Happy Valentine’s Day! Well okay it’s officially over for all of us east of Hawaii, but if you’re in Maui you still have time to buy your loved one a heart shaped Snicker’s bar.
I learned to hate Valentine’s Day in Junior High School. My school would raise money for their sports teams by selling candy-grams that could be delivered to the class of the person whose heart you wanted to steal. This being Jr. High school, every boy wanted to steal the hearts of the same five blonde cheerleaders who, for some reason, always wore their uniforms to class on this special day. High school wasn’t much better. If I was dating someone we would inevitably break-up on February 12th. By senior year I had given up on the holiday. A rabbi told me years later that he was incredibly frustrated by the fact that so many Jews insist on celebrating a holiday that honors a Catholic Saint. I remember thinking, “This is great! Now I can tell people that I don’t have a date on Valentine’s Day because it’s against my religion! Where was this rabbi when I was in Jr. High?”
Anyway, when I got married I didn’t expect my feelings to change about Valentines. My (now ex) husband was a restaurateur which is another way of saying that he worked every holiday. For the most part I was okay with that. I was perfectly content with celebrating New Years and the like with my girlfriends. But on the first Valentine’s Day as a married couple my then husband arranged to pick me up after I was done at work. I assumed he was going to take me out to dinner or something. I was thinking way too small.
The night began when he took me to San Francisco’s Lands End National Park. For those of you who know the area you know how insanely gorgeous it is. He guided me to a bench that had a perfect view of the Golden Gate and then pulled from a bag a bottle of Champaign, crackers and caviar. We were quite for a moment as we ate and watched the stars twinkle over the Bay. Then totally out of the blue I asked, "Do you think the One-Eyed-One-Horned-Flying-Purple-People-Eater was a one eyed, one horned, flying, purple monster who ate people or a monster who ate one eyed, one horned flying, purple people?"
Without missing a beat he said, "It was a monster who ate one eyed, one horned flying purple people."
"Really?" I asked, impressed that he wasn't thrown off by my totally random and insane question.
"Really," he confirmed. "But it didn't live very long. It starved to death."
And I just started cracking up. I loved that we were drinking Champaign in the most romantic setting in the world talking about a purple people eating monster. I looked up at the sky. "This view kind of reminds me of a Van Gogh painting."
"Starry night," he said with a nod. "I can see that."
See, he was always able to keep up with me.
Later he took me home. He had cleaned every inch of the apartment and transformed the living room of our modest apartment into this kind of four-star restaurant dining room. Before I had a chance to fully take this in he tapped a button on our CD player and Unchained Melody (the song that had played for our first dance at our wedding) floated through the speakers. Then after pulling out a chair for me he proceeded to serve me a home cooked meal that consisted of a roasted beat and walnut salad, Cornish game hens, and a light chocolate mousse.
Then he excused himself to use the bathroom. A few minutes later he came back out and led me to the bathroom so I could see the candles he had lit and the strawberry bubble bath he had drawn for us. At some point while this was all going on he gave me a marcasite Star Of David pin that matched the pendant I always wore. This was particularly thoughtful since my husband wasn’t Jewish.
Now as many of you know, my ex-husband has some big issues. He doesn’t do a lot to endear himself to me these days and I often find myself thinking, what the hell was I thinking when I married this guy? How could I have been such an awful judge of character? Did I really love him? Did he really love me? Or is my memory skewed?
And then Valentine’s Day comes along and I remember that warm night when we sipped Champaign under the stars and I know that I wasn’t crazy, that my reasons for loving him were valid. I still have the broach but I never wear it. It’s pretty but I’m just not a pin-person anymore. But the other gift, the important gift that he gave me is the lasting knowledge that I was not crazy to have married him. The gesture was so grandiose that nothing he has done since (good or bad) will be able to diminish the memory. I’m sure there are those who will say that his over-the-top romanticism was the result of his bipolar illness. Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter any more than it matters that his bipolar condition contributed to his decision to use my stepbrother’s ss# to open an unauthorized credit card account five years later. Sometimes the whats are more important than the whys. The things my ex-husband did made it impossible for me to continue to feel close to him, let alone stay married to him. But on the flip side it was the things that my ex-husband did that make it impossible for me to hate him or dismiss our relationship as one big stupid mistake. He didn’t know it at the time, but he gave me the gift of a memory (actually several memories) so wonderful that it can’t be diminished by a sea of bad ones. He also made up for years of Jr. High misery.
So once again, Happy (for most of you belated) Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a chance to create some spectacular memories.
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