December 25, 2022
It was a challenge to come up with the right Christmas present last year for my wife, Andi. We were a month into our separation and I definitely couldn’t half-ass it. Half-assing it through the marriage is what got me in this horrible situation. I got her a LSAT study book (which she used) and a trip to Paris (which she didn’t use). So, a year later, I really wanted to show up. It was time to center her instead of my idea of her. We’re back under the same roof, but still separated. I want her to know I’ve learned something this year.
There are always “things” we want. (If I don’t get The Beatles Get Back DVD from Santa, I’m buying it myself.) But things are transitory. They matter and then they don’t. What if there was a gift that was both lasting and reflected a partner who pays attention? A gift that recognizes the personhood of the recipient, not just their role as a gift receiver.
One of the great works I read in grad school was Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). If the home is a metaphor for society, it’s the man’s house. Rooms for women are assigned specific gendered tasks; the kitchen, the laundry room, the nursery, the sewing room. Men get their den to just exist in. What is women’s equivalent of the man cave? Woolf argued if women are to write fiction, they need a room of their own. If they want to live outside the constraints of their proscribed roles, they must have a safe space inside their own homes to explore their options. Like men do every day.
I bought my house in 1999 and turned every room into my own. That included a room for my vinyl collection and a separate room for my CDs. When Andi moved in in 2013, we had to shoehorn her life into my space. My closet for her clothes. My kitchen drawers for her pans. My walls for her paintings. She was a lodger in Randyland. How could she ever feel like she truly belonged here?
So that could be my gift; a room of her own. Andi plans on going to law school in the fall and will need a study space, or just a “be” space. My CD room was upstairs with big east-facing windows. It was the perfect candidate to be de-Randified and transformed into a comfy study. I had to build shelves in another room to store my thousands of CD. It had to be all her room, no Blazak artifacts. Since it was upstairs, I could work on in while she was at work or “out,” without her knowing what I was up to.
So I got to work, painting, fixing cracks in the wall, finding a desk and a comfy reading chair, and framing the book cover of Woolf’s classic for the wall. Cozy helped too, contributing a plant and a framed picture of her and her mother. Oh, and a white furry rug she found at IKEA. A bottle of mescal and a note in the desk and the job was done. I purposely under-decorated. It would defeat the entire idea if I filled her room with my ideas. She can create the space in her image.
I wrapped a copy of A Room of One’s Own (sans cover) after inscribing in it, “The rest of this gift is upstairs,” and placed it under the tree. I put Cozy to bed (after watching Home Alone) and hoped she’d be home in time to open presents in the morning.
Like Santa, Andi arrived in the wee hours and we opened presents. Cozy was most excited about the Minecraft Lego set. (Mr. Claus went through the ringer for that one.) Andi’s present for me was a Joni Mitchell biography. The last gift was her Woolf book and then Cozy and I led her upstairs to see the room I’ve been working on for several weeks.
I think she liked it. “It’s probably the most thoughtful gift you’ve ever given me,” she said. I want her to have her space in this male owned house. I want her to want to stay.
OK, now I have to go get my Beatles DVD.