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At the heart of it all

My husband Matthew teases me every year. “You want that key in a heart necklace, don’t you?” or, “Oh, look at that heart charm. I’m going to get you that!”

He knows if he really did, it’d be the first gift of his I’d take back. I can’t abide hearts. But in the spirit of the holiday, I tolerate heart-shaped chocolates — if they’re dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is a greater abomination than cute jewelry.

Disliking hearts as I do, you can see why Valentine’s Day and I did not get along until 16 years ago.

Okay, there’s more to it than that. Truth be told, not once as a young woman did a young man declare his infatuation with, his adoration of — not even his hope-to-get-to-know-you-better feelings for me on that day. Nothin’.

I did receive a beautiful arrangement of flowers when I was 18, but imagine opening the card on your first V-day bouquet to discover they’re from your sister.

My older sisters received tokens every year. I think young men just threw roses at them in the hall as they walked to class, cheering and whistling and laying down their jackets over old bubble gum and spit wads to protect their lovely feet from the filth of a high school floor.

I was attractive, too…in my own way. I had a large nose, lazy eye, pimples, braces from ninth grade on, and the constant appearance of pink eye due to hard contact lenses that, while aiming to make me more attractive, were viciously sucking the juices out of my eyeballs. But, man, I was a looker. Really!

Ah, well. Valentine’s Day is for all lovers, but an anniversary? That’s for two. It just so happens February 14 is the anniversary of the day Matthew announced he wanted to be my guy for life.

Sixteen years ago, we were strolling the San Antonio Zoo when he popped the question. He had asked my Dad’s permission, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he led me off into a little area by a lush pond. A large blue parrot perched there, squawking noisily. I gazed at the pretty spot absentmindedly and then turned to leave, coming face to face with my boyfriend. Smiling up at him, I put my hand on his chest.

“Wow, your heart is really pounding!” I said lightly, completely oblivious as I made to go around him. He grabbed my hand and whirled me back. I saw him kneeling with a small box in his hand, but I have really no clue what he said after, “Hillary…”

“No way!” I cried, cutting him off and trying to bolt as he gripped my hand tighter. He continued his declaration until a few seconds later I heard quite distinctly, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes,” I said in a shaky voice.

My ring was beautiful, and I even got flowers. I’ve been spoiled every year since, including one exceptional year when my Love lead me out to discover a wine-colored guitar in the trunk of his car.

Matthew has a running joke he’ll no doubt be employing until we’re 90. When some commercial, movie or TV program shows a man proposing, he always turns to me and says, “See, she doesn’t try to run away.”

Well, he needn’t worry. It’s hard to wander off anywhere with these four balls chained about my legs, also known as children.

Oh, and the beautiful blue parrot who witnessed our engagement all those years ago? We framed his picture to hang on the wall of our home.

It looks far better there than a heart would.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published online, most at the incredible humorwriters.org. She is hoping to publish a book this year that she began when she was 17 and recently rediscovered with the help of her children. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Reflections of Erma