I never know what to get her. It’s not that she’s hard to shop for, it’s just that most things seem too practical or too sentimental. Sentimental was fine when we were young and in love and nothing else seemed to matter. Practical is good, twenty years later with three kids and a dog running around, but it doesn’t really do what I need it to do, doesn’t say what I want it to say.
This weekend is Valentine’s Day. Monday is my wife’s birthday. The double-whammy of expectation and desire, of wanting to do the right thing and wanting to be sure she knows just how much she is loved, is appreciated, feels everything I feel for her every day. This post, as much as it will embarrass her, as mad is she might get seeing me write about her here, is the best way I can think of to tell her all those things. It is a Valentine’s Day card and a message inscribed on the back of a ring. It is my gift to my wife, Rebecca.
We were young back then. Really young. We were closer to our kids’ ages than to our own. I was young and wounded. I’d been in the hospital just a week before having suffered more pain than I have since. I needed to get out, to get back to school. I pulled on sweatpants and hobbled in through the door near the music room. I kept my eyes down until I didn’t, until I looked up and saw you there. True, I probably had seen you before, but this time was different. You stopped me in my tracks. You took my breath away. I knew right then, in that moment, that you were special. I was drawn to you.
That was November. It would be May before I knew – that we had a chance and that you felt something too. Twenty years ago. High school. It feels like a million years ago and just this afternoon. College, graduation, the time I lived in Virginia and you were in Cleveland. We’ll always have Maine and that mountain and that moment in the middle of the night at L.L. Bean. I’ll never forget that moment, when the doors at the back of St. Joseph opened and you stepped through.
It was like seeing you all over again for the very first time.
Our first apartment, the one upstairs with the fireplace we never used. Our jobs. Those long days we spent in bed watching The West Wing and Felicity. Then there was the night I came home from covering a city council meeting and you had a secret. I knew what was on your mind, even if you didn’t think I could.
Our second apartment. Another job. Dylan on the way. Times got tough. I got laid off and was overwhelmed and shamed. You rubbed my back, when I didn’t deserve it, and told me it would be okay. You told me you believed in me. You fought through. You held it together. You held me together. You kept us from falling apart.
Things got a little better. I wrote a book and then another and another. We went to Disney World and you were sick the whole ride home. You had Molly to thank for that. She wasn’t even born and already changed our lives. The day we decided you could stay home, to be with the kids. The days I woke up determined to pay you back, for all you’d done. You deserved to have a choice.
Things kept getting better. Your new car. Vacations with friends. That Saturday we woke up and bought a house. It was a good thing we didn’t have much else to do. And every day since, every single day. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. You may not always like me, but I know you always love me. You always have.
I’ve been thinking about what to get you for your birthday, for Valentine’s Day and I realize there’s nothing I could ever buy that would come close to doing what I feel for you justice. There’s nothing I could ever find in a store that would come close to being thank you. There’s nothing I could ever write that could tell you just how much you mean to me and how much I love you.
Rebecca, I know this will embarrass you. I know you’re going to punch me in the arm and roll your eyes. I know that you’ll tell me how much you hate it when I write about you and our life. But I can’t help it. Without you, I have nothing worth writing about. Without you, I may never have written at all.
Thank you for loving me. Thank you for our kids. Thank you for our life together – for laughing with me when something is fun, for laughing at me when I’m being dumb. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for being the rock on which my life is built.
Happy Valentine’s Day love. Happy Birthday. Twenty years and three months after the moment I laid eyes on you and saw you in a whole new way, you are still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
And I love you more, just a little, every single day.