I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple. Until my current relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)
My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, almost four years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 47-year-old 15-year-old.
One Valentine’s Day, the one that hit with warning on February 14, 1989, I was dressed up for the GQ cover that sat only in my mind. For the first time, I was not the friend without a date, I was dating someone, a fellow college student. She and I had not yet kissed, and yes that means I was 20 and still a virgin, but yes I had a date, and you know, why are you mathing up my life? It was probably more important to me that I was dating at all than who I was dating or the concept that they might have an inner life that I could have an effect on, too.
Sadly, the only part of a GQ look that I could actually afford was a copy of GQ, so the only thing neatly pressed was whatever was beneath that Bible-thick copy of GQ in my backpack. The blazer: the only one I owned. A Herringbone, a three-button gray Herringbone from one of the finer Montgomery Ward lines, with one button elegantly worried loose through years of nervous playing with it. At least one size too large. The pants: black, “dress pants,” creased, because that’s how they came and even age could not uncrease them. The tie: I am wearing a tie and isn’t that enough? The shoes: the only dress shoes I had ever owned, which I had outgrown, and which no longer had rubber completely covering their soles.
These shoes proved to be my Achilles’ heel. In my desire to get my debonair look as nervously “right” as anxiously possible, I wound up running late for my classes. So I drove to school dressed for that night’s Valentine, arrived in my classroom building just in time for class, strode out of the elevator onto the freshly waxed linoleum, and fell hard. Everything on my person landed in a perfect 360 degrees around me. I did not know I had 360 things on me, but I did. I looked like I had been dropped from a very great height and crashed through the building’s roof. It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse.
I had landed on my mouth. To this day, when I tell this story, I can not demonstrate how it is possible that slipping on my elderly right shoe’s rubber-less heel of all things could pitch me face-forward, but it did. I will spare you the graphic details. I was not rushed to a hospital or doctor’s office, a cab was called for me instead and we drove to an ER. The leisurely pace in reaction to my wildly injured face still perplexes me.
The cab did not wait for me, so with my lip stitched up—which is a scar that remains to this day on my face—I walked across the highway back to campus, thus adding a layer of dust to my ensemble, with one single thought in my mind: PLEASE do not let me run into anyone I know, I MUST get to my car, which as a commuter student was my dorm room, and I MUST clean up as best as I can. PLEASE do not let me run into anyone I know, like, say, my Valentine’s date for that night.
Of course, upon thinking this thought, the first person I saw on campus—an entire college campus!—was my date.
We had a lovely dinner-and-a-movie evening. Our first kiss remained in the future, for face-related reasons.
I will not go into any further romantic details about the intervening decades, but until now I have not come close to what I have now and it takes every damn day and night of dumb work through two-plus decades to accomplish that. It was worth it, though:
I am now one of those lucky many who has experienced love at first sight. And I know it is unique for each person who has experienced this. Just about four years ago, the moment I saw my love, Jen, a thought passed through my mind, just on the other side of being words, just a flicker of a thought: “She is going to be important to me.” That was all. I had no clue what any of it meant—”important” could have been anything; she could have lent me a five and that would have been pretty important to me at that time. But I knew that it was going to be a bigger story than that. “Important” is too small a word for what happened.
Every day since she said yes to me, she redefines “important.” One could insert the words, “Dear Jen,” at the top of everything I write. Every day is roses on Valentine’s Day. I love you, Jen.
* * * *
(This is a updated and re-written version of a column from February 14, 2015.)
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“Not too bad for a 47-year-old 15-year-old” There is a part of all of us that stays 15!
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What a beautiful piece! Thank you for sharing it.
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Montgomery Ward, eh? When I moved to FL, my first job was at Monkey Ward. The Regional Manager would come down from Alabama to visit our store and always liked how I was dressed. Irked him to no end that my response to, “Where did you get that dress?” was always a very nice upscale store at the other end of the mall. My vocal misstep but at least it did not cost me my job.
This is such a beautiful tribute to Jen, Mark. You are both lucky to have each other.
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One of my middle jobs was at Monkey Wards, in the IRO. It’s also where I lost one child (and 7 cat lives) temporarily who had followed some other woman out of the ladies’ room, but it’s also where I first heard Willie Nelson. Yep, from the ladies’ room.
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In this, you and the hubs have a lot in common… he spent quite a few Valentine’s Days alone. Me? I pretty much ignored that holiday like I ignored all of the other holidays on the calendar. I’m one of those people where if I *was* dating and got something for Valentine’s Day, I’d be all, “Oh damn, is today Valentine’s Day? I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything.” Though I usually would warn people ahead of time that they weren’t getting anything (our anniversary is coming up and I’ve already warned the hubs that I’ll probably forget it.
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Mark, this is so sweet. 🙂
Beautiful. I love all the opportunities you give us to read about your love for Jen. It warms my heart. Marianne
I love how in love you are and how willingly and ably you express it.After 38 years of waiting to meet the perfect man, when I first laid eyes on him, I said, “That’s the man I’m going to marry,” and miracle of miracles, I did!” Since he passed away, I’ve been lucky to have found one of the best friends of my life and hopefully he’ll last long enough so I won’t have to experience this life without his help, comfort, brains and good humor. Even a long distance relationship can be a wonderful one. Say hi to Jen for me and I hope you two continue to be as good for each other as you’ve been so far. My shoe story, except for my proficiency in falling, was all fictional, by the way… Judy
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I am glad, all’s well that ended well- it was all for the best that the 1989 date didn’t turn out to be your life date.
lots of love to Jen and wishing the two of you all the best in this world.
It is always, always a pleasure to read everything you write. I’m in awe of how you managed to write about love without being sappy and yet you conveyed a world of emotion in the space of a few lines. I finished reading this piece with a dopey smile on my face and for that you have my thanks.
Your love shines through whether you are writing one sentence about Jen or a beautiful tribute to your relationship. I hope she read this.