Southwords

Be My Valentine ‒ for Life

You may get a good laugh out of it

By Susan S. Kelly

I don’t know how you’re spending Valentine’s Day, but if you’re feeling blue, hie yourself to the Harris Teeter around 5 p.m. and hang out around the flower counter. Just watching the clerks pumping out last-minute arrangements for all those lost men scrambling to purchase posies is bound to make you laugh. If that fails, call a single friend to regale you with fun facts about dating after 40. A favorite is my pal who has a “guillotine realization” for blind dates. As in, “He was wearing a necklace.” Chop. Another has a Jesus clause in her marriage: If he ever gets religion, she’s excused. And for those of you eyeing that 10-years-younger mate, remember this: You’ll have to take on all their 10-years-younger enthusiasms too, for organic food and exhaustively researching kindergartens. Ugh. Makes reaching the point in a marriage where you get up every morning, ask each other how you slept, and actually answer each other seem far preferable.

Valentine’s is an industry now, but then so are weddings, and if you don’t believe me, ask my friend who went around at his daughter’s reception offering $20 bills to people if they’d just go home. Now, even “the ask” is elaborately planned for some mountain top or sunset beach scenario. As opposed to, say, the way my husband asked me to marry him, in the parking lot of the SAE house, where we’d gone with the rest of a frat friend’s reception carousers because we’d broken every glass at Hope Valley Country Club in Durham. It just doesn’t get any more romantic than that, unless you count my son’s friend who let everyone know he’d gotten engaged by sending a mass email with “Man Overboard” in the subject line. My husband and I — well, OK, my mother — set my wedding date depending not on weather or venue availability, but by asking the folks at Tiffany’s how long it would take to get the invitations printed and counting backward from there. My sister was so jealous of my getting married. She said, “Just think. Now you can do anything to your hair and he still has to love you.”

And then, happily ever after. Or as my other sister put it, “I’ve loved him ever since he had that awful The Price Is Right furniture.” Forty years on, I’m still wondering if I get marital points for putting on mascara for my husband just for dinner. But I gave up on wishing for a What Now? day many anniversaries ago. A What Now? day is a Saturday when your husband just follows you around all day and says, “What needs doing now?” Although I once read the lips of a new bride dancing that first dance with her new husband. “Turn me now,” she instructed him. Wonder how that’s going.

Ah, the nuptial valleys and peaks. Not the toothpaste caps, or shirts put inside out in the laundry basket, rather, the day my father came home for lunch, as he did every day, and it wasn’t ready.  “What have you been doing all morning?” he asked my mother. For the first and last time, I bet. Or my sister, who once proclaimed, “All we talk about are calendars.” Yes, at one stage, marital conversation gets pared down to timetables.

And while toothpaste tops may be a cliché, the bathroom does seem to be the locale for many a Grrr moment. Take this direct quote from an email: “This amazes me. We’ve had the rug on our bathroom floor for 10 years. D (name withheld to protect the guilty) steps on it when he gets out of the shower, stands on it while brushing his teeth, ponders on it while on the commode. Today when I asked him to bring the rug up from the dryer, he asked what bathroom it belonged in.”

Still, the bathroom moment I recall most fondly took place not in a bathroom, but in an aisle at Lowe’s. It’s a weeknight in a nearly vacant, fluorescently lit, concrete-floored, utterly charmless big box store. My husband and I are debating a new shower door for a bathroom renovation. Most decisions are easy: a towel bar on the outside, a grab bar on the inside. Small house and aging issues we’re used to, and don’t even blink.

We look at those doors a long time, slide them back and forth, compare, dither.  I’m leaning toward the clear, see-through panel — contemporary, clean, trendy — and a significant departure from our old frosted one. My husband nods, thinks, and finally says, “You know, I just don’t think I can go there.” 

I laugh. “Who do you think is going to be looking at us besides each other?”

He laughs too, then, admitting to an idiotic objection, after 28 years. Never mind that both of us had nine years of two to four roommates before we got married, and have experienced countless shared-bathrooms oops moments on family vacations.

But then, I lift my shoulders and say, “You know, I can’t go there, either.”

And there, in the middle of Lowe’s, on a weekday evening, under fluorescent lights, the pair of us double over, giggling at our ridiculous, bogus-modest, long-married selves. If that ain’t the essence of romance, I don’t know what is.

And they’ve lived happily ever after. With the clear shower door.  PS

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud grandmother.

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