Nothing for Valentine’s Day
“You’re lying!” my coworker insists. “Women always lie about that!”
“I’m really not. I don’t want anything for Valentine’s Day.”
“If your husband comes home empty-handed, you’re gonna be pissed.”
“I don’t need flowers or a fancy restaurant to believe my husband loves me. Would it really be love if he only did those things because I demanded them?”
My coworker scoffs.
But as my husband and I cuddle on the couch in our PJs, vegging in front of the TV after a meal of Chinese takeout, I know I wouldn’t trade this for all the roses in the world.
Memory is such a gift. It is thanks to memory that I can keep loved ones with me long after they’ve passed. It is memory that allows me to relive some of my best moments – moments of childhood innocence and fun, the days I started falling in love with my husband, the lessons I’ve learned along the way, the moments I’ve felt most loved. I am grateful that I can hold these thoughts in my head and my heart.
I’m also thankful for the passing thoughts that I can grab hold of when I stumble upon a worthwhile thought – the story idea that comes to me in the shower, the breakthrough in the problem I’ve been having, the self-reminders of the things I have to do each day. Sure, not every thought is worth holding on to, but I can sift through the unimportant ones and grasp the ones that I don’t want to let go of until I have a chance to follow through on them.
These thoughts that I hold onto are usually a gift, but sometimes I wish I could just push them out of my mind, if only for a few moments.
I’ve learned that my husband, along with a lot of men, apparently, can spend hours thinking of nothing. While he drives or mows the lawn, or when he gets that faraway look while we sit on the couch together, and I ask him what he’s thinking about, and he says, “Nothing.”
My husband has a logical, strategic intellect that is capable of solving incredibly intricate problems and navigating formidable challenges, but in those moments, his mind is truly empty. With very little effort, he can empty his mind and focus on nothing. And sometimes, I wish I had that superpower.
Like when I can’t fall asleep at night because my mind is jumping from one train of thought to the next. Some of them positive, some of them negative, many of them neutral, but all of them distracting. Each thought that I manage to push from my mind is replaced by two more like some psychological Hydra. And so I lay there in my bed, while my husband snores away next to me, chopping down thought after thought until my brain gives up and finally shuts down.
But when I wake up in the morning, those thoughts haven’t left. From the moment I open my eyes, they bombard me. I can’t escape them. My mind won’t let them go.
I’m thankful for the power to think, to remember, to hold on to my thoughts. I’ve seen what dementia can do, and for that very reason, I’d never hope to lose this power, but sometimes, I think it would be nice to be able to let go of my thoughts, if only for a few minutes.
How She Sees Me
When I look in the mirror, I sometimes wonder what my reflection sees when she looks at me. This woman, who is me and yet not me, who stops existing the moment I step away from the mirror. Does she see everything I see when I look at her? Does she notice my pimples, my stretch marks, and my fat rolls? Does she marvel at how old I’ve gotten or how much weight I’ve gained? Does she critique every outfit I try on as much as I do?
Sometimes I think that she must. After all, she is me.
And yet, she never abandons me. No matter where I go or what I look like, I know my twin will always appear when I step in front of a mirror.
Maybe my reflection sees more in me than I see in her. Maybe she sees the good in me – my kindness, my optimism, my hope, my love. Maybe she sees all the things that I have been – a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend, a student, a teacher. Maybe she sees all the things I could be – a canvas before me with splashes of color but still waiting to be completed.
Perhaps it's time to see the woman in the mirror the same way she sees me.
Justice Like a Stream
"No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." ~Martin Luther King Jr.
Water is one of the few forces of nature that is virtually unstoppable. If you have ever seen the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, you understand the power of water. This seemingly gentle, unassuming element is capable of cutting through rock through sheer perseverance. The process may take centuries, but it is inevitable. The stream never stops; it just keeps flowing, cutting a deeper and deeper chasm.
Maybe that is the justice that Martin Luther King Jr. imagined – an unending justice, a justice that perseveres, cutting a gorge through any obstacle.
It might be disappointing to note that we have yet to achieve Reverend King’s dream, but we can still have hope. Justice will continue on as long as there are still people who are not satisfied with the way things are. The stream continues to flow.
At the End of the Day
I sing to myself quietly as I putter in the kitchen, preparing dinner. As I place a pan in the sink, a ray of sun shines in the window, hitting my face and making me blink. Squinting, I lean over the sink and peer out of the window at just the right angle to see the driveway. It’s still empty, as it has been since 6:00 this morning.
