As you can imagine, today is tough already, and it has barely even started. I write this at just past midnight after tossing and turning for the past hour. I had fallen asleep early, turning off the lamp and dozing off before 9, but woke suddenly just after 11 (11:11 to be precise, which has always made me think of 22, and you know what that number means to me).
I wasn’t quite sure what woke me, but I was unsettled, struck by a sense of uneasiness, of emptiness. Then the realization hit of what today is, what it represents. Today marks the first Valentines Day since 1984 that I will not spend with A. We had 33 straight years of celebrating our love, more than twice as many February 14ths together than I had on my own.
Growing up, we didn’t have the rules surrounding Valentines Day they have in school now. These days, either you bring a card for everyone or you shouldn’t bring any. I suppose they never want today’s kids to feel the way I did; I would watch the popular kids go through their handmade card collectors – the paper bags we decorated with sticker hearts or the two paper plates stapled together and colored with pink and red that served as a pseudo-basket designed to catch all the cards from our classmates – and inevitably they had more cards than I did. Back then, the number of cards you got on Valentines Day was a clear indicator of how “loved” you were, and I was always lacking. At least that’s how it felt, and as a child, that’s all that seems to matter. How something made you feel was your reality.
I would look through my cards, reading far too much into each one. I had always put such care into who got what card, trying to convey to my crush that I thought he was special, while not wanting to encourage someone I didn’t. Some cards were more generic, just a Happy Valentines Day wish, while others spoke of true affection, declaring the receiver “toad-ally awesome” or asking to “bee mine”. I always made sure that I gave the “right” card to the proper recipient and assumed everyone else did the same. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was the only 3rd grader with that level of neurosis.
By the time I got to junior high and high school, I now had to suffer through the fundraisers disguised as flower deliveries. Each holiday, students could pre-order an appropriately colored carnation to be delivered to that special someone. This, too, was cause for a great deal of angst, just another way for me to feel rejected. Each time a student delivery person came to a classroom door, I would hold my breath, continue doing whatever I was doing at that moment, while acting nonchalant and pretending it didn’t matter to me if I got a flower, while all the while silently wishing one of them was for me. Again, there were people with a half-dozen blooms (how greedy!), and many more like me without one.
Looking back now, I believe these were great life lessons about handling disappointments, but at the time, they were harsh reminders that I was alone and unloved. Please don’t feel sorry for me, because if those years of rejection and letdowns were payment for the many years following of being loved and protected, they were well worth it. It was a small price to pay.
Say what you will about Valentines Day being a holiday made up by the manufacturers to get consumers to spend money, that it’s an arbitrary day forcing people to declare their love while making those not half of a couple feel insignificant. That may all be true. (It very likely is true, as my early years taught me.) But through the years, my husband and I tended to spend less money, but more time together. I could probably tell you about a handful of flowers or dinners or presents through the years that I can recall specifically, but can recite a lifetime of love and togetherness.
And the cards. I loved getting cards. Lady A remarked to her brother yesterday that the cards were my “favorite part” of the holiday. Any holiday, really. And my husband knew that. During the lean years, he had only to find a card that expressed his feelings, then fill it with his own chicken-scratch declarations of love for me to be content. I never required expensive gifts or five-course meals at high end restaurants. He wanted to give me those things, reminded me often that I deserved them, and he gave them to me when he could, and I was naturally pleased and thankful. But they weren’t expected or required.
I’m fairly low maintenance. Heck, one fairly recent Valentine’s Day, we had gone in search of a new backpack for my son (and finding a backpack in February was the equivalent of the search for Bigfoot, it turned out), and our “romantic” Valentine’s dinner ended up a quick hamburger at Wendy’s because we were starving and wanted to eat immediately! But we sat there and made jokes about how the romance was still alive in our relationship, and how everyone around us must envy the fact that we splurged on the big Frosty. We spared no expense that year. And it’s a memory I wouldn’t trade. It was so “us”.
But after so many years together, literally a lifetime spent with my funny Valentine, the man who could make me laugh even when I wanted to be angry with him, this will be a difficult day to get through. Being alone and lonely on Valentines Day hasn’t been a reality for me for so long. I empathize with those who have done it for far longer while I was wrapped in my cocoon of love and oblivious to everything else. I’m sorry for not remembering how this felt. I apologize for not being more sensitive to you all.
I stopped at the pharmacy yesterday to pick up the box of chocolates my son asked me to get for his girlfriend and the chaotic frenzy of the last minute rush on heart-shaped boxes and pink stuffed animals was a shock to my system. I was already feeling quite sensitive, having wept for the better part of my commute, and I felt exposed and raw feeling that everyone could see my Valentines shame and loneliness. As if they knew I had no one to give a card to, nor would I be getting one in return. I’m sure no one even paid any attention to me, as engrossed as they were in their own searches for the perfect symbol of their affections, but I still felt awkward. Like a fish out of water.
Knowing this would be a tough year, I had ordered myself a small gift. It’s a bracelet with the coordinates of the high school cafeteria where my husband asked me out on our first date engraved in it. It took me quite some time playing around with the numbers to pinpoint what I believe to be the precise location where our love story began. And when it arrived, it was exactly what I had hoped for. I can wear it daily, and along with the small ash-filled heart necklace my daughter gave me, it will be just a small reminder of a love story that, while intense and powerful and genuine, ended much too soon.
And while this will be a hard day to get through, I’ll remember all the years I spent with my funny Valentine and hope the laughter will outweigh the tears today, just as they did for the previous 33.
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