Pink Thursday

valentine 2

You know the honeymoon’s over when you and your new spouse are watching the weather forecast on television, scratching your heads over a small animated cherub floating above Thursday on the five-day forecast.

“What the hell is that little fairy thing?” Amadeus asked.

“Beats the hell outta me,” I replied, squinting at the screen. During the repeat broadcast, I saw it again, and then it hit me.

“Ooooh….” I said. “I think it’s Cupid. That must be Valentine’s Day.”

Later, Amadeus asked, “Now, what day is Valentine’s Day?” Again, we’d forgotten all about it.

We’re a little discombobulated these days. Amadeus’ back is still messed up, my hormones are swirling and draining away like bath bubbles, and for the past ten days, things around here have been about as romantic as a rerun of “Lost in Space.” It’s just temporary, but it feels weird right now, because we’re normally so happy and huggy, sweet and affectionate. It’s hard to be physical with a man in a back brace, because said man is miserable and his misery is compounded by squishing. I’m a squisher.

We’re also sort of opposed to what we think of as Pink Thursday, a retailer’s holiday if ever there was one. We just believe that every day is an opportunity to show each other our love, demonstrated in gestures of varying sizes and expenditures, depending on our moods, our finances and the situation. I told you about the surprise redecorating project that caused Amadeus’ back outage. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

While writing this, I looked up the history of the holiday, and now I’m feeling a bit moreClint Eastwood Marriage Ceremony Valentine friendly. It was originally intended as a day to honor a badass saint named Valentinus, who was imprisoned for performing secret, forbidden weddings– sort of a Clint Eastwood of marriage officiants, and that’s just cool. Later, during the Middle Ages, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his pals took hold of the day and made it into a celebration of love. It’s Geoff we need to thank for the romance of Valentine’s Day–for transforming it from a religious commemoration to a joyous occasion of poetry, flowers and ten-pound boxes of Whitman’s Samplers.

Of course, not everyone was a Chaucer. The average Joe was fairly illiterate, and unable to express love via the written word. In the late 1700’s, companies began printing sentiments on lacy, beribboned heart-shaped cards for men to present to their lady loves. It was sort of a merciful thing, because most of those guys were still probably coming down from Super Bowl Sunday, sluggish from Budweiser and pretzels. 

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Valentine greetings were mass-produced, and the late 20th century before gift-giving became involved, which resulted in the production of some very unfortunate boxer shorts. At some point, it was decided that children be involved, and once a year, students around the globe exchange horrible puns in class (puns which would earn them an “F” if they’d penned them themselves).  Now, every year, on or around February 14th, about a billion pieces of heart-shaped cardboard are purchased. And according to Wikipedia, about 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts, those little pastel conversation confections are made each day for about 50 weeks of the year, and they sell out in six weeks. By my math-impaired calculations, that’s about 5 million pounds of candy hearts per year. They used to bear cute, sassy sayings like, “Cool Cat” and “True Love.” The Necco Company updates them with the times though, and now you’ll find Sweethearts that read, “Sext me,” and “Be my biotch.” 

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SweetheartsThere’s one Valentine’s Day that I’ll never forget. I was in my early thirties, newly divorced, with two small children to raise. I was burning the candle at both ends, working 50 hours a week managing an optical shop in a Costco-like environment. I had no time for dating, and the loves of my life were both under the age of six.

My birthday had blown by without my mentioning it to anyone. Christmas was a day to get through. Like many single moms, my holidays were focused on the kids–the challenge lay in figuring out financially creative ways to make it a special day for them. There was a lot of vicarious joy in watching their eyes light up when I pulled things off successfully, when I somehow managed to kung-fu my way through the crowds to make sure there was a Cabbage Patch Doll under the tree, or a Nintendo under the TV. On Valentine’s Day, I bought them little boxes of chocolates and small stuffed animals and zipped by my Mom’s place to brighten her day as well. My inbox was usually empty, but I was too busy to care.

That February 14th, I was running my department, pretending that it was any other day, Corny pun Valentines are a grade school tradition.when a HUGE bouquet of flowers arrived at my counter. I can still picture those blooms in my mind–dahlias and roses, Shasta daisies and peonies and sprays of baby’s breath. The card simply said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I was trying to imagine who’d sent them, who could have possibly thought of me, when I looked across the aisle and saw the manager of the pizza department grinning at me. I mimed the question, “From you?” He nodded.

“No woman should be without flowers on Valentine’s Day,” he said when I leaped over to hug him.

