I found myself, once again, in the Hallmark store on Feb. 13. I have always been a last-minute valentine shopper because I dread it. I can only stomach simple cards that say “I love you.” All of the other valentines in the store are stupid. With every card I read, I have to add a sarcastic remark in my mind. I can’t leave it alone. It’s very stressful.
After a quarter of a century of marriage, few of the sentiments ring true. I have long considered designing a line of valentine cards that are grouped according to the number of years one has been married.
I long for little ditties like this:
Loving each other has been a long, hard road, but I still think you are cute.
Can’t wait to celebrate our love at Donovan’s Steak house because we got a $150 coupon from your client.
Let’s stay up past 9 p.m. and make out for eight minutes straight.
Love is damn tricky. An enigma. So much has been written about it that I dare not add to the rubble. But if I had to, if Cupid put a gun to my head, I would take a thousand noble words and nestle them in pairs with their less-than-noble opposites. Then I would shake them in my cupped hands like dice and toss the whole collection off of Juliet’s balcony and watch them scatter and bounce on the cobblestone streets of Verona until they landed in a mish-mash mural of the language of love.
“Excuse me,” I said as I reached in front of a young woman who smelled of lavender and innocence. I grabbed a card depicting a romantic table set for two. It unearthed a memory.
My husband, Tim, and I became engaged at Papa Pirozki’s in Atlanta on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Who chooses to propose to his bride in a Russian restaurant on December 7? Looking back, I think he had a subconscious yearning to personalize the Cold War.
Neither of us expected the marriage proposal to play out the way it did, but maybe that was a good thing. Perhaps it’s the couples who do everything according to the Prince and Princess Handbook who don’t survive when the magic wears thin. In retrospect, I think it was better to start this union with our gloves on, in a boxer’s stance. One needs to understand strategy and battle maneuvers. These are the necessary skills that keep a marriage alive. Flowers and chocolate are useless.
We were enjoying fruited vodka when a waiter with Ricky Riccardo hair placed a salad before me. It was the ugliest, driest salad I had ever seen so I pushed it to the side. Tim stared at the salad and then back at me. “That’s your salad,” he said.
“There’s no dressing. And what is this stuff? It’s not even lettuce.”
“Have some salad.” His voice held an edge.
“I don’t want the salad.” I calmly stated, the words evenly spaced and heavy on my tongue.
“Eat the salad.” Beads of sweat were forming on his brow.
I answered him with my most powerful defiant stare.
“Eat – the – salad.” His eyes bulged.
“Fine. Relax!” I picked at it with my fork suddenly aware of other diners’ eyes upon me.
Then I saw it hidden under shreds radicchio. No, no, no. Not here. This was not what I had choreographed in my 10-year-old heart as I picked at my chenille bedspread on sleepless nights. I could see our waiter alerting other diners to our impending moment.
“Honey,” Tim leaned on his elbows. “Stop blinking your eyes like that. Open the box.”
“No. People are watching.” I attempted another defiant stare but tears plopped onto the table.
“Open – the – box.”
I pried opened the velvet cube with my fork and a diamond solitaire caught the candlelight. I looked at Tim as his lips moved without sound. “Well?” Tim asked with a face so vulnerable and earnest that I suddenly couldn’t imagine a life without him.
“Will you marry me?”
The room ruptured into cheers as Tim handed me another drink and held up his. We burst into laughter, toasted each other and cheered along. It was not a down-on-one-knee-on-the-beach-at-sunset proposal, nor was the ring magically unveiled on a covered silver dish as he had hoped. It was clumsy, heartfelt and awkwardly expressed the way marriage often looks on a daily basis. In retrospect it was perfect.
“Funny card?” Ms. Lavender commented as I giggled to myself.
“Memories,” I sighed. “But it’s not the one I’ll buy.”
“I love this one,” she confided as she held up a photo of a sunrise that said, Every sunrise means another day of loving you.
“How many years?”
“One. Well almost,” she said with a shy smile. “You?”
“Wow. So, what’s the secret?”
I plucked a simple white card with a simple red heart and opened it for her to see. “This is the card I get for him every year. Because after awhile, you learn that these are the only three words that matter.”
— Susan Pohlman
Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer, writing instructor/coach and Transformational Travel Retreat leader based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Her memoir Halfway to Each Other was the winner of the Relationships category and runner-up in the Memoir category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Times, Family Digest, The Family, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, Homelife Magazine, AZ Parenting, The Review Review, Goodhousekeeping.com and Itali