"Jade?" I heard my husband mutter from the other room. "What could she possibly want in jade?"
I knew I didn't want anything in jade, our daughter certainly didn't and our mothers were both trying to downsize, so I hurried over to ward off any well-intentioned purchases with a lighthearted, "What are you looking at, honey?"
"It says here that jade is the modern gift for a 35th wedding anniversary," he replied. "I can't even imagine what I would get you in jade."
I couldn't either.
But this is a man who once got on a Greyhound to Boston with me when he was just supposed to be dropping me off at the bus station. A man who makes sure I wake up to an almond croissant and iced tea on every birthday, and who makes me grin by sticking Post-It notes with funny drawings and "I love you" scribbled on them on the bathroom mirror, in the back of the fridge and on the inside of my tennis shoes.
He gets teary when we look at old family photos or watch "About Time," and, even after all these years, he's determined to give me a meaningful gift for our anniversary.
Although I tell him it's unnecessary, that it means more to me when he takes my car in for an oil change or runs out in his pajamas when we hear the garbage truck coming down the street, I don't want to burst his bubble—especially because that means I'd have to remind him why I can't have nice things.
You see, I have a bad history when it comes to gifts.
It started with my wedding ring. Although I adored the ring itself—a perfect gold circle delicately etched with eternity signs—I really adored what it represented. So, when I threw open the top of a heavy wooden storage chest one day and it came crashing down on my left hand, my feelings weren't all that was crushed. My ring was mangled beyond repair and I had to call our handyman to cut it off my finger. I was devastated (although it probably saved my finger from the same fate) but I took solace in the fact that I still had my engagement ring.
Then, about 10 years later, we decided it would be fun to attend opening day at the Del Mar racetrack. As I looked down at my $2 ticket, I realized the diamond was missing from my ring. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled along the ground, gagging as I ran my hands along the beer-stained, nacho-cheese-covered concrete in search of the little gem my broke husband had saved up to buy me at the age of 24. Granted, it was tiny and the chances of finding it among the seemingly endless kernels of popcorn and hot dog bun crumbs were even smaller. But I stayed down there until the knees of my jeans ripped along with a piece of my heart.
I sobbed as Michael hugged me and assured me it didn't matter. In fact, he said with a smile, he would now be able to get me a bigger one! I didn't want a bigger one, though. I wanted the one he had put on my finger when he asked me to marry him, the one that had so much sentimental value.
Over the years, I have lost books, popped pearls, misplaced earrings. I kept the heart-shaped box from the chocolates he gave me for our first Valentine's Day in such a safe spot, I never saw it again. I spilled Diet Coke on the handmade leather journal he bought me in Rome, tore the blanket he spent an hour haggling over in a souk in Bahrain and watched the ankle bracelet he had a Greek street artist whip up for me float away in the Mediterranean Sea as we kissed.
It kills me each time because of the Herculean effort he puts into making our special occasions even more special.
But I don't need the package to remember the joy I felt when I opened that fancy box of chocolates and found a stack of my favorite Hershey bars inside. And I often smile to myself when I think of us struggling to speak Italian and laughing hysterically as we failed miserably—a memory that remains vivid even though the journal itself is long gone.
A couple of days before our 35th anniversary, I ended up in bed with the flu. By the time the big day actually arrived, I was able to sit up and eat something without throwing it back up.
"I brought you some wonton soup and plain white rice," Michael said, setting down a plastic bag from the Chinese restaurant. "I'll make you a cup of hot tea to go with it."
As he left the room, I noticed the name of the restaurant on the bag: "Jade Garden."
I started to laugh.
Then I started to cry. My husband had given me the perfect gift.
I gently lifted the bowl of soup to my mouth, slowly savoring each delicious sip before, guilt-free, I let it disappear forever.