Frock Bottom

Last Christmas I gave my husband Dom a long-sleeve shirt in some eye-roll-inducing color like “Coffee Breath” or “Darkened Soul.” He coveted it for months and wouldn’t spend the money on himself, so I bought it, had it sent on the sly to our next-door neighbor and spent all of December swearing I hadn’t.

 

It’s hard to say which he loved more — the shirt or the story behind it. Our neighbor, having forgotten about her secret mission, thought the shirt was a gift and wore it, filling every fiber with her Eau de Secret Pot Smoker perfume. Hilarity ensued, along with a last-minute re-order and Christmas Eve FedEx Hail Mary.

 

After the gift and the story, Dom’s chuckle faded to a hopeful grin, and he handed me a long, rectangular box — one I knew by its shape and heft didn’t contain a Le Creuset omelet pan, cheese-of-the-month-club membership or anything else on my painstakingly organized wish list.

 

Wrapping ripped and box top off, it initially looked like we’d gotten each other long-sleeve shirts, mine an impossibly soft scoop neck in my favorite heather berry color. But as I held it up, the material just kept on coming. So I held it higher and higher until I had to stand up to see it all.

 

It was a dress. A floor-length dress made of T-shirt material that would cling to every part of the body I try so hard to hide. I searched for something to say that was honest but gentle. I tried to put a smile on what is easily the world’s worst poker face.

 

Dom started talking fast, the way he does when he’s nervous.

 

“I know how you love the … and it’d be nice for a date night or … but I kept the receipt so … it won’t bother me at all if you … ” He trailed off, that same hopeful grin still in place.

 

In 12 years of gifting, my husband has certainly bombed before. When iPods came out, Dom gave me one, then loaded it up with his music: ’90s rap, grunge and the ultimate soundtrack to my nervous breakdown: jam bands. One Christmas when we lived in New York City, we spent one of those perfect, childless, disposable-income-filled afternoons sipping hot chocolate and sauntering around a craft fair at Union Square. Amid all the artisan hipster-ness, Dom didn’t notice that the blown-glass flower earrings he went back for, with their protruding red stigmas, would look like little penises protruding from my ear.

 

And while he’s had many successes along the way as well, Dom has never given me a gift that made me come face-to-face with the things I don’t like about my body. On Christmas morning. With an insanely excited 4-year-old tearing into everything and my in-laws on a plane headed our way.

 

Feeling that pressure — and another, deeper pressure not to be the wife who pretends to love gifts she doesn’t want and lets them die unused in the back of her closet — we distracted our son with a giggling Goofy doll and hid in our bedroom so I could say this through many, many tears:

 

This is a beautiful dress. And I can imagine you in that boutique, picking it out and getting an ego boost from skinny sales associates about what a thoughtful husband you are. But this is not going to look good on me. It’s going to hug my ass, stretch tight across my stomach and emphasize everything I attempt to cover on a daily basis with denim and shapeless shirts. It’ll remind me of the shame I feel about my body, which I’ll drown later with too many ravioli in a cycle that’s played out hundreds of times in dressing rooms and food courts across the country. I love it, and I love you, but trust me on this one, OK?

 

“OK,” he said, mopping my face gently with his pajama sleeve. “But would you try it on for a second? I just want to see what you mean.”

 

It was the least I could do for crying on Christmas morning.

 

Alone in the bedroom, just me and the mirror, I pulled the dress over my head and pushed it down past my hips, noticing for the first time the gathered fabric at the waist and gentle give of the material. Even sans Spanx, the dress was unbelievably perfect, as if it had been sewn specifically to celebrate and camouflage my body. I pulled on my most badass boots, which flashed through the peekaboo slits in the sides of the dress as I twisted this way and that, trying to find a flaw.

 

And then there was Dom, with that same damn smile, watching me rock that dress the way he knew I would. I realized then that he’d never buy me an omelet pan or any of the books and bangles on my wish list. He’d rather do his own thing and fail than grab the low-hanging fruit, which is the exact reason why I married him. He sees a different Danny than I do. One who looks good in long dresses.

 

And it’s hard to say which I love more — the gift or the story behind it.

 

This story appeared in the Dec. 3, 2015 issue of Nashville Scene. View the original here

 

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