Valentines I've known

Photo by MZ

Last night we dumped out the contents of a pale pink paper bag that came home from school with our girl from the East. Onto the rug spilled squares and rectangles and heart-shaped greetings. Some were store-bought. Some were home-made. Mixed in were heart-shaped lollipops, foil wrapped chocolates and one homemade heart-shaped sugar cookie coated in pink icing.

This is the idealist’s Valentine’s Day: a magical day that stands along Halloween, Christmas and birthdays, when treats are handed out in equal measure and intentions are sincere.

The reality of Valentine’s Day emerges with a crush or first love. The day becomes an exclusive event between two, no longer shared with the masses.

Depending on the state of your love life, February 14 can swing between elation and misery. Break-ups, unrequited love, divorces and dry spells deliver bouquets of crushing loneliness tightly wrapped in agony.

I’m firmly planted in the middle this year. A decade into a marriage, the crazy overkill of new romance is behind us. Yet over dinner last night (and a bottle of wine) our eyes locked and we shared a moment of joy realizing that we are still together and going strong. We don’t need cards or candies to confirm that. Still, cards and candies are always nice.

It hasn’t always been so good. Here’s my list of good, bad and ugly valentines.

The good: My first serious boyfriend, who gave me my first real bouquet of red roses and a big heart-shaped box of chocolates.  Together we gave our parents serious stress. We stayed together a little more than 3 years, split amicably and still talk occasionally.

My  husband — who still gives me “that look” even after all these years.

The bad: Opening an excessively romantic card bleeding with explicit intentions, from which spilled a stack of cheesy candid self-portraits, from my long-distance boyfriend, whom I had broken up with days earlier by phone and called off our Valentine’s Day romantic weekend/reunion. I’d called without knowing of this package working its way through the U.S. mail system.  He’d sent it my way, unaware of my intentions to break it off for good. Awkward. Painful. Embarrassing.  It was the right thing to do, but I felt like such a jerk for hurting him when he obviously didn’t see it coming.

The ugly: Having the dubious distinction of being  the only woman in the office one year who didn’t receive some token of affection to display on her desk.

Dating someone who didn’t believe in observing Valentine’s day or any other so-called “Hallmark holiday.” Likewise, being in a relationship with someone who tosses a gift at you that is so obviously an afterthought that it’s offensive, such as a pair of garish earrings still in the bag with the receipt, showing the cheapness of the gift as well as the fact it was purchased within the last 30 minutes.

I’m glad my Girl from the East can enjoy this day as something pure and sweet, like the sugar cookie she devoured immediately after opening the pink bag. I’m relieved my Girl from the West hasn’t had her heart broken yet, but I hope that when and if it happens, she’ll feel comfortable enough to come to me.  Finally, I’m grateful that my relationship stands on solid ground and that I’m past the days of bad and ugly valentines.

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The things we do for love/PROMPTuesday


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By Kokopinto via Creative Commons

I recently discovered San Diego Momma and I’m glad I did. She does some great things on her blog, including PROMPTuesday. Today is my first time participating. Today’s prompt: “What’s the grossest thing you ever did for somebody because you loved him/her/it?”

After the initial phone call, the mad scramble to pull myself together and drive 30 miles to the hospital without getting into a car accident,
After the agonizing delay as we waited for the whole family to assemble in that little room pastoral care guided us to — the one with the muted lighting, the pleasant paintings and the nice chairs,
After someone figured out where my mother was and summoned her to the hospital,
After the ER doctor came in, flipped open one of those metal folders and rustled a bunch of papers, then gave it to us straight up, no bull,
After we all reacted in our own ways: hysteria, sobs, stoic sniffs, dabbed at eyes and noses with tissues and walked silently to an empty room to look at his form and say: “Yup, that’s him. There’s been no mix-up here,”
After all that, when everyone decided what they’d do next: the funeral home, the church, the suit to the cleaners, we left the hospital and I drove the 20 blocks to my parents’ house through a downpour of tears. When I got there it was empty. I set down my purse and walked to the living room, to where my father had died.

I stood over that spot and tried to process the last two hours of my life. The first thing I saw was an open medic bag left behind by a forgetful EMT. I snapped it shut and set it by the front entrance. What I wanted to do was grab that collection of plastic and metal and glass and hurl it at the wall, and watch as its useless contents shattered and scattered on the hardwood floor.
I returned to the spot, a rug of amber and burgundy patterned fabric my parents had purchased in Turkey a month earlier. The just-developed pictures of the two-week vacation were tucked in a nearby envelope. I’m sure there was a story attached to the procurement of this rug, something about a bazaar and bartering and haggling. The usual. That story was dead with my father.

That night, the rug and I wrote a new story. Because what was on that rug and the hardwood underneath was the second thing I saw when I walked in the room. I saw it and decided my mother should not come home to it.  She should not know of it, ever. So, that rug and I revised history by erasing the secrets it held. We wove the tale using a bucket of hot, soapy water and spray disinfectant and hydrogen peroxide.  We kept the secret of what’s left behind when someone dies not-so-peacefully on their own floor surrounded by helpless bystanders who don’t know what to do and those who do know what to do but cannot change the course of events unfolding.

Out of love I cleaned that mess. I straightened the askew lampshade, smoothed the afghan on the couch, restacked the logs by the fireplace that had toppled in some not-yet-explained struggle and carried the dirty bucket to the basement. I washed the secret from the bucket and rags. I scrubbed the story from my hands.

I did all that and then I went home.