and would value the time and effort I put into making it more than her sleep.
I was wrong.
“Go away,” she said in a husky, angry voice.
A voice like death.
I was persistent.
“Come on. Get up. I made you breakfast. It’s getting cold,” I said in a chipper ‘top of the morning to ya,’ voice.
Mel let out another long moan that was filled with agony and frustration.
Then she rolled out of bed, walked into the hallway, glanced at the candles, flowers, breakfast, and gifts on the table, and gave me a straight faced look that seemed to say, I slept four hours last night, and you got me up on my birthday for that?
She was in black sweat pants and a blue long sleeve shirt from Daniel Summit, the lodge where we spent our honeymoon. Her hair was loose and wild, an elastic barely clinging to the margins of the ponytail she put it in the night before.
She went into the bathroom. She was in there for a long time, probably almost ten minutes, banging things around. They were loud frustrated bangs and pops, followed by cranky grunts. Eventually she came out and we had breakfast together.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley