Eight years ago I was searching for the perfect Christmas gift for Gabby. It had been a year filled with milestones. We were new parents, I was finally getting my business up-and-running, and we had purchased our first home together – a major fixer-upper, complete with foundation problems and a growing family of rats living in the roof. Finances were tight, but I knew I had to splurge. I scoured the stores for days hours minutes looking for just the right thing. Knowing my wife’s love for all things functional, practical, and fabulous, I bought her what I thought was the perfect symbol of my love and devotion.
A vacuum cleaner.
I know what you’re thinking.
Boy Scott, I wish my husband was as thoughtful as you.
Christmas morning came. To add to the anticipation, I waited until all other gifts had been opened before presenting her with her new miracle of suction. Her eyes lit up as she unwrapped the giant box. Even though there was a picture of a cherry red vacuum right on the front, she excitedly asked,
“I wonder what’s inside?”
Her smile faded as she tried to pry open the box and flexed her muscles against the factory-applied glue that tightly held the flaps closed. She knows my half-assed wrapping style, and this was obviously a professional job.
“It’s a vacuum?!” she said with feigned excitement.
Nothing says, “I love your child bearing hips and strong skeletal structure” quite like a vacuum cleaner. That Christmas, with one purchase, I single-handedly bludgeoned Cupid and Santa Clause with a telescoping wand and rotating brush attachment. It’s quite a feat when you think about it. I may as well have bought her a coupon book filled with soul-sucking chores. To top it off, this was a manly vacuum. It looked like a bright red hammerhead shark, with gadgets and doodads shooting off in every direction. It was heavy. And loud. Conjuring visions of a tatted-up hotel maid firing up a Harley Davidson.
* Big Red. Beware of her power. But, she doesn't clean too well.
Gabby hated my gift but couldn’t bring herself to return it to the store. Instead, every time she vacuumed the house, a little piece of her died inside. It was painful to watch. I would hear her let out a little sigh with every back-and-forth sweep of the carpet. It was the kind of sigh that tells you that tonight’s goodnight kiss will have no future.
And Gabby vacuums a lot.
Last week, as a show of marital solidarity, I pulled out the red beast and tackled the floors on my own. I like to offer my wife this little olive branch any time the government is shut down or when Halley’s Comet is visible with the naked eye. It keeps her guessing and spices things up a bit.
Midway through my domestic diversion, I smelled something odd. A strange mix of singed pet hair, burnt rubber and an exploded bottle rocket. I looked down and saw a curl of smoke coming from the front of the machine. Soon after, a loud chattering erupted like a fistful of marbles thrown into a speeding blender. I cut the power and surveyed the damage.
The front housing of the vacuum was cracked. The plastic screw pieces that hold the rotating brush assembly to the main part of the cleaner were shorn off. I tried for several minutes to re-adjust, re-align, and repair the damage.
It wasn’t happening.
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but the breaks in the screws and the housing looked clean. Too clean. And the grass trapped in the filter looked like it could have come from the grassy knoll. But just when I started to channel Oliver Stone and look for dubious scratch marks or a second shooter, Gabby came in and offered what, in our house, amounts to a legitimate attempt at repair.
“Could we just duct tape it all together?”
I considered her proposal. In theory, I could wrap the whole vacuum in silver tape. This would likely give us a few extra weeks of use - maybe even enough to carry us through the end of December keeping our Year Without A Purchase vow intact.
However, while the magical tape does have amazing healing properties, I do not believe it can repair a broken marriage. I had visions of Gabby sweeping the floors with our hack-job fix. Dust bunnies and hair balls trapped in the unyielding hold of the adhesive. Her voice adding some choice expletives to the sighing. Me sleeping in a tent in the back yard and having to eat roots and berries to survive. Completely devoid of physical contact from my formerly loving and forgiving wife.
“No honey. I think it’s dead.”
I can’t be certain about this, but I believe Gabby’s excitement caused the lights in the house to burn 10 watts brighter for a flash. But she hid it well.
“Are you sure?” she offered, with only a hint of remorse.
And so we broke the rules. And it was all my fault. There was no emailing or texting of friends asking for a spare vacuum. There was no finding a used vacuum at Goodwill. On our next trip to the store, we bought the Taj Mahal of vacuum cleaners. It glides like a dream. It’s petite, like my wife. And quiet, like other people’s kids. But it can still suck an almond off a bald guy’s head from fifty yards away.
As we loaded it into the back of the car, I looked at Gabby.
“Are you excited?”
“Yes”, she replied. I could see eight years of animosity melt away in an instant. As if all was forgotten.
“Do you want to test it out when we get home?”
“No.” There was no hesitation.
And then I saw her own conspiracy theory wash across her face. As if breaking Big Red was part of my plan.
“You gotta’ finish the job, Dannemiller.”
And she’s right. The Year Without A Purchase is almost over. We’re in the home stretch. And even though there are setbacks, we’re sticking with it.
Even though it sucks sometimes.