Pressure

I’ve never really liked Valentine’s Day. I just don’t like the notion of a day that over time had become engineered to remind lonely people just how lonely they are. It’s especially problematic for Chrisie and me because it falls at the midpoint between both our birthdays. For us, February is her birthday, Valentine’s two weeks after that, and my birthday two weeks after Valentine’s. It’s a lot to cram in a month. Initially, we just took turns on whose turn it was to handle the romantic stuff. As years (and children) added to our marriage, the importance of that one day waned. Which isn’t to say that either of us are completely off the hook for it.

One year, neither of us had planned anything special because or lives were full of drama (not because of anything going with the two of us per se, but just because of, you know, life). Chrisie pointed out that Valentine’s Day was about a week away which coursed mild panic through me.

“Whose year is it?” I asked, terrified of the answer.

“I don’t know.” Oh, good, it wasn’t just me.

“Should we even bother with everything going on?”

“That’s fine,” she said, “It would be a little too much.”

I felt relieved until we had another conversation a couple of nights later and Chrisie dropped the following bombshell on me:

“It’s not a big deal, but I did get you a little surprise for Valentine’s Day.”

“You what?”

“I got you something.”

“I thought we weren’t doing Valentine’s this year.”

“You’d better have me a card!”

“Of course I’ll give you a card. We always give each other cards, that goes without saying.” Which is why I didn’t say it. I continued, “I thought we weren’t getting each other gifts.”

“Well, I just got you a little something. It’s no big deal. It’s under three dollars and I know you’ll like it.”

“Under three dollars?”

“Yes.”

“And I’ll like it?”

“Yes.”

“So what would you like for Valentine’s Day?”

“You don’t have to get me anything.”

“I know I don’t have to, I want to. Besides, you got me something.”

“But it’s small. Just get me something small that I’ll like. Just get something under three dollars I’ll like.”

“Get you something you’ll like.”

“Yes.”

“For under three dollars.”

“Yes again.”

“So what would you like?” She rolled her eyes at me for some reason.

“Look,” she said, “it’s your own problem if you don’t know what I like.”

“I do know what you like, it’s the price range that’s difficult.”

“Just get me some candy.”

“I can’t get you candy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you had me get you an exercise game for your birthday so if I give you candy two weeks later it’s kind of a mixed message.”

“Then just get me some gum.”

“Gum?”

“Gum.”

“I can’t get you gum for Valentine’s Day!”

“Sure you can. You know the kind I like.”

“Oh yeah, I can’t wait to check out with a card for you and a pack of Gum. The cashier will notice the strange combination of of a Valentine’s Day card and gum and say, ‘Who’s the gum for?’ I’ll tell her it’s for my wife and she’ll say, ‘Are you seriously getting your wife Dentyne for Valentine’s Day?’ I’ll the be forced to say, ‘Yeah, but it’s Dentyne Fire, like the red-hot flames of my love.’ At which point I will be escorted out by security. Is that what you want to happen? Is it?”

I carefully judged Chrisie’s expression and asked, “Just why do you roll your eyes so much?” She rolled them again.

I decided to do exactly what she asked and went to the store after work on the Friday before Valentine’s Day. It meant the worst part of Valentine’s Day for me: finding a card. Now, I love giving Chrisie cards, but I get frustrated by the ones available. I usually like the way a card looks but hate what it says, or like the sentiment and hate the appearance.  A lot of the messages in greeting cards are just wrong for us. I have difficulty expressing in words all she means to me and how deep my love is. What chance does a card have?

I first picked out cards for each of our kids to give her and then searched for one from me.  Eventually, I found an attractive card that had something nice written and left plenty of room for my own words. After, I went and grabbed some gum for her. I got the three pack because nothing’s too good for the woman I love.

I went to the register with my four items and impatiently waited my turn. When it was my turn, the cashier mumbled a greeting and scanned my items.

“Valentine’s Day, huh?” she said as she bagged the cards.

“Yep.”

She picked up the gum with a quizzical expression.

“It’s a gift for my wife,” I helpfully explained.

“A gift.”

“Yes.”

“For your wife.”

“Yes.”

“For Valentine’s Day?”

“Exactly.”

She considered me for a moment and said, “Bold.”

“Oh no, not bold, Fire. Like the red-hot flames of my love for her.”

“Are you seriously getting your wife gum for Valentine’s Day?”

“Wow, that’s what I said you’d say!”

“What?”

“Uh, nothing,” I said. She raised her eyebrows so I added,  “Yeah, it’s her Valentine’s gift.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“It’s gum.”

“Yeah, but it’s a three pack. It’s not like I’m trying to go cheap or something.” She seemed unconvinced.

Unorthodox, I know, but it is what she asked for.. Unfortunately, I used her car to run an errand the next night and noticed something in the passenger seat.

“What’s with the box of Girl Scout cookies in your car?” I asked when I got back home.

“Well, they were supposed to be a surprise for you for Valentine’s Day?”

“Hey, I asked if I could you your car.”

“I forgot they were in there.”

“Uh huh. So the box of Samoas was the thing under three dollars?”

“No, I just got them.”

“Wait, you got me something and a box of cookies?”

“Yeah.”

“But I already got you something. Now I have to figure out something else to get. Why do you want to put so much pressure on me?”

“Just send flowers or something.”

“You want flowers?”

“Not necessarily, I’m just giving ideas.”

“Well, stop it.”

Of course, I was (mostly) joking with her. Valentine’s Day for us is not a contest or an attempt to make sure we get each other things of similar value. It’s really not about getting each other things at all. That’s the real reason Valentine’s Day still bugs me. I don’t like the thought of the commercialization of love. How does buying chocolate, roses, and a card show my love for my wife? How does simply buying anything show my love for her? I may buy her such things because I love her, but not to prove it.

I reject the notion that one day can contain my love for her. I reject the idea that any card can capture the depth of feeling I have for her.  I hope she reads this and takes it as her Valentine’s gift because I hate the idea of trying to cram it all in to one day of the year that someone decided was about love. I’d rather let that one day slip, at least according to the traditions that have sprung up around it, and spend every day for the rest of my life showing my love.

Right after I find something comparable to a box of Girl Scout cookies to give her.

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.
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About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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