One of the great flaws of womankind is that she (well, me) is ruled by expectation.
We are set up from a very young age by fairy tales, movies, and our girlfriends.
We run in packs from childhood and are influenced by our girlfriends on how all things romantic should be.
That “should be” is where the problem is. I spent my whole life waiting for My White Knight (as in Broadway’s The Music Man). When he arrived I had a whole set of expectations sprinkled on me by Tinkerbell’s Magic Wand.
Damned if he didn’t want to sit somewhere in a cottage with me in the State of Iowa (well, Indiana) and I would like him to be more interested in me than in himself and more interested in us than in me. And if occasionally he should ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great, him I could love ’til I die. Him I could love ’til I die.
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the most romantic day of the year, according to fairy tales, movies, and the greatest reference source of all: my galpals.
Herman and I started dating in late 1982. He moved to Florida to be with me.
Life was difficult for him at that time. In the previous six months, he lost his job as a newspaper reporter and his parents were in a terrible car accident. His father died at the scene and his mother suffered injuries that left her handicapped for the rest of her life. Several teenagers in another car were killed. His mother moved in with his brother, and Herman’s childhood home was sold. Which left him homeless, so he also moved in with his brother.
As Cleopatra, Queen of Denial, I expected our first Valentine’s Day as a couple would be unbelievably romantic and sublime. At twenty-five I was still extremely immature, and living with my head in a far-off Broadway musical.
Herman had a temporary job in purchasing at the hospital where I worked, and money was a real issue for him. These two realities clashed head on. I don’t come out looking very good in this.
Herman bought me an ankle bracelet with little tiny hearts all around a gold chain. It was lovely, though as a “chubette” (this is a Sally Swift term that I just love) it probably wouldn’t have been my choice or style.
I gave him a book and a card. I also gave him hell about giving me an ankle bracelet. (Why he didn’t break up with me I have no idea…) This did not make for a very pleasant evening.
I also learned later, after I made my unhappiness clear to him about the ankle bracelet, that it was his father’s birthday. This was his father’s first birthday after his death only three months before.
I know, you want to quit reading because you cannot believe what a horrible bitch I was. I agree.
To start a new tradition the next fall I made a huge deal for Sweetest Day, a made-up, contrived Hallmark holiday each autumn.
Check it out: yes, there are cards and gifts and all the usual stuff.
While we exchange cards for Valentine’s Day, our tradition is better expressed on Sweetest Day. For weeks before the big day, we will say to each other many times a day, “You are the sweetest” with the answer, “No, you are the sweetest.”
We leave each other notes, and of course there is the requisite cake.
Today my father-in-law would be ninety-two years old if he were still alive. I am so sorry that I never knew him or that his grandson never knew him. But mostly I’m sorry I was awful to Herman on that first Valentine’s Day, and somehow, somewhere I hope his father knows the man that his youngest son became, because he is indeed a treasure, and my White Knight.
Published February 14, 2014 (as Bernadine Spitzsnogel) on Open Salon. Herman Spitzsnogel, Sr. is her husband. After writing this story, Bernadine dug into the bottom of a box with a tangle of necklaces and found the ankle bracelet. Looking at it with a magnifying glass, she saw the stamp that said, “14K” which makes her feel worse and happy at the same time.