There was nothing romantic in his gesture–in fact, he was engaged to The Girl of His Dreams at the time, and we’d had many conversations about his plans for their future. He was just a genuinely nice, caring guy. The flowers made me feel so exquisitely a part of the day–a recipient of beauty and kindness during a time when life seemed harsh and I felt about as desirable as steel wool.

I never forgot it. In fact, I’d even told the story to Amadeus somewhere along the way. It was an act of thoughtfulness that meant so much, one of those little moments that to me, make the world so sweet. People who do things like that generally have no idea of the impact of their actions. People like me never forget.

Amadeus and I were at a baseball game a couple of summers ago, when I looked down from our row in the bleachers and saw someone I recognized. “Remember that guy I told you about?” I asked my sweetie. “The pizza guy who sent me the flowers on Valentine’s Day twenty years ago? He’s here.”

Amadeus knows me well. He knew I’d never pay attention to another moment of the game until I’d gone to talk to the guy. I ambled my way down.  His hair was thinner and he now wore glasses. He looked sadder than those retail days; he could have just been tired, or it could have been the natural course that some lives take, the course where youthful optimism is replaced by harsher realities. He sat with another guy, and I wondered if he’d ended up happily ever after with the girl he’d been so infatuated with when we worked under the same roof.

He remembered me pretty quickly. I didn’t want to interrupt his enjoyment of the game, so I kept our reunion short. Through the roar of the crowd he’d told me that he’d gone on to become some sort of financial whiz. There was no mention of a wife or a family, and I didn’t ask. I told him, “It’s just so rare that we have opportunities to let someone know how much their kindness means to us. I’ve never forgotten what you did, and I wanted to thank you again.” He seemed semi-embarrassed, but he was grinning.

I went back to my seat, back to my Happily Ever After Man. Our team won, and sitting up there in the stands with Amadeus was sweeter than those flowers I’d gotten two decades earlier.

The other night, after we’d puzzled over that little wing-flapping Cupid on the weatherman’s diagram, we laughed our heads off. “Oh, how quickly the romance dies,” I said. But we’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day and I’ve always been perfectly okay with it. Amadeus told me when we met that he wasn’t a fan of the holiday, and his boycott has never bothered me a bit. One of the things I love about being married to a curmudgeon is that his romantic gestures are spontaneous. I’d rather have a new rug on a random Monday than a box  of chocolates bought out of a sense of obligation.

Amadeus said out of the blue last night, “I’m going to tell the guys in the band that we need to cancel practice on Thursday.” Then he said, “I want to take you to Rudy’s for dinner on Valentine’s Day. “ I was floored, but I just said, “That would be really nice.” And it will be.

People who do things like this generally have no idea of the impact of their actions. People like me never forget. I’m in love with Amadeus, back brace and all.

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Uh ohI’m in so much trouble. My adorable, sweet daughter (the Airman) stopped by last night and brought me a Valentine’s gift, a 225-pound box of Russell Stover candy in a shiny, heart-shaped box.  She had to push it in on a dolly. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s a big-ass box. I threw my arms around her and thanked her, but quite frankly, I’m sitting here across from it right now, and I’m terrified. There are 44 43 42 pieces of chocolate under that lid, and 3080 calories. The accompanying diagram is lying on the table, and I’ve been poring over it, studying it the way an honor student studies for finals. But this is one test I’m going to fail. 44 43 42 41 pieces of chocolate have been whispering to me all morning, and I imagine they’ll continue doing so until they’re gone. Shut up, Butter Cream.

****

I wish you all the happiest Valentine’s Day, and I wish I could share my candy with you. Whether you’re with someone else or on your own, I hope your world is filled with happiness and love. But really, I hope all your days are this way, not just Pink Thursday.

If You Want to Make God Laugh…

Last week, I won two symphony tickets by calling our public radio station and answering a trivia question. The question was:  “What song was inspired by the Battle of Fort McHenry?” Fortunately, I’m a fast Googler. I looked up the answer, called the station and timidly asked: “The Star Spangled Banner?” The tickets were mine. For a moment, I felt as though I’d won the lottery. Amadeus and I were going on a date, a bona-fide, honest-to-goodness date.

We always struggle financially. Amadeus carries the weight of the world on his roof rack as he drives to work each day. He’s been an angel, letting me stay at home and try to figure out how to contribute to our income in a gentle way, one that utilizes my writing skills and keeps fibromyalgia from pinning me to the ground. It’s been hit or miss at best. As I’ve mentioned, I’m disciplined when it comes to typing words onto a blank screen, but rather awful at the business end of things. My writing career is the longest work in progress since the building of the pyramids. I stay panicky and stressed. I want so badly to succeed, to help us stay afloat, because there are sharks beneath the water’s surface, and they’re all holding bills between their teeth.