Sighing, I glance at the glowing numbers on the oven clock. 5:30. My husband should have been home thirty minutes ago, but I’m not surprised that he is late. As a road service technician, he often gets calls late in the day and has to attend them before heading home. I learned a long time ago not to assume that his schedule would follow my expectations.
As I pull the vegetables off the stove and strain them, I hear the familiar beeping of my husband’s truck as he backs down the driveway. Smiling, I set the dining room table and wait for him to walk in the door, which he does a minute later.
“You’re late,” I tease as I pull him into a hug. Before he pulls away, I push my fingers through his jungle of hair and breathe in his scent – a musk of motor oil and sweat. I’ve never found that combination of smells particularly alluring, but it’s become familiar and comforting over the years. After fifteen years together, it’s easy to reminisce. When the days are hard, and I struggle to find meaning in the day-to-day, I take solace in the scent that reminds me that this man loves me enough to spend his days doing back-breaking work to support me, support us.
But today, there is a new scent in the mix, something familiar, but I can’t place it. He pushes me away before I can put my finger on it.
“I’m gross,” he explains. “Let me shower.”
“But dinner’s ready,” I whine. “Can’t you wait until after we eat? Just wash your hands.”
“Look at me, Mary!” His voice is so loud it makes me take a step back. He seems to realize how loud he’s gotten and lowers his voice a bit. “Look, I just want to be clean. It’s been a long day, and I’ve been on my feet since 7 this morning. The customers were rude, the boss was obnoxious, and nothing went right. I just want a hot shower. Please, Angel.”
His use of his pet name for me melts me, and I give in. “Of course, honey. Go shower, and we’ll eat when you’re done.”
My poor husband can get so tired and grouchy after a hard day at work. It usually doesn’t take much more than a hug and a kiss from me, a shower, and a good meal, but I decide it couldn’t hurt to go above and beyond. I wait a few minutes to give him time to undress and start the shower. Then, I try to sneak into the bathroom to grab his towel. A few minutes in the dryer will make it soft and warm, the perfect little treat to make him smile.
But the sight that greets me when I open the bathroom door makes me scream. My husband, standing in the middle of the bathroom in all his naked glory, is covered in vibrant, glistening, fresh blood.
“Oh my god!” I scream. “What happened?”
He looks at me in muted surprise and then looks down at himself. I realize that most of the blood seems to be centered around a spot on his abdomen.
“Angel?” he says in a faraway voice. “I think I’ve been shot.”
Without another word, he drops to the floor.
Winter, but not the end
If you asked me, I would say that my life is currently in winter. No, I’m not at the end of my life, though I know that’s a common association to make.
After all, winter is a time of barrenness and death. It falls at the end of the year, after a full cycle of birthing and growing and thriving and dying.
But winter is more than that. It’s more than an ending. It’s a beginning. Because the seasons are a cycle. They don’t end with winter and death. Winter leads into spring. Death leads into life.
My life is like that right now. In many ways, it is barren and empty, but that quiet nothingness can be beautiful, like a world muted by heavy white snow.
Pieces of my life were put to death, but that isn’t a bad thing. Those deaths don’t signal the end. They lead to new life. The death of one bad job can lead to the birth of a new passion. The death of an unhealthy relationship can be the birth of new friendships, new loves, or even new confidence in independence.
Right now, my life is in winter. But I’m enjoying the beauty in the barrenness while I wait for spring to arrive.
Her Perfect Life
There was no denying it. Emma Reigal’s life was perfect. I spent far too much of my own life as a spectator of hers. She had everything – looks, charm, talent, money. She had the personality, too. She was funny, smart, kind. Everything she did was interesting. Every word she spoke had everyone sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the next word to fall from her lips.
Everyone loved her – classmates, teachers, parents. And try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a reason not to. She had never said one bad word to me or about me. She had never been anything but kind to me. But there was something about her that rubbed me the wrong way.
No one understood why I was so repulsed by her. To be honest, I didn’t understand it myself.
So, I tried to ignore it. I tried to push that repulsion deep down. Instead, I chose to befriend Emma. Before long, we were the best of friends. She spent hours upon hours with my family, who, of course, loved her. And I spent just as much time with her family, who were just as happy and perfect as she was.
