The business of the Man Detox was not over and I was, once again, sitting in my therapist's office, spending precious time and co-pay talking about this thing, this gift that fits in my hand, this possession that has a much bigger hold than it should.
It felt pressing and so I explained that I still had it, wrapped in pretty blue tissue paper, tucked haphazardly back into its box and then thrown into the back seat of my car. I needed to do something with it. I wanted it gone.
She got right to it, offering suggestions, just as my friends had, for what I could do with this gift I no longer accepted. But none of them felt right.
"What does feel right?" she asked.
"I want it to go back to the boutique." I felt very clear about that. The owner had rejected it as a return or exchange, but still, that store is its home.
I told her that I'd considered leaving it there anyway, handing back and bolting. I second-guessed myself. I held on to it because she said no.
"Oh," my therapist nodded. "This is big for you because you didn't stand up for yourself in that situation just like you didn't stand up for yourself time after time in the relationship with the person who gave you that gift."
I didn't have to say a word. Without pause, the tears came. A quiet, steady stream of tears made their way over my cheeks and into the palms of my hands, pressed into my face. Yes, that was it.
Too many times, I gave in. I yielded. I stood holding all of the stuff I no longer wanted to surround me because I wanted it to be OK. I wanted it to work. I wanted him to be someone he so clearly was not. I wanted to resist the whisper in my head that said, "Run. Run. Drop the bag and run."
That pause in the boutique lasted a few moments. The pause in the relationship lasted months. Sitting there, I felt free of hesitation.
"I'm going to take it back to the fucking boutique." I was clear. I felt like I opened the door and through the screen door, just a hint of freedom breezed across my face. The tears were there, but I knew now what I had to do. I just had to figure out how, when. I let the urge to drive out to the boutique and throw it in the door and drive away, tires squealing, pass. Twice.
I was antsy all week, trying to figure out the right time to make my way to the boutique. I had Lil E with me for the weekend and had been sick at home all week, so the timing was not all my own. But when Saturday arrived and I knew it would be fine to take him out, I decided not to wait to also take care of myself.
We ran other errands, purging 67 pieces of clothing from my closet at a consignment shop and feeling better and better as we neared the boutique. It was only a few minutes from the consignment shop, and as we left the parking lot, Lil E asked where we were headed next. I told him I had to take something back to a little store. He asked what it was and I told him, patting the the bag now on the seat beside me.
"But it's so pretty. And you love fancy things, mommy."
He was right on both counts. And I'd already heard those things, played that tape so many times. I was just clearer on the response now.
"Yes. But some things are OK to let go of, especially if you no longer need to hold on so tight to them."
He nodded. The boy with a room full of a gazillion clothing tag, lint-covered sticker, Oriental Trading goody bag, 50-cent toy machine "treasures" nodded.
"Shall we sing 'All The Single Ladies'?" That was my boy. By no means was he privy to the drama of the whole story. But he got that a power-grrrl song was called for.
So we sang it -- or as much as we could remember without the CD or coincidental playing on the radio -- all four minutes it took to drive there.
Before I got out of the car, I took a moment. My own moment. I opened the box, inhaled and said out loud, "Goodbye, gift. Goodbye to all that." Lil E repeated it from his car seat, only louder. And then we held hands and went in.
Lil E was mesmerized by the tiny things tucked in every nook of the store while I paced around waiting for the nice owner lady to be free.
Older ladies, several with small and yappy dogs, took up space in the boutique, crowded around her with their conversation about tourines and table runners. Finally, there was an opening. I jumped in, placed my bag on the table, looked the lady in the eye.
"I was in here last weekend," I began. I felt my voice began to tremble like I was doing something monumental when I was really just trying to off a freaking trinket. I breathed. She nodded. She recognized me.
"You weren't able to take this back or to exchange it. But I need to return it," I went on, plowed right past the confused look on her face, the start and quick stop as she was about to say something. "It's too pretty to destroy and I don't feel comfortable giving it away to someone considering all the emotion it carries. This is its home and I need you to take it."
I was ready to turn away when, in her lovely accent, she said, "It is just that it is well beyond the return date policy."
"I get that," I said it sharply and quickly. Her eyebrows were knit. She looked...well, bewildered. It made me feel braver to see that. "But I can't have it in my home. This is where it belongs."
"I can't let you do that!" She blurted it out. I was silent in response. "Will you at least take something for it? Will you pick out a tablecloth?"
It seemed ridiculous. I really didn't want anything.
But I said yes anyway.
Lil E met me at the armoire where the table linens were folded and sorted precisely. I chose a rectangular one without being sure it would even fit my table. The red poppies floating over it looked happy, at ease, and so I pulled it from the stack. Goodbye, blue tissue. Hello, red poppies. I thought that as I took it back to the lady.
She seemed frozen there, but took the tablecloth, saying she'd wrap it up nicely for me. She wrapped it up hastily, and I thanked her, took Lil E's hand and the package and left the boutique. This time, with a smile, without hesitation.
The gift was where it should be, I was sure of it. We left, Lil E and I, laughing and running through the rain, down the street to the coffee shop. The week before, I sat there sad and confused. This week, we celebrated with shamrock cookies.
"I'm proud of myself," I said decisively. There was green icing on his cheek.
"And I am proud of YOU!," he returned. "For what?"
"For letting go of the gift I didn't need."
"Woohoo!," he hooted, mouth full, cheersing me, half-eaten cookie to my own.
"WOOOOOOhoooooooo!" This time we said together. He was loud. I felt free.