Last week on Steve’s podcast-er, Dahlcast, Amanda Puck mentioned that she was going to New York City for the holiday weekend. Steve remarked how lame President’s Day was as a holiday, since mostly governmental workers observed it, not regular people. Amanda thought he was kidding with his failure to acknowledge Valentine’s day, but of course, he was as serious as measles.
Like most married couples with 31 years of enforced civility under their belts, Valentine’s Day is one of those optional celebrations. I watch the boys scurry to stage a romantic event, and I am tickled- but I wonder where they came from. By and large, Steve and I recognize that V-Day is a commercial construct. A card is great, flowers may appear if Steve’s assistant reminds him that she can make a call, and that is about as far as the Hallmark romance can take us. This is just fine. It juices the economy. It also gives us a chance to say “thank you” to each other for the real gifts of marriage: tolerance, forgiveness, support, stability, and partnership. Those gifts are not available in the open market, they are gifts of the heart.
These are last year’s flowers- pretty nice.
Both of us have had some bumps in the last year or so, with jobs evaporating and parents dying. We are both strong enough to navigate these twists, but it has been fortifying to be able to work as a team. Our strategy was to allow each other to grieve individually, and then draw strength when the load needed to shift. This has meant that Steve has been spending the winter months, something he has hated since leaving California 35 years ago, in Florida. Last year he was my Dad’s Guardian Angel as he golfed out his days.
My last moment with Dad; Steve posing, which he hates, so I would not cry.
On March 21 of last year, I said what would be my last farewell to my father, and Steve put me on a plane to return to Chicago. For the next 4 days, he bunkered my sister and brother as they placed Dad in God’s hands. His updates from the front lines gently led me from hope to despair. He hopped a plane, and stood by me in Detroit as we honored Dad’s life. To steal a phrase, he raised me up.
This year, he returned to Pompano Beach, without a job to do, but simply to escape. My kids are not sure how he earned this time off. Their love is still in the dinner, wine, candles and flowers stage- as it should be. Our love is more time-tested and durable. We have gone from lace to polar fleece. Despite the inevitable pilling and the static electricity it creates, it’s warmer.
Steve has been lonely in Florida, despite the fact that we probably talk as much as we would if he was in the house. I guess he misses Dad, and his purpose. Last week our Super Bowl celebration drew him home. The boys were surprised by this uncharacteristic spontaneity. I call it love.
Today Steve and I are returning to Florida for a few days together. There is not enough sun to illuminate the deep hole created by my Dad’s absence. Steve knows I dread seeing Dad’s world- his condo, the Buick, the golf clubs, waiting to be used by his kids and grandkids. There are restaurants I may never be able to enter without longing for days gone by. When the bell rings for Happy Hour, I will expect his skinny legs to be motoring down, a double Scotch with a splash of water in hand. Steve knows I will cry, just like last year, when the sorrow was for the living, and not the loss. Just like last year, he will hold me, then remind me of all the years of Tom time I had, and then joke me back to a better place. In a week, he will put me on a plane, and we will both enjoy another few weeks of independence. There isn’t a holiday big enough to encompass that kind of love. It is a good, rich life.
However, just in case Steve has bought me a bag of Dove chocolates, I have created a little Valentine for him with my timewaster app, Picnik. It is good to rely on the sturdiness of your love, but never be caught empty handed. That is my Valentine’s Day wisdom, to have and to hold.