Joy’s husband of sixteen years has never been a good gift giver. He admits it and it's obviously a source of amusement for the couple.
“Remember the necklace you got me, from an ‘artist’ in Guadalajara, that turned my entire chest into a land of red bumps from the metal? Or the Aunt Mabel dishcloths for the kitchen?” Joy howls with amused derision.
Jeff kicks in, “Oh yeah, like how I heard about that blanket with the arm things for months afterwards,” he tries to explain, “Joy is always cold. I thought this thing would make her happy.”
Joy rolls her eyes, “It had hippopotamuses all over it! What was he trying to tell me?”
The bad gift-giving issue came to a head one birthday after the couple had been married for five years. “It was my fortieth birthday,” Joy grimaces, “and I was just NOT feeling it. I was feeling old, ugly, fat, useless. I NEEDED a good present that year. Nothing fancy, just something thoughtful.”
Joy started dropping hints a few weeks prior to help her husband out.
“She was REALLY subtle. ‘Jeff, I’d like a diamond necklace.’ Or, ‘Dear, I think this purse would go perfectly with my shoes.’”
Joy nods. She didn’t know why she felt that this was some test of their love, but for some reason the looming big 4-0 birthday felt like such a milestone that she was looking forward to being whisked off to Paris or Greece - something momentous.
Joy and Jeff met when she was a flight attendant for United, and Jeff was a frequent flier who often traveled to Europe for work. “I met Jeff on a flight headed towards Madrid that was particularly turbulent. I was doing drink service and the plane lurched, nearly tumbling me into his lap. But at least I managed not to spill hot coffee on his suit!”
There was something about surviving a tumultuous flight, being tossed around like a flimsy bottle cap inside a tornado, that made them take pause and look at each other a little more closely. They both liked what they saw, and upon a thankfully safe disembarkment, Jeff asked if he could call Joy.
When Joy agreed to date Jeff, he was overjoyed. He routinely met her at the airport with flowers and silly little gifts he’d pick up at the souvenir shop. It became their little joke and she kept them in a small trunk that her father had left behind.
Slowly the gifts turned more serious as their relationship did. “But, they were weird gifts. Stuff I’d never use. Sometimes I’d wonder if this man really KNEW me. Oh, I know that sounds terribly snobbish, which I don’t really think I am, but I’ll admit that the thoughts crossed my mind.”
Being a flight attendant, Joy had learned how to pack light. A small suitcase and her uniform could last her during weeks during trips around the globe. “I was used to not having things. I grew up very poor - my father left when we were young, and my mother, younger brother and I did the best we could to survive. I never had new or stylish clothes in school, but I got used to not having a lot of things. It was normal to me. When I became a flight attendant, this minimalist lifestyle suited me.”
“Jeff told me that the rest of the box was going to be filled with all the love and life and things that we were going to learn about each other in the future. It was the most memorable day of my life.”
Jeff nods. “I had no idea how to shop for a woman. I’d never really done it before. I just knew that I wanted to shower her with gifts that showed to her how I felt.”
Joy giggles, “Like the New Testament Bible written in crayon (psst... I’m Jewish by the way! - and he knew that!).”
Jeff interrupts, “Or the glass globes of those little villages in Russia.”
“Oh, THOSE I actually kind of liked.”
But when Jeff proposed to his future wife, he gave her what she felt was the best gift ever. A box of nothing. Eagerly she had ripped off the oversized bow from the large box, wondering what could weigh so little yet be so large. She found out - nothing. She looked inside the box, then looked at Jeff, puzzled.
Jeff got down on one knee, took out a stack of little scraps of papers he’d had hidden behind him, and started to tell Joy how much he loved her. One by one he picked up one of the slivers of paper and read out loud to her things he’d noticed about her that he loved.
Her sense of humor.
The way her hair looks in the sunlight.
The curve of her thigh.
-and so on.
One by one these colored paper bits went into the box. When he had gone through the stack, the box was halfway filled with a testament of love that Joy had never before experienced.
“And then Jeff told me that the rest of the box was going to be filled with all the love and life and things that we were going to learn about each other in the future. It was the most memorable day of my life; I’d have to admit even more than my actual wedding.”
When the couple got married, Joy says that for the first time in her life she was inundated with STUFF. “Jeff’s side of the family is all relatively wealthy - and we got bombarded with nice gifts for our wedding. I didn’t even know how to fathom all this stuff we’d gotten. I liked it, I’m not going to lie; but it kind of freaked me out. Then I got sort of used to it, appreciating that better quality things often lasted longer or worked better.”
Still, it was hard for Joy to get used to having to maintain and care for all these things - appliances, a big house to clean, and so on.
When her 40th birthday rolled around, Joy was expecting perhaps another version of the box, or something as meaningful. Instead, Jeff was busy working very hard on a big client project and told her that she could pick out something for herself, because she hated everything he got for her anyway.
“On my birthday, we went out to dinner and when we got home, I was fully expecting something, but there was nothing.” She ran into her bedroom and let the stress of turning 40 dissolve her into tears. Jeff came in, perplexed. He explained, half-heartedly, that he felt bad but wanted her to get herself something she really liked.
“I lost it. I thought he didn’t love me any more; that he couldn’t take the time to think of something nice for me. I cried myself to sleep that night.”
Jeff says that for his part, he thought he was doing her a favor by telling her to buy whatever she wanted.
The next day, Jeff came home with a big box and set it down in front of her. Pulling out a stack of paper notes, he smiled. “We’ve got a lot of things to add to this from the last five years, and many more to come.”
Even a day late, the box of nothing was still the best gift Joy had ever received.
Thank you Joy, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®