Eventually, we graduated, but we never lost touch. She called at least once a month, telling me about her successful college career – her perfect grades, her wonderful friends, her passionate and intelligent professors. Eventually, I started hearing about her boyfriend, who soon became her fiancé.
I met him before long. He was every bit as wonderful as Emma made him out to be. He was handsome and sweet and smart and interesting. And he was in love with Emma.
When she asked me to be her maid of honor, I couldn’t say no. I got dressed up in that bubblegum-pink gown and got my hair and nails and makeup done. And I kept waiting for something to happen. What, I wasn’t quite sure, but it was a wedding; something would go wrong. Weddings were never perfect.
Except hers was. Everything went exactly according to plan. Everyone showed up on time. Nothing was forgotten or missing or broken.
As I stood in front of the church, watching this perfect woman saying her vows to her perfect groom, with a single, pretty tear rolling down her cheek, I realized what it was; I realized why I was so repulsed by her, even now, years after I had grown to care about her.
Her life was too perfect. She had no troubles at all – no hardships, no worries, no grief, no anxiety. Nothing. Her life was too good. It wasn’t natural. Life needed hardships to balance out the good times. We needed some sorrow to balance the joy. But her life didn’t have any.
As I watched the happy bride and groom walk back down the aisle towards their future together, I smiled widely – the most sincere smile I had ever given Emma. Because I finally knew how to fix this problem, how to fix Emma. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Well, after tonight, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. I was going to introduce some bad into Emma’s too-good life.
My Husband the Liar
I don’t know if you’d call him a liar, but there are times when I listen to the things he says, and I can’t help but wonder.
My husband certainly doesn’t have a history of lying, at least as far as I’m aware. None of his lifelong friends or close family members have ever accused him of doing so. He is a man of his word and doesn’t shy away from the truth. He tells it like it is, and I’ve always appreciated him for that.
And yet . . .
How can I believe him when he tells me things that I know aren’t true?
How can I look in the mirror at this overweight body and acne-scar-riddled face and believe him when he tells me I’m gorgeous?
How can I trust him when he tells me I’m one of the smartest people he knows when I struggle to keep up with his strategic and problem-solving mind?
How can he be telling the truth when he calls me kind, caring, and selfless when I know just how selfish I can be?
How can I reconcile the person I know myself to be with his descriptions of me?
The truth is, I can’t.
No matter how many times he tells me how beautiful, intelligent, or wonderful I am, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see it. I don’t think I’ll ever believe it.
Is it lying if the person telling the lie believes it wholeheartedly?
After almost fifteen years together, it’s clear he isn’t going to change his mind. Whether in spite of the way he looks at me or because of it, I’m not sure, but I do love him. I guess I can live with the lies.
From One Who Loves You
I wish I could tell you that you’re going to survive this. You don’t deserve this world; this world doesn’t deserve you. Part of me wishes I could save you from it, make it so you never know loss or fear or pain, so you never understand the meaning of mortality. But then, I guess, to wish such a thing would be to wish you were never born, and I am too selfish to wish for that.
Instead, all I can do is offer my best advice and hope and pray that this universe gives you the best life possible. Life is bookended by pain, but the moments in between can be so much more.
Life is fragile and precious, as you’ll soon find out. Don’t take it for granted – yours or anyone else’s. Value your own life, but don’t forget to value the lives of those around you. Each of us has been given this one fragile, precious life, and most of us have no idea what to do with it. Many of us struggle to hold on to it. Some try to throw it away; too many succeed.
So, be kind - to yourself and others. Every moment matters. Make each one count; use each one to find joy or give joy to someone else.
And when you come to the end (because it will end; there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about that), perhaps you will be able to look back on a life that was worth living. Though you will not be able to escape mortality as I wish you could, perhaps you will be grateful for the life you led. Maybe you will even be able to forgive me for giving you that life.
One Who Loves You
I Do Not Think I Could Survive
*In the style of Emily Dickinson . . . or at least I tried*
I do not think I could survive
Without you by my side –
Your hand, your heart, your name in mine,
And no one can divide.
But life is not eternal;
We are promised but today,
And I fear the separation
That will part us on that day.
I wonder if I will be first,
Will breath rip from my throat?
Or will I be left alive
While Death and God both gloat?
In truth, I know that on that day,
Should you be torn from me,
My heart, my body, and my mind
Will join you rapidly.