|(photo NOT taken on Valentine's Day!)|
"So, just to be clear," said Scottie. "We're NOT celebrating Valentine's Day right?"
I laughed and lay my head against his chest, "no, Honey."
"I'm not going to get in trouble because I'm not buying you a gift or making a dinner reservation?"
"No, Honey," I smiled. "No Valentine's Day plans."
"Phew," he said turning to look at me. "I love that you hate Valentine's Day. It makes my life a lot easier."
"Hate is such a strong word," I protested. "It's just when it comes to Valentine's Day, I'd rather not."
"I'm with you, Honey," he smiled. "You know it's always been my personal belief that more people break-up around Valentine's Day than get together. The relationships just can't survive the expectations society puts on that day."
"Exactly, I said, kissing him.
That -- is why I love you so much...
"What?" He said pulling back so he could look at me better. "What's that look for?"
"Nothing, just loving on you."
"Awww..." he blushed and kissed me back. "You love me because we both...'would rather not' celebrate Valentine's Day?"
Scottie leaned over and fluffed the heads of our two black, short-haired labradoodles, Venus and Serena. He spoke to them in the high voice that he reserves for them.
"Girls, you hear that? We're don't celebrate Valentine's Day!"
The girls stared at him expectantly and wagged their tales in unison.
Moments later, he took out his phone and started to text someone. Then he stopped and looked back at me.
"You're SURE that you're not going to want even just a little something? Some chocolate or flowers or something?"
I sat up and pointed my index finger at him.
"Don't you walk in here with flowers for me on Valentine's Day, Mr. Slaughter!"
He pretended to look scared and laughed. "Okay, as long as you're sure, I have to check, you know."
"Positive," I assured him, putting my arms around his shoulders. "I have everything I want."
Later on that day, I ran into the Fashion Square mall (is it still called that?) to grab some moisturizer from Bloomingdales and almost smacked in to the quarter-mile line of people waiting to order their See's Candies.
Ugh, The February See's Candies cattle call! I'm so glad that Scottie and I don't do that.
As I was scooting around a short woman with two large See's bags, I caught a whiff of the rich, sweet, smell of chocolate and it stopped me cold. I found myself changing course mid-step and rounding the corner into the store, bypassing all of the people in line.
Maybe there's an express line? I'm sure they're all getting big boxes of chocolates. Maybe I could just get a piece of brittle or an orange cream...
50 or so impatient, frustrated faces turned all at once to look at me as I tried to approach the counter. I turned around and left quickly, shaking my head as if to clear it of my temporary madness.
Girl, get out of here and go get your face cream! You can't even be seen trying to participate in this fake, holiday craziness!
All at once, I recalled a conversation I'd with one of my good friends the day before.
* * *
Immediately, I felt my insides begin to tighten up. I fought the urge not to just hang up in her face (which, I totally get is a completely disproportionate response.)
"Um, nothing." My tone made it clear that the subject was closed.
"No Valentine's Day plans? I'm surprised! You guys are so in-loooove!"
"I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day."
"Oh? Is this another one of your 'Laura-isms'?" She made her voice higher to imitate me like a munchkin from The Wizard of Oz, "I hate baby showers, I hate bachelorette parties, I hate all holidays!'"
My smile had a sound like a laugh, "Okay, Okay, very funny, you got me."
I inhaled sharply and then closed my mouth abruptly. I really wanted to change the subject.
She grew silent too. I sensed that she was waiting for a further explanation.
"It's just that Valentine's Day has never really been my jam," I said finally.
"How come?" Her voice seemed full of genuine concern.
I took a deep breath.
She's asking. But I know she doesn't really want the answer. She wants to fix it for me.
"Okay," I started. "But this may be more than you wanted to know."
She laughed, "What happened? Did you get you get dumped on Valentine's Day or something?"
"No," I smiled. "Not dumped."
"To begin with, it always seemed like a 'Hallmark holiday' to me. You know, just an arbitrary day designed to make people spend money unnecessarily, feel bad if they're not in a relationship and create competition among those who are."
She laughed again, "At least you're not bitter."
I laughed with her, "Okay, but really, that's how I've always felt. In all of my previous relationships, I dreaded February 1st, because I knew that I would have to start thinking of some 'GREAT' present to get him and at the same time, brace myself for the disappointment of receiving some the lame piece jewelry or a fussy, 3-course prefix dinner that I would have to feign excitement about."
"Okay, knowing you, I can see that," she said. "But at least they were trying. You've got to appreciate that."
"I tried to tell myself that," I said. "I really tried to be like:
Just go along with it. You should be grateful that someone cares enough to go through all of that trouble."
