One of the presents LF gave me this past Christmas was a brand-new, down-feather pillow. At first I was confused. Then LF said, “A few weeks ago you said you wanted a new pillow. Remember?”
“You actually said you wanted a memory-foam pillow, but…”
I was trained from a young age to appear grateful for any gift, regardless of how I actually felt. After trying to instill the idea in me that thank-you notes are always appropriate, my mother was appalled one year to read one I wrote to her boss that said, “Thank you for the doll, but what I really wanted was a Barbie.”
So now I was faced with a new pillow I didn’t remember claiming to want, and then I was told it wasn’t even the kind of pillow I couldn’t remember wanting. And yet, in this still fairly new relationship – this was only the second time he’d ever had to give me a gift, after all – I wanted to encourage the effort. He even mentioned that if I didn’t like it, we could take it back and exchange it, but exchanging gifts isn’t something I grew up doing. So I said thank you and took the pillow upstairs to my room.
Two days later, I joined LF and his family for their Christmas celebration, where, of all the gifts given that afternoon, I counted at least four that the receivers indicated they would take to the store and exchange for something else. Not something else entirely, mind you; just something in a different color or make or size or style. I walked away from that gathering with a whole new perspective on gift exchange. To the LF family, exchanging wasn’t cause for hurt feelings; it was assurance that a gift was given that would be liked and used.
So, a few days later, when LF asked me whether I’d tried my pillow yet and if I’d made a decision about whether I wanted to exchange it, I admitted that I hadn’t yet taken it out of the plastic wrapping. I did so that night and immediately remembered why I don’t like down-feather pillows. The feathers sometimes poke you sharply in the face, and your head sinks in the middle, all the way down to the mattress, as if there is no pillow at all. And God forbid you try to turn your head to the side (if you’re on your back) because the sinking in the middle leads to the uprising of the ends so that you either get stabbed in the eye or completely suffocated.
The next day I told LF penitently, “I don’t really like the pillow. I’m sorry, but down is just not my thing.”
He took it in stride and promised to get me a memory-foam pillow instead. I gave the pillow back to him and let the matter drop. Then in early January, my mom wanted to get me a late Christmas gift and asked what I would like. I told her I wanted a memory-foam pillow so I could eventually have a matching set. We found a great sale at Kohl’s and spent about seven minutes assessing the selection before I chose one.
A few more weeks went by, and I enjoyed the memory-foam pillow and began to get excited about the second one coming. Sometime in February, LF and I perused memory-foam pillows together. I had a tough time deciding between a contoured pillow and a hybrid pillow that appeared to have the semi-firmness of memory foam but was actually filled with down. Why I was again considering a down pillow, I don’t know. I chose the contoured memory foam.
We took it home, and I pillowcased it and slept on it that night and then a couple more nights, until LF asked me how I liked it. This time I was more ready to reject it because he kept saying, “I want you to have a nice pillow that you love.” I told him it was too stiff and that it felt like my head was on an elevated rock.
I suggested maybe the hybrid pillow. LF dutifully took the second pillow back. A few weeks passed, and then one day in March I came home and found the hybrid pillow on my bed, with a note.
GF, If your life is anything like Goldilocks’s, then this pillow will be just right. -LF
I smiled and went through the pillowcasing routine with the new recruit. I also made a mental promise to myself that, no matter what, this pillow would be the One. I was beginning to feel guilty for all the rigamarole and suspected that I had crossed a line in gift-exchanging etiquette. So I would not be exchanging this pillow.
Later, when I got in bed, I lay back in slow motion, intentionally drawing out my anticipation. I put my head on the pillow, nestled down into it, and sat right back up. “This is all wrong,” I said out loud. The dog lifted his head from the foot of the bed and looked at me. Then he put his head back down and sighed. I sighed too and lay back down, hoping I’d feel different in the morning.
Morning came, and I felt icky. You know how you feel when you wake up and realize you’ve been drooling? Or if you had a really messy, outdoorsy day and went to bed without taking a shower? That’s how I felt. And my heart sank because I knew I was stuck with this pillow.
A couple of days went by, and I ended up finally switching the pillow out for the memory-foam pillow on the other side of the bed so I could get some decent sleep. But I was laden with guilt over the fact that I was keeping my dissatisfaction secret from LF. I also despaired whenever I looked down the road at a long, depressing future with a pillow I had too hastily committed to.
One night, I said, “LF, I have something to tell you.”
“I don’t want to tell you. I feel terrible about it. I am the worst girlfriend ever, and I am so sorry.”
“I hate the pillow. It’s the worst one yet, and I can’t sleep with it, and I don’t know what I want, and I’m so sorry, I’m the worst gift receiver EVER.”
LF stared at me for a moment and then burst out laughing.
“Why are you laughing at me?”
“Because you’re being ridiculous.”
We were on his couch, and I leaned back to lie down. My head met with a pillow he keeps on his couch, and I was instantly transported somewhere ethereal, where angels sing and harps strum themselves. “THIS IS IT,” I shouted.
“What are you talking about?”
“This pillow! It’s the one!”
LF laughed again and said, “Really?”
“Yes. I need this pillow. Can I have this pillow?”
“No. I want you to have a new one.”
“But LF, this is the pillow. I need this pillow.” By this time I am pretty sure I had a crazed look in my eyes, not unlike a pregnant woman demanding food.
“Okay, okay. You can have that pillow. But it’s just temporary, until I can buy you a new one just like it.”
I took the pillow home that night and slept blissfully. The next day LF asked me how things had gone, and I told him. He said, “Let’s give it some time just to be sure.”
Weeks passed, and my feelings didn’t change. So a few nights ago, LF brought me the fourth pillow. After he left, I was stationed on the couch, getting my Netflix on, the pillow beside me, still in the plastic wrap. At some point, the dog settled himself right on top of the pillow, which catalyzed this text conversation:
Me: Dog loves the new pillow.
LF: How do YOU feel about it?
Me: I dunno yet. He’s been hogging it.
I was not in the least disappointed when I finally laid my head down that night. I have no idea what is inside that pillow, what it’s made of, or how to describe how wonderful and perfect it is. But it just is.
I may not be Goldilocks, but at least I have a happy ending. (Now if only I could get my hands on that overdue Valentine’s Day gift…)