We worry that we’re going to lose our little condo. Amadeus is retiring at the end of the year, and we fret about that too. We recently sold my car, because I seldom drove it, and the repairs were costing more than we could afford. Side question to the makers of the 2001 Kia Sportage: How much Super Glue did you use when you built that little cracker box from hell?

So nowadays, I stay at home. A lot. I write and do domestic things haphazardly, the way, say, Queen Victoria would do chores if she weren’t dead and hadn’t had 750 servants to do them for her. Though I’m not venturing out much, our house is often bursting at the bricks with friends and family, and our modus operandi is always to accommodate. We make coffee and feed people when we have trouble caffeinating and feeding ourselves. Spare beds and a sofa are offered to those who need them. Our ears are always available to listen and our shoulders are ready, should anyone need one to cry on. At the same time, we’re constantly worrying– about keeping the lights on, about buying groceries, about paying the mortgage. Magically, though, we always seem to have just enough. Magically, we always have something to offer. Our lights glow brightly. We stay quiet in our poverty, and as cornball as it sounds, love seems to carry us a long way. It’s quite a balancing act, but somehow we’re pulling it off.

But those tickets were a godsend. For a little while, I’d get out of the house. For a few hours, I’d be a middle-aged Cinderella, and Amadeus, my silver-haired prince. I dreamed of the two of us sitting in the comfort of our local arts center, escaping our reality, rubbing elbows with little old ladies who wore opera glasses and tiaras, like they do in Marx Brothers movies.  The tickets could have been to a pudding wrestling competition, and I’d have been just as thrilled. I was also secretly considering it to be my birthday present, because this year, we’re just not going to be able to do much. So you see, I was pretty excited.

On the day of the concert, I took a long bubble bath, applied makeup, did what I could with my hair, and picked out a swell outfit. I even dragged some high heels out of the closet and dusted the cobwebs off of them. I put on jewelry as I imagined sitting next to my sweetie in the cheap seats. Once I was appropriately accessorized, I wobbled my way downstairs in those shiny shoes, and Amadeus went out to start the car.

Well, Amadeus went out to try to start the car. The car, however had other plans. The car laughed at us demonically and said, “You stupid fools! How dare you think I’m going to coöperate with you?” Chug, chug, chug. Wrr-rrr-rrrrrrrrr. The battery was deader than the above mentioned Queen Victoria. A Honda Fit, indeed. Fit for what?

I called my daughter’s boyfriend and he said he’d zip over to give us a jump. Amadeus, handsome in his symphony-going clothes, went to find the jumper cables. The clock was ticking, and at some point I realized that we’d never make it to the arts center before they dimmed the lights. I called a few friends to see if anyone wanted our tickets. I posted them on Facebook, hoping to give them away to someone, but there just wasn’t time.

My daughter, her boyfriend and the Grandpea all arrived. I sat on the step in front of our house and kicked off my stupid shoes. There was no point in risking a high-altitude nosebleed at that point. As we waited for the car to juice, we all sat around outside talking for a bit. The Grandpea put on my shoes. They matched her pink tutu and pet monkey perfectly. She shuffled around in an adorable manner. “I’m Mimi! I’m Mimi!” she shouted, though no one was fooled for a minute.

You know, I’m pretty stoic. In fact, I’m often so happy that I wonder what’s wrong with me. The world is falling down around us, and still, there’s always a part of me that feels thankful and chock-full-o-joy. But yesterday, I have to admit that my emotional climate was less than balmy. I was disappointed, and a  deep, low-level depression was creeping in and making my body ache. I had my game face on, but the mouth part of the face was turned down a little at the corners.

After about an hour, my daughter and her entourage left. Amadeus took our remaining money for the month and went to buy a new battery for the car. He drives over sixty miles to and from work each day, with many stops in-between. Jump-starting his battery throughout the day just wouldn’t do.

While he was out making the purchase, I tried to shake off the sadness. Mind you, this wasn’t just about our plans being canceled. I’m a big girl, and I can handle those kinds of curve balls. This was just cumulative exhaustion, another letdown in a series of setbacks. Every day, we put on our combat gear and work our way through our situation. We keep our sleeves rolled up and we plug away. But yesterday, I decided to let myself feel sad. I knew that if I just went upstairs and snuggled beneath a quilt for a little while, I’d be okay.

