“The first Valentine’s day my husband and I spent together, we hadn’t been dating long. Of course, we had dated in high school and had recently reconnected after a 13-year hiatus, but still, as adults, we barely knew each other. I remember walking into his house that February night. We were going to have dinner. Maybe a drink or two. There were no expectations. I bought him a couple of fun gifts. Chocolate. A game. I just wanted him to know I was thinking about him.
When I saw the two bags sitting on the bed from Victoria’s Secret, I knew what he had in store. After all, it was Valentine’s Day, and when you see the infamous pink bag, it’s pretty obvious what a grown, healthy man has on his mind. I gave him the coy smile, you know, in an attempt to try to be sexy, which I’m not. Let’s get that straight right off the bat. I’m not the girl with the alluring bedroom eyes and ‘come hither’ grin. No, I’m the girl with the nervous smile who gets mascara stuck in her eye which makes it twitch uncontrollably. I will say, I have passed that twitch off once or twice as a flutter, but it was dark and we were drunk, so it’s clearly not my go-to move. Anyway, I saw the bags, probably tried to wink at him or something, and did my best to slither over to the bed. One long stride in front of the other knocking my hips from left to right, hoping to look like Marilyn Monroe but more than likely – didn’t.
My heart was racing as I giggled, excited to see what silky number he picked up for me. I only tripped once, over my own feet, but quickly balanced myself again, throwing another smile and wink at my soon to be groom. I thought he was smiling back at me, but later, I would find out he was not smiling because he was turned on by my show, but rather, out of pure entertainment. I made it to the bed, sat down on the edge, and promptly slid off onto the floor like a 3-year old on a slide. His face went from a smile to a belly laugh, and instead of helping me up, he slowly sat down next to me. I did my best to keep up the façade, after all, I was about to enjoy a long, passionate night with the man I was going to marry, and I really didn’t want him to find out how dorky I was so early on. He must have seen the desperation in my face, because he gave me a different kind of smile; full of compassion that screamed, ‘everything is going to be ok.’
He reached up behind me and pulled the bags down off the bed and put them on my lap. And, even though I was sure my pelvic bone was bruised, I picked the tissue out slowly, eager to see what erotic thing was inside. I pulled out the first thing, then the second, unwrapped them and smiled. A real smile. A pair of flannel pajamas I looked at once before, and he must have noticed. A red top with hearts, and matching bottoms. I slyly looked in the bag to see if there was anything leathery or lacy left over, but there wasn’t. Just pajamas that he thought I wanted, and a Tiffany’s heart necklace to show me he loved me.
On our last Valentine’s, we spent the day wondering how much longer he was going to live. We knew he didn’t have much time after receiving his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. You think when you’re faced with a situation like that, that you would go over and above doing something grandiose, but you’re paralyzed in fear. You’re scared to move. You don’t want to do a big production that promotes this idea that you know it’s the last time you will spend Valentine’s together, because you don’t want it to be the last time. And God forbid you jinx it somehow.
It was raining. We ordered in Chinese food and watched a movie. He made me a card and handed me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. He apologized. He apologized that it wasn’t more. The man who was dying apologized that he didn’t do more. And the woman who loved him didn’t care. I did not care for one second that he didn’t do more. I didn’t want more. The only thing I wanted was for him to stay alive. He could take back the gifts, the flowers, the candy, the jewelry and everything else if he would just stay alive.
He didn’t. He died four months later, ten days after our anniversary. He was confined to a hospital bed by then, but I ordered pizza and got him his favorite cupcakes anyway. He was barely coherent, but he told me he would eat one ‘later.’ It didn’t matter that he knew he couldn’t. We both just wanted things to be normal.
Because normal for us was perfect. Normal for us was chaos. Normal for us was messy closets, and rushed mornings. Normal for us was long work days. Normal for us was falling asleep on the couch, working around schedules, traveling for sports, and camping in the rain. Normal for us was midnight barbecues, house parties in the garage and jamming to music singing into a broom handle. Normal for us was finding time to be together even when we didn’t have one more minute to spare. Normal for us was laughing until we cried and playing gin rummy. Incidentally, I think he let me win.
And within all those normal moments, we found reasons to show each other we loved each other, ‘just because.’ We didn’t need an event. We didn’t need a holiday. We didn’t need something to initiate it. It was simple. It was being the calm in the chaos. It was not waking each other up if we were comfortable on the couch. It was making sacrifices to do the things we needed to do to alleviate the burden of life on each other. It was staying up for the steak, even if we were exhausted. It was about laughing even when life wasn’t funny, and it was about bending the rules so your wife could beat you at the game you never lost.
It was about doing things for each other ‘just because.’ Just because we wanted the other person to know they were loved. Just because we wanted the other person to smile. Just because we wanted the other person not to be stressed. Just because we wanted to help. Just because we cared. Just because we wanted the other person to know they weren’t doing life alone.
And this Valentine’s day, that is my wish for my children, the people I love and for you. I wish for you all the good things. I wish for you the flowers and the chocolate, the romance, and all the things sparkly. But above all, I wish you all the ‘just because’ moments, and all the beautiful things that come with that. Because in the end, the moments that fill your heart when it feels completely empty are not the big things. No, it’s the little, quiet, unassuming moments that stay with you.
We only had sixteen Valentine’s Days together, but we had a lifetime of ‘just because.’ I hope you watch for those. I hope you gather them up and stick them in your bonnet. I hope you never forget how powerful a moment can be. I hope you love fiercely, and I hope you never forget to show it. Not just on the big days, not just for a holiday, but always – just because.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “My Kid Is an Asshole, and So Is My Dog” are now available in print and kindle. You can follow her work on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
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