Our car was gone!
When we left the restaurant after celebrating my artist wife’s 30th birthday, we strolled casually to the parking lot with the fluorescent beams of light glowing above the pavement under the half moon.
As we rounded the corner of the building, our little Honda Civic was not there. The spot we had left our car in was filled with a black SUV.
Frantically, my artist wife whipped her head around in every direction hunting for any sign of our maroon-coloured little economy car.
Her best friend and husband, who had joined us for the quiet birthday dinner, jumped into solution mode and tried their best to help my frantic wife.
Clearly, this was not good; to say the least.
That Civic was our only vehicle. While it was modest in size, my artist wife had figured out a way to expertly fit all of her art, art supplies, and display equipment into it to get herself to the various art shows and art markets she attended in any given year.
* * *
For years, I struggled with public displays of affection and my emotional state, oftentimes, could best be described as stoic.
While I’ve been on my own mental-health journey in recent years to develop myself in this regard, my artist wife had to put up with it.
It never meant I loved her less and I don’t think she ever thought that. But, knowing my personal weaknesses, I often worried about it. As a result, I try to make up for it in thoughtfulness or extravagance; sometimes both.
In the case of her 30th birthday, it was certainly both. And then some.
* * *
Months earlier, with me landing a new job at a large company and our wonderful daughter having arrived earlier that same year, we decided we needed and could afford a second vehicle. A vehicle for my wife; one that could tote the kids comfortably and one that could tote her art, art supplies, and display equipment.
Immediately, I began to research our options. Dealership visits and test drives soon followed.
The process, however, dragged on.
It was 12 days before her birthday when I walked into a dealership on the south side of Edmonton, AB. By the time I left, we were proud owners of the newest model of Subaru Outback. It only had 12 km on the odometer, and I had put on five of those during the test drive.
Then, in a stroke of genius as the clock ticked toward her 30th birthday, it dawned on me that this, this new vehicle could be the extravagant, thoughtful birthday gift.
But how to pull it off? How could I hide from her the second most expensive purchase a family typically makes?
Fortunately, the Outback wouldn’t be ready for me to pick up until four days before her birthday. I messaged my parents who lived in the same suburb. They agreed to hide it in their garage for a few days.
So, I arrived home with the adrenaline still running through my body. We had a new car! A brand-spanking new, never-been-driven-by-anyone-else car.
There I was; full of excitement on the inside but unable to share it with her. Not yet.
As I had done many times after coming back from an afternoon or evening visit to a dealership, I walked into the living room as docile as a cow walking through a farmer’s field.
“How’d it go?” she asked, like she always did after these dealership visits.
It was incredibly difficult to not shout it out.
Instead, I grunted, shook my head, and we moved on; no further questions asked.
* * *
Back in the parking lot, as she continued her frantic looking, I stood stoically.
That’s what tipped her off. She sensed that I was still calm, not concerned at all.
When she turned to look at me, I couldn’t hold back any longer. A big grin swept across my face. And she broke out into an incredulous, I-can’t-believe-it smile as she walked toward her brand new car.
As she moved closer to the black SUV where our maroon Civic had been parked, the giant bow on the dash became clear. It had been left there at my behest by my father, who had exchanged the vehicles while we enjoyed my wife’s birthday dinner with her best friend.
Now, her best friend’s husband was looking at me with a death stare. I’m pretty sure it said, “How could you do this to us? All men everywhere hate you. You set the bar too high!”
Indeed, I did. I have yet to top that gift. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll try.
I mean, the amount of art stuff she crams into that Outback far surpasses what she crammed into that Civic. It’s impressive and has been a boon for her art business.