The house was quiet. I lay there like a slab of sad, little boohoos hopping up and down in my chest. At the same time, I was ashamed of my melancholia. How can I ever complain? I’ve got a loving family, great kids, a fantastic husband. Our house is filled with music, writing, art and happy, shimmering, low-level  chaos. We have clothes on our bodies and shingles over our heads (for now). Even if we’re eating PB and J, I’m always aware of how friggin’ lucky I am. So we didn’t get to go out. Big deal. Boo hoo. Wah wah. Thank goodness we found out about Amadeus’ car when we did, instead of at 7:00 a.m. this morning, when he was about to take off for work.

Downstairs, I heard my son and his new girlfriend walk into the house, chittering non-stop happy talk, the way those who have just discovered each other tend to do. I tried to ignore them. Damned happy people.

Four minutes later, my cell phone rang. “Where are you?” my daughter asked.

“Oh, I’m just lying down for a minute,” I told her in a zombie-like voice.

“Well, I’m downstairs,” she said. That sweetheart. She’d come back, just to cheer me up. She reads me like a book, that one.

As I arose from my tomb of gloom, Amadeus came home and went upstairs to find me. He opened one bedroom door as I was making my way out of another. We met in the hallway and smiled. As we headed downstairs, the Grandpea saw us and she smiled too. She put her soft little arms around my neck, which reminded me that I was still on her top-ten list of favorite people in the world. Soon the house was buzzing again, filled with laughter and craziness and joy.

Later, Amadeus said, “I’m sorry about the symphony.” Instead of blowing it off as I’d normally do, I put my head on his shoulder and told him about my disappointment. Being a guy and all, he didn’t quite get it. “You should have found someone to go with,” he said.

“It wasn’t about the symphony,” I explained. “It was about the company. It was about getting to go out with you. I’d imagined sitting next to you in the theater, listening to the music. I even imagined walking around with you during intermission. It was just an opportunity to go do something with you at a time when we aren’t able to do much of anything. Plus, it was my birthday present to myself.”

Once I voiced it– once I gave myself permission to feel gloomy and bratty, the cloud began to lift. I always, always say, “It’s okay,” about life’s little downturns, and I always mean it. But this time, for just a little while, it just wasn’t okay. And once I acknowledged it, once I cried and pouted privately for a few minutes, everything was okay. There was a baby in a bright pink tutu rolling around on our floor with her mama. There was my son and his girlfriend sitting upstairs, doing God-knows-what. There was the guy I love, sitting in the living room as sweet and solid as a candy-coated cinder block, watching football and winning pretend millions at an on-line casino. My daughter’s boyfriend, who’s been around for about seven years now, came back over to our house and quietly took a place on the sofa, smiling at the goofiness of it all. I smiled too.

The Law of Attraction, Revisited

have friends who are really into the whole Law of Attraction thing. You know, creative visualization– that mental process by which you imagine what you want and it becomes yours by sheer force of quantum physics. When this subject comes up in conversation, I snap my mouth shut like a Victor mousetrap. I’ve always poo-pooed the theory that you can make a Porsche Carrera appear in your garage simply by conjuring it up in your head, but I love the idea of magic. When I was a kid, I religiously watched Bewitched, transfixed by the fact that Samantha Stevens could clean her entire house simply by wiggling her nose like a bunny right before Darren arrived home from the office. I tried this technique on my bedroom several times, but eventually my mother’s nagging would interfere with the spell and I’d have to pick up my toys manually. I have a friend who visualizes everything and she swears that she’s acquired all that she has by doing so—her house, her husband, her career, her dog, her really cool woodstove. Whatever she wants she envisions, and soon it’s hers. I saw another friend do it to nab a front row parking space at Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon and that miracle convinced me that maybe there was something to it.

I decided to give it a half-hearted whirl before I went to sleep each night. It wasn’t an attempt to attain anything, I just started envisioning the future that I desired. At most, it would help me clarify exactly what it is I want out of this life, and at least, it would help me fall asleep, which I’m happy to report has happened on a number of occasions. I now do this exercise almost every night. It’s more like a little bedtime story than actual visualization.

I dream a house, a sweet little cottage with big windows and lots of light filtering in.  It’s open and airy, and there are no partitions between the kitchen and the living room. The floors are hardwood and the walls are dotted with art. It’s very tidy, and since I never visualize doing actual housework, I assume there must be some little cleaning elves or an invisible housekeeper involved. Each day, I sit in the kitchen at the beautifully tiled island and I write in the sunlight. I write and write and write. In my dream, I’m paid handsomely for doing this—there’s demand for whatever the hell it is I scrawl and I stay busy at it. My faithful, microscopic dog Theo roams around the kitchen and in my dream he has a friend– a big, sweet huggable dog who sits at my feet while I type.

