Men Don’t Return

Clutching a plastic bag full of clothes, I enter the returns aisle at Marshalls discount store and walk through the gauntlet of doggie chew toys, scented candle jars, cookie spatulas, truffle-infused olive oil, peanut butter pretzels, and manuka honey. Ahead of me, at the counter, a short dark-haired woman is gesticulating at Desmond, the returns clerk. (I’ve been in this line so many times I know who Desmond is without having to look at his name tag.)

“I don’t care if I don’t have the receipt,” the tiny woman says in a startlingly forceful voice. “I still want my money back!” She slides a large straw pocketbook toward Desmond.

Desmond picks up the purse, examines it from all sides, and points to a deep gouge across its back. “We can’t accept a damaged bag,” he says placidly, unstirred by the woman’s hot-headedness.

“It was damaged when I bought it,” she insists. “It’s the store’s problem.”

If Desmond feels exasperated, he doesn’t show it. Dressed in a white button-down shirt and blue patterned tie, he stands erect and motionless as the woman presses her case. Every muscle on his face is still. I am familiar with Desmond’s demeanor. I have endured his silences many times. He’s endured mine as well. Returning things makes me feel uncomfortable, as if I shouldn’t have taken them to begin with.

Glancing back at the line growing behind me as the dispute drags on, I notice every returnee is a woman. It occurs to me I’ve never stood in a return line with a man. Can it be that men don’t return?

Later, I will ask my husband, “Do you ever return anything?”

“No,” he will respond. “I know what I need, I get what I want, and I keep it. If you don’t like something I bought, I’ll make you return it.”

I picture my husband heading straight to the men’s sweater display in Brooks Brothers and hurling his spear at a woolly V-neck. Oh, if only I could be a purposeful hunter like that, instead of foraging in the aisles without knowing what I need. And to think he keeps everything he buys! How is that possible? Is it his inherent tendency to indulge himself? Or do he and other men like him balk at returning because they see it as a sign of weakness, tantamount to admitting a mistake? Or is the answer more mundane? Can it be that men don’t return simply because their clothing is designed to fit the actual shape of the male body?

Thanks to the intervention of the store manager, the quarrelsome woman finally wins the battle of the bag. The gouged pocketbook lands in the returns bin. It is my turn. Desmond and I enact our usual refund pantomime. Under his taciturn gaze, I sense disdain (or is it pity?) for women who repeatedly make poor choices and end up dissatisfied with their lot. Relieved when our transaction is completed, I rush to the racks to pick out more clothes. There’s a thrill in knowing I can buy whatever I want and get my money back and buy whatever I want again.

In the fitting room, the items seem fine. Back home, it’s another story. As I observe myself in the mirror after trying on the first outfit, a familiar voice inside my head foments doubt. Doesn’t look right. Dreadful color. Don’t really need it. I cringe at the thought of going back to Marshalls. I don’t want to take my place among the women struggling to get their needs met by a man who gives nothing in return. I want to be the kind of woman who knows what she wants and has the courage to hold onto it.

I change into another outfit, hoping this time will be different. It is! I look good. The color complements my skin tone, the style flatters my slim figure, the price is right. This one’s a keeper!

But that self-indulgent husband of mine?

Reader, I returned him.

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