I may never forget the first Valentine’s Day after my husband died. He and I never really made a huge deal out of the holiday. It was just another reason to be glad we had found each other, in a sea of other people. But after he was gone, Valentine’s Day was glaringly noticeable. When hedonistic love is everywhere on display, pervading each and every one of the senses, it seems so garish and offensive to those whose lives are perpetually bleak.
Although he had only been gone a couple months, and I was still in shock, I was back at work as the office manager of a company in Manhattan. As such, it was my duty to plan, shop for, decorate for, invite, and throw a party for the office. My (either callous or completely tone-deaf) boss asked me to research online, submit cost proposals, buy candy and decorations and use them to decorate the office. She had gotten married only a few months before me and was on Cloud 9 that particular Valentine’s Day. To my knowledge, it was the first time that holiday had ever been celebrated it in the office, in the history of the company.
While I could still hardly feel my legs, I stood on a chair and hung up stupid red paper decorations. The boss also asked me to go to a large grocery store chain and order a company-sized custom desert, and pick it up, too. When I picked it up, I recall there were a slew of love songs playing that I had used to like. As I was leaving, my knees gave out and I nearly folded over onto the cake, in the foyer of the supermarket. Everything in my bag spilled out and rolled across the floor, and people continued about their way, stepping around me and my stuff. Back at the office, I cut the cake, I served it, just as I had done a few months ago, at our wedding. I played the stupid games I had found online. I smiled, and combusted only internally.
Then, someone came around with a bag of large conversation hearts. You know the ones. They say “call me” or “you’re cute” or “kiss me.” When it was my turn, I grimaced and politely stuck my hand in the bag. I pulled out “Miss you.”
I raced into a stall in the bathroom, and stifled my sobs as hard as I could. I remember there was a temp in there washing her hands, who addressed me with a flat tone. “Guy trouble?” I couldn’t answer her. “I broke up with mine, too. We’re better off without those assholes!” And she walked out.
I went back to my desk with the conversation heart in my fist, set it on a post-it note, and stared at it. After a while I traced it with a pen, and wrote below it, “i miss you too.” I still have both the heart and the post-it, these years later.
When I went home, I discovered that a friend of mine had been obsessively trying to reach me. Although she had gotten married the same month as me, and should also be on Cloud 9, she said that her new husband had to work, and so she wanted to go have a drink, just she and I, because screw Valentine’s Day. I had actually planned to go get some non-holiday pasta with other female friends, but she would not take no for an answer, and so I had to cancel my original plans, with apologies.
I was late to everything those days, and when I showed up at the bar to meet my friend to boycott Valentine’s Day, there was her husband, smiling and raising his arms to hug me. He had gotten out of his work requirements to spend the evening with his sweetie… and… me. They had just returned from their honeymoon, and they spent the entire night talking about it. They talked about losing a wedding band while scuba diving in the tropics, and how she had had a panic attack (she had been having them a lot since she lost my husband) and so her husband held her all night. They talked about the evidence of god watching out for us, when the lost wedding band was recovered.
In case it isn’t obvious now – it apparently was not, then – I wanted to point out how nice it must have been to have a not-dead husband in time for the honey moon I didn’t get, what a blessing that anybody in the world was there when she had her panic attacks, most of all her husband – that I was cold, that I was broke, there was no sun or surf or husband or wedding bands going on for me this Valentine’s Day. There was no one around at all when I had my panic attacks. When I had one in the bathroom at work that day, someone had called my husband an asshole! Most of all I was vehemently resolved that there could be no such thing as a god that intervenes – because if there was, I was going to march straight up to his stained arm chair, punch him in the throat with all my strength, and demand that he check into rehab. People needed him. I needed him. My husband, who was the best evidence of god that I had ever seen – needed him. The whole world was crumbling away into an abyss, and we needed him.
I didn’t say anything, though. I just tossed a few whiskeys over the flames in the pit of my stomach.
Years have passed. My life is as different and as blessed now as it could be, in every major way. I never saw it coming, and would not have believed it in a hundred years, even if future me had appeared to tell present day me. I may not have believed it, in fact, even if god himself had showed up. In fact, I was in such a dark place that I may not have even cared that better days were coming.
(Theories on where all of those blessings came from must be addressed in a different post though, or we’ll be here all day. And you’ve got chocolate to eat. Or whiskeys to pound, you do you.)
I’m telling you all this because I wish someone had told all those blissful ignoramuses in my life then to please be a little more empathetic. Not everyone is happy on the holidays, and although they don’t want to spoil your happiness, they don’t want to be dragged face-first through it, either. Even people who you may automatically assume are happy may be going through a divorce, or struggling with depression or painful experiences. Please consider others as much as you can. The world needs even more love on holidays; even on days like this that are literally devoted to love. Let everyone know how much you care about them. Ask about them. Be happy, but be considerate. Everyone will appreciate that.