I bet many of you expected to see a post about Valentine’s Day last week.
You might expect — given how happy, sappy, and saturated with love I am for the Chef — that I would have written a big Valentine’s Day post. After all, this was my first Valentine’s Day with him. All those years of walking through the field of festooned hearts and pink things over the entire land, alone. He told me, a few months ago, that he always hated Valentine’s Day. All those happy couples (or people pretending to be) in his restaurant, while he stood in the kitchen alone, cooking for them. Both of us always felt a little tender melancholy around the day.
This year was the first time in our lives that we had a valentine who truly matters.
(Okay, I did cherish the crumpled valentine that Bobby Porras tossed onto my desk, its edges slightly grubby from his dirtied hands. I left it in my desk and peered at it for weeks, even though he had only scrawled his name. Oh, fifth-grade love.)
Frankly, after all those damned Valentine’s Days I had to endure alone, I probably had every right to be soppy and write a paean to the man on the day.
Why didn’t I?
Well, for one, we didn’t have time. We woke up, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, in Tucson, in a rented condo filled with family. The relaxed hush in the living room, with everyone reading parts of the newspaper or books about climbers in Nepal, felt far better than candy hearts. Breakfast meant gluten-free pancakes and bacon for eight. It wasn’t until we were on our way to the airport, late in the morning, before the Chef’s sister said, idly, “Oh that’s right, it’s Valentine’s Day.” There were men with pickup trucks on the side of the road, selling red roses from white buckets. That’s what reminded us. We talked about the artificiality of the day and went back to laughing about something else.
We hopped a plane and held each other’s hands throughout the flight, poking each other’s shoulders in excitement as we flew over the Grand Canyon. We talked about the family, and favorite memories, and the wedding, and new recipes to try. There was no talk of Cupid.
We rushed to the restaurant, straight from the airport, and he gave me a quick kiss, and then ran inside to start cooking. This is how I spent Valentine’s Day evening, at home, alone, eating asada tacos from the little stand down the street.
I think that’s what I did last Valentine’s Day too.
Every moment of that day made me wonderfully happy.
You see, I never did like Valentine’s Day. Too enforced, too obligatory. I’m a firm believer — anything done out of obligation is no damned good.
We didn’t buy each other cards or flowers or little gifts. Nothing. Not a thing.
As my dear friend Francoise told me last year, when she explained that she and her husband were doing nothing special: “Every day is Valentine’s Day for us.”
And now, for us, too.
When I was growing up, and sat under the spell of every sappy love song on the radio, I wondered. (You know those songs, like these.) I wanted it. Oh boy, did I long for that imagined love.
(Embarrassing admission: I remember a moment of deep keening, listing to Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu, while developing photographs in a darkroom with a boy I loved, at twelve.)
But could that imagined love be real?
Now, I know — none of them even comes close to capturing it. Every love song I play for him is just a finger pointing, guiding him toward my feelings. I will never capture it with these words. He always wants to dance. He holds me. He looks at me in a way I only dreamed possible.
For years, I lived a life bombarded with questions. (I have this image of a huge animation of hanging questions marks surrounding me like pockets of air.) Now, I’ve let go of the need for answers. I just breathe and bite and laugh and feel joy and take steps and kiss this man and watch the sky change colors in the late afternoon. All that time, I lived in my brain. I wanted answers, so my brain could be at rest. Now, I know that the path was to move into my body. The Chef? He has known this all along.
Every single conversation with him, every gap of silence, every song and sandwich, every revelation and response, feels like an enormous gift.
That’s what I never knew, when I was single and aching for a Valentine. It is never about the big occasions. It’s about the daily.
Like the morning, earlier this week, when he spontaneously mopped the floor before we left the house for the day, so I’d have a clean kitchen when I came home. Or that he washes my hair in the shower in the mornings, and I wash his. Because all I have to say to him is “Pile guy,” as we pass someone on the street, and he bursts out laughing. Or the fact that he kisses me, every day, at the stop light before we turn left into the Arboretum, because we always kiss there, and he doesn’t want to go a day without it. When he calls me, during dinner service, even though he is ridiculously busy, and he only has twenty seconds to talk, but he wants to say, “God, I miss you.” And when he eats the food I have made for him, when we are together at midnight, he nearly grunts with pleasure, and says, “Baby, this is good.”
That’s better than any damned Valentine card.
True love is pickled cabbage, brought home — magenta pink — in a Ziploc bag from the restaurant, late at night. He knows how much I love everything pickled. When I ask him how he made it, he can tell that I’m already going into work mode (I could put it on the blog!) before I have even tasted it. He puts his finger to his lips, and then to mine, and says, “Not now. Just eat it.” I take a bite, and sigh. Sweetly puckering at the lips and whispering of spices. Pepper? Bay leaves? Cloves. A touch of sugar. Vinegar? He nods. Champagne vinegar, it turns out, along with salt. After a few bites, I don’t ask him for the recipe. I simply settle into bed and lay my head upon his chest, feel his arm around my shoulder, and feed him pickled cabbage.
True love is a man lifting his head from the pillows to look at the clock. When he spies that it is after midnight, he kisses me, and says, “Happy Wednesday.” We met on a Wednesday, you see, and not one Wednesday has passed, since, without us wishing each other happiness on the day of our birth as a couple. Everyone is expected to celebrate Valentine’s. I can’t imagine that anyone else celebrates Wednesdays.
Happy Wednesday, honey. This one is for you.