Valentine’s Day, 2004: I was seventeen and my boyfriend was eighteen. We’d been dating seven months and for the commercialized greeting card holiday we wanted to make dinner together. Chris’ grandparents let us use their house as they were going to be out of town for their anniversary anyway. It was Saturday night and we rented a movie at the video store, Sixteen Candles (my choice). We headed over to his grandparents’ house to cook. We turned on the radio and began the process of making pepperoni calzones from scratch. We ended up with quite a mess of tomato sauce and flour but had a great time. We laughed a lot in the process. Once the calzones were baking, we picked up the kitchen and wiped down the counters. In the back of my mind I dreamed what it might be like to have a home together someday. Is this a glimpse of what it would be like if we were married? Working together seamlessly, laughing, kissing, hugging, talking? Indeed, teen Aimee, it would be...
When the timer went off we got our food out and let it cool. I remember one of them fell on the floor; not sure if it was his or mine. It looked deformed and this was yet another thing for us to laugh about. We sat by candlelight. The calzones were so hot they burned our tongues at first, filled with sauce that may as well have been molten lava. I was so impatient with good food though (and that hasn’t changed much).
Following dinner we put the DVD in and started watching. Ah, here was Molly Ringwald’s teen angst on the big TV and was she possibly even angstier than myself at the time? I sat there enjoying the movie and sinking into my boyfriend’s arms, safe and comfortable. After the movie was done I told him I’d liked it but Pretty in Pink was definitely better.
So that was our first Valentine’s Day, sweet memories I had truly forgotten until recently.
Our last Valentine’s Day was anything but (sweet). I remember us being huddled around the hospital bed where my dad’s body was, in the living room of my parents’ house, waiting on the funeral director to come. Dad’s fight was finally over. That one is a day I will never forget, not even temporarily. It’s seared into my memory. My womb was newly empty and my daddy was gone but my beloved was by my side and somehow, just somehow, we were going to make it through.
I couldn’t bear to eat. My grief was all the food I needed. Chris felt the loss acutely, too. My dad meant a lot to him. Yet in the way Chris always did, he was able to remain supportive to me even though he was hurting. He was not “just” a husband. He was my best friend, my teammate, my lover. He never let me fall without coming to help pick me back up. He wasn’t going to give up on me.
Greeting card holidays carry layers of grief for some of us. There’s the possibility of envy—of seeing others who have something we don’t—someone to share life with. There are reminders of bad days. There is the realization that no, I’ve not really felt at ease since August 2013 when Dad’s leukemia was diagnosed. There’s grief for my mother, who has to do life without her husband at her side. There’s regret that my own widowhood four months later meant she had to step into action and come take care of me.
I guess my point in all of this is: when you see someone struggling on a day like tomorrow, don’t assume you know their story. If I’m standing in the greeting card aisle crying the week before 2/14 it’s not because I’m lonely or because I don’t have a boyfriend to buy me pretty things. No it’s about so much more than that. I’m crying over loss of relationships, loss of hopes, loss of dreams, and all these interconnected webs that shoot off from them. I’m crying because in this week of hard memories I want to be happy but I don’t know how to be happy. I’m in the card aisle picking out cards for people I love that I think might also have a rough time with Valentine’s. As I stand here trying to do something nice for someone else, “A Long December” by the Counting Crows is playing overhead… Suddenly I’m flashing back to riding with Chris in his car as teens and it’s not helping me not cry. Yep, so for the millionth time I’m wiping tears away in the greeting card aisle.
Where do I go from here? Onward and upward, as always. Next week will be new and it won’t be as raw. I know this from experience. After all, this is year four.
(Card from 2011)