This is a house full of love and creativity. People gather in it to play music and talk about writing and to make art. Joy permeates every room. My children and grandchildren come and hang out often, and there’s a little guest bedroom for anyone who wants to stay. There’s an office in the back somewhere, and sometimes I write there, just for a change of scenery.

I can’t decide where this house is located—some nights it’s near a river in the woods, some nights it’s in town, but it’s always hugged by a huge, Photo: Bob Basset's Kimball Pond Boat Barnpeaceful congregation of trees, which gives a feeling of being out in the sticks, though it may be more suburb than sticky.

In the dream, there is an outbuilding, like an old barn, and a red canoe leans against it, an indication that I spend time during spring and summer floating rivers. Inside that little building are things I can’t see, but I imagine they involve projects pertaining to art.

Just outside the window, I can see purty little wildflowers, and parked on the gravel is a newer model, rather rugged vehicle. It’s hazy, but I think it may be a small SUV. It’s nothing fancy, but in my fantasy I know that it’s extremely well-maintained and reliable. I also have invisible health insurance (which I don’t need because I’m chockablock full of fitness), money to travel and enough of a cash stash to take care of small emergencies or to help my children when they need it.

Here’s the loveliest part. At the end of each day, another vehicle pulls up beside mine. My heart pitty-pats and I stop writing. I go to the door and greet a man. I can’t see his face, but I know it’s a lovely one. He smiles a blurry smile, and I smile back, and we kiss hello. In my visualizationalizing, this is my best friend in the world, and this is the best part of my day. We’re comfortable and happy in each other’s company, and we chat and I make coffee. We sit out on the back deck in Adirondack chairs and sip caffeine and look at the trees and the sky as the sun goes down. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we’re silent, sometimes we reach across those chairs and hold hands.

It’s a simple, beautiful life and a really swell dream. I’ve been running it through my head for about a year now, and it’s become a pretty part of sleepytime. I’ve come to believe that this evening ritual is good for me. I remember that as a child, I was raised to believe that asking God for anything for yourself was selfish and sinful. Prayers were for other people. So, I always prayed for others, and the most I requested for myself was that Mr. Yahweh would make me a better person. Visualizing this stuff makes me consider what I want, and that’s revolutionary for me. Still, the skeptical part of my brain abhors anything new-agey, and the grain of salt I’ve been doing this with is the size of a boulder.

Moonbeam and AmadeusMonths and months ago, I was sitting on the sofa with my roommate, Amadeus, who by that time had graduated to boyfriend status. He softly strummed his guitar as I piddled on my laptop. Theo the Wonderdog® sat between us, because while small and gentle, he’s emotionally needy and he likes to wedge.  Anyway, as we sat there, doing nearly nothing, I became aware of how happy I felt, of how gently pleasant life had become. It was a gradual, subtle change that had moved in so softly that I hadn’t really noticed. I felt a sudden surge of gratitude. I was living in a creative environment with a person who understood my wacky ways. There were always musicians stopping by, we socialized with crazy, artistic types; I made bad art and wrote for a living, and I cohabited with a classically trained musician who played rock and roll on weekends and wrote songs at night. He was endlessly interesting and infinitely sweet, and I adored him. It struck me that Amadeus was the blurry man in my dream. Several months later, we married.

We live in a condo, not a cottage. There’s no kitchen island, no big windows, no deck. My piece of shite 2001 Kia Sportage sits unmoving in the carport, waiting for a master cylinder. I do have insurance now, thanks to my husband. I’ve been hanging some art on our walls and there are friends who come over and play music. Our front door is still firmly on its hinges—no one’s beaten it down for my writing talents. Theo has no big furry roommate, but Amadeus and I go to parties at the homes of other dogs and he’s always invited. We have no canoe, but an acquaintance of ours has two, and last weekend he issued an invitation for us to float the Buffalo with him anytime we were ready to go. There are no Adirondack chairs and few trees, but each afternoon a car pulls into the driveway and my heart goes pitty pat and I go to the door and greet my best friend. At night, we sit on our big comfy couch and sip coffee. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we’re silent, sometimes we reach across the cushions and hold hands. No matter how hard times are, or how down we feel, there’s always an underlying foundation of happiness. It feels strange and foreign and so different from my past relationships that I’m often overcome by the wonder of it all. There’s definitely some sort of law of attraction working between my husband and me.

I’m not sure if I manifested this any of this via creative visualization, but for the time being, I’m going to keep dreaming my dream. It may not change anything for the better, but it sure can’t hurt. And if at some point I grow bored with the process, I may just start wiggling my nose.