Always one to select cards carefully so that their content suited the occasion and the sentiment carried the meaning and warmth he wanted to convey, my husband also had a small box of cards that were reserved for a very particular class of folks. These were sent to the people he despised. He was just as particular in choosing these cards - they had to be small with rather non-descript pictures on the front and had to be made of crappy, flimsy paper. And most importantly, they had to say "Seasons Greetings" inside, for that is what he saw as the coldest of all the holiday messages. What did it even mean, "season's greetings"? "Happy Holidays" at least wishes the recipient happiness, but this was like saying "I will greet you and say hello to you in this season". These were the cards that were sent to those people he intensely disliked. I remember asking him why he just chose not to send a card at all - it was because that would not send the desired message. "No card" could mean he just didn't send cards out that year, or it was misplaced or misdelivered. No, it had to carry this cold message so that the person receiving it would know that while he felt the social pressure to send it, he clearly did not like that person and would not set those feelings aside so as to send a warm holiday greeting. He felt it was particularly effective if others around that person received the lovely warm cards he sent out to everyone else.
Now in preparing for the holidays, I agonized over what to do. A few years back, there was a line of Christmas cards specifically for people who had experienced loss and for whom Christmas would not be the joyful family time it had once been. I could not find any of these this year, so found one that conveyed a similar meaning, and one I could expand upon in the letter I wrote inside. I apologized to him for having caused him such grief this year (a statement that I now feel deserves a facepalm!). I gave him 2 bottles of wine - one, an old vine Zinfandel from California and the other a vinho verde from Portugal. Message on the old vine zin - this is a type of wine we discovered together and very much enjoyed, but I found it hard to buy the one we'd always had. This was the same type of wine, but a different vineyard and I hoped he would enjoy it with new friends, and in doing so sharing an old tradition that was connected to good times but with a new twist. The significance of the vinho verde - our last big family holiday was to Portugal and for the most part it was a wonderful trip. I asked him to pour himself a glass of this when he was alone, and asked him to let it open him up to remembering who I really was, not the person I'd become in his mind. I told him I'd bought myself the same two bottles and promised to do the same, in the hope that this shared but separate experience would help put us on a more friendly path for this brand new year.
In my mailbox, a very small, very flimsy card with what seemed to be a stained glass window poorly printed on the front, "Seasons Greetings" on the inside.
And how was this a gift? After crying for days about it, and after feeling the anger of once again being put in the position of completing his little plan and contributing to his victim persona (I could imagine the words ... "I reached out and send a Christmas card to wish her a merry Christmas, but still she complained about it"), I realized something vitally important. He was not angry and bitter because I had not made him happy or because I had not loved him enough. This is his character. He is the type of person who chooses to send cards to people at Christmas time that are designed to hurt them and make them feel bad. His character is such that he would continue to find ways to hurt me in deep but simple ways. He reminds me of the character in John Irving's book, The Cider House Rules. Mr. Rose was the unofficial leader of the migrant workers in the apple orchards, and he was mean. He had a sharp blade he used to cut anyone who crossed him, but he did it in an invisible yet remarkably painful way. He inflicted the equivalent of paper cuts - no deep cuts that would be too noticeable but small, shallow slices that would sting all over the person's body, especially when they were out in the orchard, sweating in the sun.
The full realization of this was the gift. I could not have made him happy because that would have been out of character for him. I realize that this is not someone I want as a friend. My friends are not of this character. I tend to surround myself with people who are caring and kind, with hearts that are true and who are not motivated by a need to be seen a certain way (virtuous, victimized, sad, powerful, mistreated, etc.).
A friend commented to me that I must regret putting so much thought into his card, and the wine gift to him. I could not disagree more. What it says to me is that we are cut of such completely different cloth, and that unweaving the two is the best thing I can possibly do for myself and for my happiness. It tells me that while I feel I have been terribly diminished by the way he has spoken to me all these years, it has not changed me into a person who could do the same small-minded vengeful gesture to him. In spite of it all, I could not treat him shabbily nor could I knowingly and strategically hurt him.
The gift that arrived in that small, flimsy envelope containing the card with those words, "Seasons Greetings", so bland and seemingly insignificant to the unknowing eye, yet cut so deeply and thoroughly through a fully aware heart, was the gift of freedom.