My story is about a present, not a Christmas present but an unforgettable present, one that has lived in infamy for twenty years.
I bought my husband a white suit. You know, the kind of white suit that Panama Jack would wear with, of course, a silk shirt, a Panama hat, and maybe a fine cigar. I actually did this. I had to be out of my mind.
First off, we don’t live in Panama. We live where it’s cold nearly all the time. That would be the first contraindication for the purchase. Second, he never gave any sign – whatsoever – that he needed, wanted or would wear a white suit.
It was a fiction composed entirely in my mind.
Every year at spring break, we would strong arm our kids into the car and drive for two days to a 50’s vintage resort in the Florida Keys where we would become tropical people overnight, our kids barefoot and in swim suits all day, us beginning the rum pour soon after the sun crossed the mid-mark.
Every visit, we’d trek to Key West where we’d watch The Great Rondini untie himself from a hundred yards of chains while hanging by his feet from a massive grappling hook and admire the live Tin Man, not moving a muscle except to wink at kids who tossed dollar bills in his bucket. It was the best of times with our kids healthy and nearly uncontrollable, skittering around Mallory Square and up and down Duval Street as the day turned to evening. We went so often they knew their way around. It was lovely, tropical, every muscle in our bodies relaxed, mellow, fluid.
It was here on Mallory Square that my husband finally gave in to years of requests that he dance with me, moving us around the dance floor to a Cuban band so maniacally but with such good humor that people who would have raised their eyebrows laughed with us instead. Our kids vanished, of course. Mortified. It was a dance that lasted me twenty years, I will say that.
It was on one of the late night drives up from Key West on U.S. 1, the highway that connects the islands of the Florida Keys, Latin music playing on the radio, the windows rolled down, my husband with a newly lit Cuban-rolled cigar, our kids asleep in the backseat that the seed of the suit was planted.
It was so luscious a time that I could almost imagine that it was just us in the car. No kids, no worries. Just the dark, dark night, the lights twinkling on boats tied to docks in front of old seaside motels, us riding high on the Seven Mile Bridge, thinking about how, someday, we might be rich and live there, ride the road whenever we wanted.
It was in this spirit that I bought the white suit. It was on a mannequin in a men’s store that I passed every day on my way to work. Yes, complete with a Panama hat.
My husband would look great in that suit, I thought. Dark, wavy hair. Swarthy guy. Handsome guy.
So in a fit of complete fantasy, I bought the suit and gave it to him, I think, for his birthday. He opened the box and lifted out first the jacket and then the pants. He looked at me as if to say, “you bought me a white suit?” Actually, the look was just moments before he said, “You bought me a white suit?”
He tried it on. It didn’t fit. So it had to be taken back to the store where, thankfully from his point of view, they didn’t have a different size. Only that size. And it didn’t fit. So, no white suit for this guy.
Being the man he is, my husband gave me only the gentlest hard time about the white suit. He’ll still roll his eyes every now and then but he’s pretty much let it drop. In his heart, he probably knew it was about those nights driving up U.S.1 in the dark, the things people think about when they look out the window.
He’s wise like that.