When Carolyn had told me that she’d never been taken out for Valentine’s Day nor had even received roses or a card, I realized there was little I actually had to do for her to please her. That’s when I decided I’d try to give her a Valentine’s Day she’d never forget. There were roses and a card in the kitchen when she walked in for coffee that morning. There was a stretch limo on order to take us to and from the restaurant that evening. ("Madameoiselle, your chariot awaits," I had regally announced.) And finally there was me, decked out in suit and tie, which I only wore if someone had died or was getting married. I don’t know what she’d actually thought of all this pomp and circumstance that first year; she never stopped giggling like a besmittened schoolgirl long enough to tell me.
Over the almost six years we had together, the one special day we had celebrated together the most was Valentine’s. We had five Thanksgivings and Christmasses, four Easters and birthdays and three wedding anniversaries. But we had six Valentine’s Days. That seems fitting somehow, if not downright poetic.
Not knowing it was our last, we celebrated the sixth the way we had celebrated the other five: staring dreamily into each other’s eyes, clasping each other’s hands across the white clothed table, while Carolyn regaled the wait staff in the story of our magical and miraculous Second Act.
So it is no surprise that I find myself on the eve of what would have been our seventh Valentine’s Day aboard Amtrak’s 505 Cascade to Portlandia. I’ll spend this Valentine’s Day at Powell’s City of Books and the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Not at all the romantic day I would have had in mind had Carolyn still been here, but not a bad choice for someone whose romantic impulses before Carolyn tended toward the totally nerdish.
But I’m beginning to realize, as I can see the first anniversary of Carolyn’s death looming as the new numerical accumulation, that I will have to continue to find other directions and experiences for the romantic impulses I used to bestow on Carolyn, as if she’d always be here to receive them. I just can’t give them up just because she’s no longer with me, and I do not have any illusions about finding someone else to bestow them upon, so it looks like it’s coming down to trains and books.
Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I can stare as dreamily out a train window on a bright cloudless day and lose myself, just as I used to stare into Carolyn’s cerulean blue eyes and lose myself in them. I can hold a wonderful book by Paul Theroux, Peter Mayle or Colin Dexter, and feel that tactile transfer of grace I used to feel when Carolyn and I held hands.
All right,of course I can’t; who am I kidding? But this is my first Valentine’s without her. And this is the best I can do.