The kind of gifts you can’t get under a tree

Christmas 2009 was turning out to be the crappiest of my life. I was (and still am) a year plus into my unemployment, money was extremely tight, and I felt like my husband was making a mockery of me because I was not bringing any money if apart from my federal and part time job checks. Over the fall, I had the opportunity to interview and work with a company in Columbus, Ohio. The pay was good, I would be near family and I would get back to making a contribution to my family, outside of doing laundry and taking the kids to the zoo. My husband and pastor worked very quickly to keep me from pursuing that prospect, warning that it would lead to a divorce and a chance for the Devil to destroy another marriage. Two weeks before Christmas I looked at our holiday budget and fumed when I recalled that meeting. A week later, when my husband told me that I could not buy gloves and hats for the girls for our trip to Springfield where it was snowing, I was livid. All I could think about was how useless I felt as a housewife and what a wasted chance I had missed because I had been cowed into submission through fear tactics and a need to do “the right thing.” If he wanted me to stay at home instead of going where the work was, then he needed to work harder to bring in more money and take these stupid constraints off me! To add insult to injury, our pastor had promised (and failed) to follow up with me to give me an “action plan”. “We want you to be happy as well,” she had said. The 3 calls I’d made to her to acquire that “action plan” had yielded nothing.

As I stewed over these thoughts during my drive home from taking my daughter to see her rat bastard biological father, I decided that I resented my husband and pastor for stymieing our financial health. I walked in the door and was met by the sight of my husband sweeping the floor and tidying up for our drive to Ohio to celebrate Christmas. I was unmoved.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“I resent you!” I seethed. “I resent you and I resent Pastor Hunt!”

He stopped sweeping.

“You’re going to have to explain yourself,” he said, visibly irritated.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come out. I meant to keep that to myself.”

“Yes, but you said it, and now you need to tell me what you mean!”

Our conversation went unfinished as a friend dropped by to visit. Sensing tension in the air, she did not stay long after coming to collect her Christmas gift. My husband and I didn’t say two words to each other the rest of the night. He slept downstairs on the sofa. I barely slept at all upstairs. The next morning I woke up early to drive and think. All this had happened because there had been a pause in my unemployment benefits. Was the $210 a week from the State really worth a blow up with my husband? I had been stupid and needed to apologize. I sent him a text to let him know I was going to change the oil in my car for our trip and that we could talk when I got home, if he liked. My text went unanswered. When I pulled up to the house, he came right out and warmed up his car. I began cleaning some of the trash out of mine, opened the door and was confronted by his hulking frame. His eyes were cold.

“Malaka, I have to tell you I was mad as hell by what you said last night. With all the stuff I do around here, plus going to work to pay off your credit card bills and car loan…for you to tell me you resent me, I felt very disrespected. If you feel like I’m such a tyrant and am so oppressive, then you go do what you want. If you feel like your destiny is in Ohio, then leave. I’m tried of trying to convince you to stay with me. As for me, I’m going to work.”


“Can I say something,” I asked.

He shrugged as I began to explain my position. I apologized. I told him I was wrong. I told him I knew he did everything around the house and that I did appreciate it…and then I told him if he wanted me to leave that I would. I would leave today.

I flung my trash into the can and stormed upstairs, angrily pulling down suitcases and pulling them into my room. I turned around and saw him standing in the door.

“Can we at least talk about this some more,” he said.

“No!! No more talking! I don’t want to talk to you anymore!”

He seemed baffled.

“Wait a second. How are you going to get angry with me??” he asked incredulously.

“I’m not angry! I just want to leave!”

I slammed clothes into suitcases with no rhyme or reason. I had so much stuff, I didn’t know what to take first. My mind was racing. Marshall tried to talk to me, but I was having none of it. If he wanted me gone, I wanted to leave too! I brushed past him to get to into the closet, gathering sweaters and shoes with tears staining my face.

“Anything I don’t take you can just throw away after I’m gone.”

“Malaka, I don’t want you to go.”

“I want to go!” I screamed.

“I don’t want you too.”

I suddenly heard him sobbing and explaining that he thought that I wanted to leave him. I turned to look to see if my ears deceived me, and there on the floor was my loving 6’1” husband, holding his head and sobbing uncontrollably. He began to pray and ask God to help him and his family. He told me that he loved me ever so much, that he’d loved me for the past 12 years, despite everything I’d done to him.

“Well, I want to go, so I won’t keep doing things to you.”

“That’s not what I meant!” he said. “Oh God, why did I say that?”

The next 30 minutes was spent in the closet, both of us sobbing with pleas to let one pass and the other vowing to block the closet door until there was a promise to stay. The children cried for milk and for the channel to be changed downstairs. My resolve had been broken. I hadn’t wanted to leave anyway. The ordeal ended with us sitting on the floor in a slobbery heap, surrounding by strewn clothing. Two days later as we watched our kids excitedly open their Christmas gifts, I wasn’t struck at all by how few physical gifts I hadn’t received. My family was intact, Marshall and I had reaffirmed our commitment to each other, and I’d started the day with a good helping of pie. These are the types of gifts you can’t get wrapped in pretty paper placed under a tree. What started out as a crappy Christmas turned out to be one of my best in recent memory.