Sitting here in the land of snow and ice, hot cup of tea in hand, gas fire cracking in the fireplace, my mind wandered back 21 years this morning. Another Valentine’s Day, a world away, and to the man who helped me cope. I think, that day, was when I realized that he would never leave.
My mother’s mother was living with us. Well not anymore. For several months her home was the hospital as they tried to make her comfortable and treat the cancer that was way too aggressive. Grandma had already had a double mastectomy from the breast cancer, but it had spread. She came home from the surgery for a few months. A frail woman with a walker but her wicked sense of humor intact.
Honestly, I knew what was going on, but in a way that is unique to teenagers, it never sunk in. I am always amazed at how kids can compartmentalize and at times shut off parts of their brain when they can’t cope. Grandma was sick, I knew that, but death never crossed my mind.
It was very early on Friday 13 February 1993 when my bedroom door sprang open. My dad yelled my name and I groggily sat up in bed. He was silhouetted in the doorway buttoning up his shirt. In my half-awake sleep I heard something happened to grandma and he was going to the hospital. I waved and went back to sleep.
My alarm went off at 6AM. I got up, stumbled into the bathroom and started my morning teenage preening session. It was in the middle of the shower that I remember the early morning exchange. I also knew grandma was dead. Dead. She was gone. Off went the water as I bolted around the houseyelling for my dad. Gone. I was alone.
I sat in the hallway and cried. What do I do? Dad took me to school in the morning since I had to be there early for sports training. The clam, collected, part of me took over. After getting dressed, packing my bag, and having breakfast I called my boyfriend. Yes, it was 7 AM, but I knew he was getting ready for zero hour too.
What I said has left me, but what I felt hasn’t. Standing in the living room looking out over the early morning sunrise on the mountains I asked for a ride. Sniffles started. Next the gasping like a fish out of water. His response of I’ll be right there and we hung up.
It only took 20 minutes, but I was still alone. I sat near the front door, pulling myself into a presentable form. The ride to school was quiet. I sat on the other end of the bench in the truck, an arm’s length away. We pulled into the parking lot, the truck turned off, and a single tear ran down my cheek. Looking out the window I felt his hand and on mine and I could no longer hold back. We sat huddled in his truck until I stopped.
|Edmund Blair Leighton - Abelard and his Pupil Heloise|
We didn’t go to school that day. He took me to breakfast at the Village Inn. He took me to see his horse. We sat in the desert and talked. After lunch I came back to school to get my stuff for the weekend, and so he could go to Calculus. We weren't in trouble since my boyfriend’s mom, a teacher at the school, had already signed me out.
He called and checked on me that night. We were supposed to go out for a surprise the next day, but it was okay if I wanted to be with my family. My dad was there, my uncles too, but my mom was on TDY in Washington State. There was nothing for me to do but sit and watch the adults make plans and arrangements. My dad said get out of the house. Who knew when I would be able to do it again?
We were supposed to go horseback riding. I hadn’t told him yet exactly how scared of horses I was, but it is weird what you will do when you are still in those first few months of making a good impression. He put me on his paint ’Chach, short for Muchacho, to warm him up. The horse hated me, I hated him, and it was the most uncomfortable 10 minutes of my young life. I swear he tried to dump me off the saddle a couple of times and my darling kept the smirking to a minimum.
That is when he informed me that our horse riding and picnic were not going to happen. His dad had the other horse and was at an arena a short ride away at a practice roping. You see they were real roping and riding cowboys who actually won competitions and stuff. Wow, uh, okay, what were we going to do? With his toe in the dirt, looking at me from under the rim of his hat he invited me to come watch. Why not? I climbed up behind him and we rode together down the irrigation ditch to a new experience for me.
Well, I did more than watch that Valentine’s Day. I earned his step-dad’s seal of approval. How you ask? Well, I turned out cattle, got muddy, helped clean up, laughed at all the right times, and most importantly was not put off by the change of plans. Sounded like I was the perfect girlfriend.
I don’t remember the rest of the day. We probably ate somewhere (What-a-burger most likely) and he eventually took me home. It’s what we didn’t do that has always stuck with me. Our first Valentines was a roller coaster of emotions and he came out with top marks. When he came to the house that morning I was a mess on the inside and my dad probably wanted me out from under foot. There were more people at the house than I was used and it was freaking me out.
I think I started to fall for him that morning. Sitting on my bed watching me put my boots on he made sure I still wanted to go. We could always go back to his house and watch TV. No, I needed to get out. I remember frantically looking for something, a belt maybe, and he grabbed my hand. Pulling me in, sitting me on his lap, as he wrapped his hands around my waist and hugged. A calm, simple, needed hug. He didn’t have good timing though since my dad walked by just then and gave him the I’m-the-father-and-she-is-my-only-daughter glare, but dad didn’t say a thing.
The past 2 decades have been full of those simple, needed, quiet hugs. Our February 14th dates are never loud, boisterous, or over the top. Perhaps we set the tone all those years ago. Sometimes, I think my grandmother was nudging too. She really liked him, she kept telling me for months I should give him a chance. I think she would have been pleased as punch with the outcome.
|14th Century Manesse Codex|