"Right!" she sounded as though I had just driven her point home. "That's what I'm saying!"
I shot the phone a side glance.
"But that kind of thing is precisely what got me into so much trouble in my marriage."
"What?" (she said it like "say what???")
"Maybe you remember, I really didn't know how to be married. I looked to all of my other friends who were either already married or getting married. I watched how they did things. They all seemed to be so in sync all of time and that seemed to make the marriage happy."
"We hated those couples!" she giggled.
"Right," I said. "And everyone told me, 'A relationship is compromise.'"
"Well, that's true," she said.
"Yeah but, I thought compromise looked like: 'I'll try and like whatever you like and I'll try and hate whatever you hate.'"
Serena came over to me and placed her furry head under my free hand. I started to pet her absentmindedly.
"Whenever I was my authentic self and it didn't go over well, I just shelved that part of me. Eventually, I had put so much of who I was on the shelf that I didn't know what was me and what was the newly 'compromised' Laura. Suddenly, I was someone who was planning those elaborate Valentine's Day events. Suddenly I was booking the 3-course prefix meals at expensive restaurants and squealing over the jewelry I received but would never really want to wear."
"Yeah, you don't really wear jewelry."
"Wow, it's was really like that, huh?."
"Yes girl, it was like that..." my voice drifted off.
"And it wasn't until after my divorce that I learned that there is a difference between 'compromise' and 'compromising myself'."
"Phew!" She whistled. "I heard that!"
I let her understanding of that concept "settle in" for a moment before I spoke again.
"But back to the dumping," I said finally. "No, I never got dumped on Valentine's Day, but you know it was about eight years ago this month, February, that Brian and I decided to end our marriage."
"Oh, damn girl. That's right."
"And the fact that we were constantly surrounded by ads for Robbins Bros. Jewelers and See's Candies didn't help. Everything around us, in fact, seemed to exacerbate the fact that we were failing at love in a month when everyone else seemed to be celebrating falling in love. To me, it seemed like the whole month was basically designated to promote public displays of affection."
"I remember that," she said softly. "We barely saw you then. And when we did see you, it was so tense. You guys both looked so torn up."
"We were torn up," I said. "It was hard enough making the decision to end our marriage in private, but it was the public part that was excruciating. Now, I'm grateful for how we did it then. If we had tried to 'hang in there' longer, we might not be as good of friends and co-parents as we are now. But then, it was just a terrible fog of grief and pain."
"Yeah, I can't imagine," she said.
"It was awful, that whole time, he and I were still processing what we were doing and how it would impact everyone in our lives, especially our children. And at the same time, we still had to plan Miles's 10th birthday party and go to all of their travel league, basketball play-off games together. We might have even had one last, forced, Valentine's Day meal, I really don't remember. "
"How did I not know all of this?" Her voice was brimming with compassion.
"It was private, I guess. Just between he and I. We needed to sort it out together first before we went to anyone."
"I can understand that. But you must have felt so alone."
"I did..." I paused and placed my phone between my shoulder and my ear so that I could pet Venus with my other hand.
"Websters defines 'indifference' as the opposite of love. And that February, he and I had a lot of public displays of indifference. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I was so full of shame and resentment. It was like going outside without my skin."
* * *
I got back from the mall early that evening and put my bags down (of course, I ended up getting way more stuff than just the face cream I needed). I spied Scottie's car in the driveway as I scurried through the kitchen into the bedroom with two bags of clothes.
It's after 6:00? Where is he?
As I was unpacking the first bag, (stopping to admire the striped cashmere sweater that I'd "scored" on sale), I spied a little white paper bag with black writing on my pillow.
I walked over and saw that it was See's Candies bag. I could smell the chocolate inside even before I picked it up. The paper crinkled loudly as I unfolded the bag. I took another look around to see if he were hiding somewhere.
Inside were 3 pieces of California Brittle, 3 butter creams and 3 chocolate-covered cherries. I felt my eyes growing warm as I popped a piece of brittle in my mouth. Immediately my senses were filled with the salty crunch of the toffee, surrounded by perfect, velvety, dark chocolate smoothness.
Scottie! He stood in that horrible line today!
"Is that okay, Hon?" He came noiselessly into the bedroom from the hallway. He wore a sheepish expression. "You're not mad, are you?"
I walked over to him and hugged him without speaking. He cupped my face gently and sniffed around my mouth.
"Are you already eating them?!"
I knew I was flashing him a mouth full of partially chewed chocolate when I laughed.
"Yes! Honey! I really almost went in See's today! I really wanted some chocolate! But that line was so ridiculous! I can't believe you waited in that line!! I love you, Honey."
"I love you too," he said smiling at me. "Now, let me have one of those cherries."