(Written Feb 2016)
What do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? I mean, honestly. What can you write? I’ve personally always been of the opinion that, if there’s love there, you shouldn’t need a cheap Hallmark Holiday card to say it or know it. It’s perhaps the emptiest gesture of all, isn’t it? A long-term couple exchanging a Valentine’s Day card complete with a banal, beige poem or ditty likely written by a low-paid worker who has to churn out dozens of similar messages a day, with only a line or two plucked from your own imagination scrawled below it. And if you don’t quite feel the full weight of regimented, manufactured display of love then here’s a small raggedy teddy bear clutching a love heart, lovingly purchased at the last minute from the local supermarket. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, in fact I know I am, but I just don’t get the whole telling-your-loved-one-you-love-them routine on a particular day of the year just because some card company has decided it should be so. Much like Mother’s Day. Or Father’s Day. I’ll tell my parents I love them or appreciate them when I like, thank you very much. In the same way that I’ll tell the man I love that I love him when I choose to. I don’t need Valentine’s Day to do that. But then, of course I do it. We all do it. Every single one of us in a relationship participates in this hollow charade. Simply because not doing so would hurt your loved one. It would come across as uncaring for the sake of being stubborn. At least you think it would.
In the early days, when we first met, we used to do it differently. We weren’t going to be like all the other couples. You always tell yourself that don’t you. Me and my man, we’re different. That’s what you say at the beginning. We won’t play by the standard romance rules. You’re convinced that no-one has felt love as strong, as blinding as this before. Look at the other couples, look at their expressions. Boredom, frustration, exasperation. That won’t be us. That won’t ever be us baby, you say. Of course it is. It always is. We all settle into the standard routine, all us long-termers. The lavish romantic, love and lust-filled gestures of the early weeks, months or even years slowly erode into a functional, ‘comfortable’ routine. So the horse and carriage rides, or the expensive meals, or nights in five star hotels become a card and a box of chocolates. The same chocolates you eat throughout the year, yes, but which extracts of strawberry wedged in them to give them Valentine’s Day relevance. But anyway, yes, we did it differently. For those first few Valentine’s Days Luke and I would dress up as 1920’s Chicago bootleggers, or gangsters, in homage to that other reason to remember the 14th of February. Al Capone and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Pin stripe suits, hats; the works. We would go to a restaurant, politely eat our meals and, with only a handful of food left, we would descend into a loud, riotous food fight with one another, the more ketchup the better, right there in front of an array of stunned on looking diners. The result would always be chaos, a hideous mess of stains and food strewn around our table, our faces, our clothes. Often we would be chased out by outraged waiters, occasionally we could walk out calmly simply due to their onset of bewildered paralysis. It certainly limited out restaurant options for future date nights anyway. But that was us. We were different. And of course one year, with both of us crazily busy at work, we couldn’t do it. And that was it. Never again. A simple card, chocolates and maybe a movie became the standard template for the night thereafter.
To be fair, for the next few years, we did try our best to be different with the cards aswell. Often we would have a competition to find the worst Valentine’s Day card we could for one another. Sometimes the funniest. Occasionally ones in different languages. The messages we wrote each other would be different. Always laced with in-jokes, private sex jokes, or silly facts about Valentine’s Day we would find on the internet. At first he would always sign off my card with the note ‘P.S. You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright, and that’s alright with me’ as a joke. That line from Thunder Road, the Bruce Springsteen song, OUR song. And then I would sign his with ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to run’ or some other Springsteen lyric. And then one year, because life is like this of course, we weren’t exactly feeling all loved up towards one another, arguing about something so trivial that I forget now, and the messages disappeared from the cards. Replaced by the ‘To blah blah…Love from blah blah’ standard. And that became the way it was. The way it is. The way it always is for almost every couple on the planet once you ‘settle’. And then one day even the cards stop. It’s nothing malicious, or unkind. Once again, it is just the way things are. The way it is.
So, once again, I’ll ask; just what do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? He knows all my quirks, every piece of my humour. An Al Capone reference maybe? A Springsteen line? No, we’ve done that to death. It’s a sad thing to say but after so long together most couples run out of ways to surprise one another. The element of surprise, of ‘new’ becomes lost in familiarity. In fact, no, it doesn’t have to be a sad thing but it just is what it is. It’s a fact. There’s nothing wrong with familiarity though, with comfort, with partnership. So, in all truth, and as corny as this may sound, all you are left with, all I am left with, is the truth. With honesty. Honesty stripped of quirkiness, stripped of anxiety, stripped of all the calculated bullshit. Just love.
With that in mind I gently rip the plastic off of the generic couple of doe-eyed cuddly bears hugging one another card, pick a pen out of my handbag and write carefully;
My husband, my best friend, my life, my everything.
I still love you, I always have loved you and always will love you.
You loving wife.
I place the pen back in my handbag along with the unused envelope. I pull myself up off the bench and walk across the gravel path before stepping onto the sodden grass. I lean down and delicately wedge the card in between the vase of withered flowers and the marble, placing it alongside a handful of faded cards. I gently kiss my gloved fingertips before pressing them against the top of his gravestone. Light raindrops begin to fall.
‘I love you darling,’ I whisper, ‘I always will.’
I pull myself back up, edging along the grass before stepping back onto the path. I button my coat up, shooting him one last lingering look, before turning and walking away through the February rain.