Not a romantic story
I was counting down the days to Valentine’s Day and hoping that inspiration would strike early enough to procure that one perfect, thoughtful gift that’s not too cliche (like flowers unless it’s the calla that he claims is his favourite flower and which I bought the year I was away in Perth for Valentine’s, only to find out he let it die), not too extreme (like the Rolex DEEPSEA Sea-Dweller he absolutely wants but which neither of us can afford, not even on credit), and not too casual (like a keychain. Or a notebook. Or a pair of socks. Or underwear)…
… and stopped to wonder if it’s a bad sign that I need to work this hard to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my husband.
The first Valentine’s I celebrated with my last boyfriend, he had assumed I must want flowers like every other girl. So he did the incredibly typical — he bought me a bouquet of red roses, paid premium for it too (having bought them on V-Day itself)… and presented it to me awkwardly in a white grocery bag where he had stuffed the flowers.
Alas, he too, was embarrassed by succumbing to the common practice of buying flowers on Valentine’s Day.
Not as embarrassed as me though, especially when he plucked the bouquet out to show me his token of love.
“Put it back!” I had laughed. Oh no, no way am I going to be seen parading around with a bouquet for public display on this day. Any other day, it’s fine but not on February 14th.
An ex used to buy me flowers for any random occasion, and I had loved it. I loved it each time he showed up cradling a bouquet in his arms, loved it when the delivery guy surprised me with flowers he had ordered from when he was overseas, loved it when even after we broke up, the flowers arrived year after year but only on my birthday from then on.
But this. This bouquet of red roses on Valentine’s Day, I slid back into the bag. Awkwardly, laughingly, embarrassedly, decidedly.
I wondered then: Is it a bad sign that I didn’t regard that gift the way I used to over other presented bouquets?
We didn’t even have a song.
The first Valentine’s Day I celebrated with my husband as a married couple had been at the neighbourhood MacDonald’s.
We ordered our extra value meals, sat by the window, watched younger couples free-falling into each other’s eyes and smiles, sighs and uttered sweet-nothings, and practically feeding each other across the table. We judged them, envied them, and secretly wondered if there was something wrong with us.
“It’s not like we don’t already celebrate with a good meal every other day,” my husband had justified out loud.
“Exactly,” I agreed. As a freshly minted married couple who had no kids yet and very small commitments to pay for, fancy dinners were just another day of the week back then.
I wiped my hand, pulled out my iPhone3 and said, “Let’s take a pic.”
There, proof that we did celebrate Valentine’s Day and on our own terms and with our own preferences too — no flowers, no jewellery, no fine dining. But there were extra fries, a McFlurry and an ice cream cone on top of the meals. No holding back for Valentine’s Day.
I thought about all the flowers that used to come my way on this day and specifically of the flowers that came in a white grocery bag.
I wondered then, if it was a bad sign that we treated the day of love as casually as we did.
I was a romantic. Still am one at heart. Love may no longer be about heart-shaped anythings and letters of love (who has time for these?), not about dramatic relationships (who has the energy for these?) and most definitely not about falling in love or into heartbreak (who has enough sanity left for these?), but it ought to still be about the small things at least.
Or so I hear.
At the back of my mind, I wonder how we got through ten years of marriage and not one single memorable Valentine’s Day. And did we care?
Is it a bad sign that we still don’t have a song?
Instant noodles’ always gourmet style when prepared by the husband.
“Food’s ready,” the husband calls from the kitchen. I hear the sound of his flame-thrower sizzling. That means there’ll be seared ham to accompany my supper.
“Hang on, I’m still watching ‘Nightflyers’ and I’m too scared to eat,” I whisper, clutching at a cushion.
He laughs, the sizzling stops and he carries a bowl of instant noodles out, placing it on the coffeetable. “Bon apetit.”
I hit pause. “Where’s yours?”
“I’m not hungry. Happy Valentine’s Day?” he grins.
“You made this just for me?”
“Who else will I go to all this trouble for?” He sprinkles cut up slices of my favourite chilli padi into the bowl. “Now can I go back to my reading?” he asks, already immersing himself back in his latest sci-fi read on his phone.
I used to chase comets. To imagine its fiery trailblazing across the dark sky, its passion in following its destiny and its single-mindedness and valour in not considering how it squanders its energy — all that matters is that it burns along its chosen path.
Now I chase stardust. To imagine the many pieces of ourselves scattered across the universe, lighting up in tiny, fragmented specks our hopes and wishes, making whole worlds come alive with the single power of belief — all that matters is how we sustain ourselves burning in our dedicated space, beacons of fixed points for larger stories to unfold in place in the cosmos.
“But where’s my present?” he suddenly demands.
I think for a moment and walk to the kitchen to pull out an empty white supermarket grocery bag. “Here. For the flowers tomorrow.”
He groans. “Flowers, really?”
I think back again to all the flowers that used to come my way, and again, specifically of the horrendous bouquet of red roses from the last boyfriend I ever had.
“Yes, really. You can bring them home in the bag.” I grin.
“If I had known this was going to be our legacy, I never would’ve carried them in this ugly thing in the first place…”
“It’s our thing. Flowers in a bag.”
“Oh, just shut up and eat your noodles. I’ll wash up when you’re done.”
I lift my head and kiss him. He looks at me with a strange smile. After nine years, I still don’t always know what his looks mean.
Somewhere in the made-up science fiction that I watch and he reads burns a mysterious fire that maybe we’re only meant to glimpse, imagine, but never comprehend in entirety; each speck of stardust a faithful and constant companion, never leaving us behind in its wake like a comet does.
And if we lift up our heads toward its pulsating light, every now and then, we touch love.
We may still not have a song, but well, we’ve got flowers in a bag.
Based on a true story where the last boyfriend I ever had presented me with flowers hidden in a grocery bag. As far as Valentine’s Day goes, that was the most memorable, even after ten years of marriage to this same guy. Happy Valentine’s Day ~ may you all win it on our behalf.
This story was first published on P.S. I Love You.