This Valentine’s Day story appeared on HerWord.com yesterday, February 14, 2013.
She pulled out a box from beneath the bed. It was old and a not a little dusty. The corners were bent where the box had squeezed in with the other things hidden beneath their bed. A floppy ear of a torn stuffed doll was caught in a hinge, and she smiled wryly, remembering the hours she had spent looking for that miserable piece of fluff.
She took out the box once a year, in February. It was as much as a habit as a ritual, and old habits die hard. She heaved the box on top of their bed and felt the sudden weight bear down on her shoulders. The box, it seemed, was weighted down with memories.
She had kept the box under the bed on the fifth year of their marriage. She liked having it near. Liked knowing where it was. In the early years, she opened it regularly, sometimes, to read, often, just to look at it. In recent years, as the box got moved and shuffled in the netherworld called the underbed, she had simply looked at it from time to time, just to reassure herself that it was still there. “My precious,” she whispered to herself in Gollum’s voice. True, she thought, after all these years, this box was still most precious to her.
She opened the box and lifted an old card on top. It was yellow with age, the paper fragile and crackling. She looked at the little brown bear doing cartwheels and thought back to the time when she first held it at fourteen. The words, written in black ink with a careful script, made her smile. “How young we were then,” she murmured.
She took out more cards and more paper, folded in various sizes and shapes. The bear doing cartwheels soon found company in a monkey hanging from a tree, and then later joined by Ziggy and Garfield, icons of the eighties. She sorted in rapid succession, looking for something, holding her breath. A few seconds later, she found it.
A plain white card—given on the sixth year and the only one of its kind in a box of youthful, if sometimes cheesy, mementos—emerged from beneath the pile of childish cartoons. As she opened it, she was struck by the dedication written solemnly in careful script and signed with a flourish. She stared at those three little words, as if mesmerized. How easy it was, back then, to decide on a course of fate and gamble their hearts upon it. Was it courage or foolhardiness that pushed them to a then-unknown future? She shook her head in quiet disbelief.
Time, it seemed, was kind to them, even as it ushered them forward to assume new roles in their changing lives. Classmate, best friend, confidante. Lover, spouse, parent, partner. From a friendship forged early by similar passions, theirs became a love that deepened with a shared history and with respect for the journey their lives had taken together. Over the years, their two became four, and four formed a family. Their family.
She counted the cards and letters, all sent on February 14s of each year, from the bear in cartwheels to the last one, a letter penned in the middle of the night. There were 31 of them now. One for each year of their friendship, their relationship, and their marriage. Each one told a different story, of a different time and a different place. The pictures and styles changed with time, with age, and with need. But even 31 years apart, the cartwheeling bear and the letter both told the same story. The sentiment remained the same.
Each and every Valentine, she held his heart in her hands. And for as long as they lived, it was hers to keep, he promised. The paper may age, it may yellow and fade and crumble, but for as long as a February 14 rolled around each year, he would renew his promise and keep his faith in the three little words that changed both their lives.
As the day ended, she took the newest card, read it again, and gently laid it on top of the pile. She straightened the bent corners of the box and smoothed out the edges. Gently, she closed it and whispered a silent prayer of thanks. She would keep his heart forever. It was a promise she held on to with the very breath of her life.
“Forever and a day,” he wrote, “forever my Valentine.”
And this man, my friends, has been my Valentine date for 31 years.