Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Box of Valentines

On her wedding day, she took her father to breakfast at his favorite restaurant. They sat at his usual table where he could watch his breakfast friends come and go and ordered coffee.

“Daddy,” she started.

“Uh oh. You only call me Daddy when you want something these days,” he said with a smile.

Her eyes crinkled as she grinned and looked down before continuing, “No, I want to tell you something. Do you remember giving me a box of paper hearts on Valentine’s Day in kindergarten?” He nodded. “You told me to give them to all the people in my life I loved, but to always keep one in there for myself and never let that one go.”

“I remember.”

“I gave one to Davey Lucas that day. He took it and ran to the other side of the playground. I cried to Mom all afternoon after she picked me up about how nobody would ever love me.”

“You did have a flair for the dramatic back then.”

“Some say I still do,” she said. “I didn’t give another one out until third grade to a little boy who had the softest, brownest eyes I have ever seen. He took it and carried it in his math book the rest of the year. His family moved away over the summer and now, I can’t even remember his name.”

“It was Jefferson Hallman,” he said quickly.

‘I guess you were paying attention.”

“More than you will know. One day, you’ll understand.”

“In fourth and fifth grade, I had my first little boyfriend, Murphy Davis. You called him Murph the Smurf because he was so short.”

“He got tall though didn’t he? Made all-state in basketball as a senior.”

“Yes, he did. I gave him three in fifth grade. I think I even wrote my name on one with Davis as my last name. He was a little too young to be freaked out about that.

 I became free with those hearts in Middle School. I gave one to Steve Jones every year anonymously. I gave one to Layne Harris in sixth grade, one each to Bobby George and Raymond Day in seventh, and another one to Layne in eighth.”

“How many were in that box?”

“Twenty-five and I gave out thirteen by the time I was thirteen. I only gave out four in high school. In ninth grade, I mailed one to Rob Thomas of a band named Matchbox Twenty.”

“I know who he is. I didn’t stop listening to music with Led Zeppelin you know.”

She smiled again and continued, “I gave two to Steve when we were actually dating in tenth and eleventh grade. In twelfth, I gave one to my Prom date, Toby Carey. I didn’t really like him at the time, but he was so sweet in asking me, and tried so hard to make it a special night. He got his brother to buy a bottle of champagne and we drank a few sips of it in the driveway when he dropped me off. It wasn’t what we expected and neither of us finished our glass, though we both pretended to be sophisticated and like it. He was so freaked out about drinking it, he pushed his car down the street and slept in it because he thought those few sips might make him too drunk to drive.”

“Sounds like a responsible, if slightly obsessive young man to me. I knew I didn’t hate him for a reason.”

“You never hated any of my boyfriends, Daddy.”

“Only because you picked good ones, sweet pea.”

“Well, I didn’t always do that in college. I dated that jerk as a freshman and ended up giving him two hearts, one on Valentines and one on the night we . . .” she paused for a few beats.

“Never mind,” he said.

She blushed a bit, remembering that awkward encounter and aftermath. “Marcus got one each in sophomore and junior year and he deserved them. He was a really nice guy. I thought I was going to marry him and we even talked about it. The summer before Senior year, he went on a summer program and fell in love with a job and another woman. That was the first time I think my heart broke. I called you and we talked for two hours. When I woke up in the morning, you were in the parking lot at the dorm and took me to breakfast.”

“I hate Marcus a little bit for that. That was a five hour drive.”

“You shouldn’t. He’s happy and has beautiful children and a wonderful Wife. They’ll be there today. Plus, you’ll drive five hours for good BBQ.”

“I won’t punch him them. “

“I think all my boyfriends were a little afraid you would punch them. You had a way of looking and speaking to them that kept them in line.”

“Just doing my job. How many hearts are we up to now?”

“Twenty-one, and I guarded those last four. In fact, I’ve only given out one in the last five years to Susan’s little boy when he had to go into the hospital. I always knew I was going to keep that last heart for me because you taught me that. I know that if I don’t love myself, no one else ever will be able to.

“Well, you are easy to love.”

“Well thanks,” she said shyly, “but, you also showed me how to be honest with myself. I saw how you handled the things you went through with life. I wonder if I will be able to be as graceful and honest with myself as you were.”

“I don’t know which Daddy you were watching. I’ve had a lot of struggles and fought myself a good bit over the years.”

“Oh, I’m sure, but you seemed to always have time to spend with us and to not let outside things affect how you dealt with us. That’s what I’ve learned from you most of all; When you care for your family, all other issues pale in importance.”

He sat silently for a moment. His eyes glistened as he cleared his throat. “You will find out what is important. You will think you know, and then you will have children. You will think you know then. Then one day, one will get in trouble and you’ll have to face the reality that they aren’t the perfect beings they looked like when they came out. But then, you'll realize you love them even more and how much more important it is for you to love them even as they grow up and move away from you. Hopefully, one day, you’ll get taken to breakfast by your son or daughter and they’ll give you the best present you’ve had since the day they were born. You were a gift to me and your Mother. We treated you the best we knew how. I would like to say it’s what caused you to turn into the lady you are today, but, the truth is, you made yourself into this. We helped, but you got to this point and I could not be prouder of you.”

It was her turn to stifle a tear. It worked for a moment. “Daddy, I am going to give Thomas a heart today after the wedding. I hope he holds onto it forever. I am going to keep the last two in the box and never give them away.”

“You should give one to your first child. You do plan on having kids don’t you?”

“I am sure we will one day, but that last heart is for you. Every time I look in there, I will be reminded of what you said when I was five years old and how you taught me all these years.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small package. “I want you to take these and give them out. You can give them to your grandkids if you want.”

She slid a box across the table. “25 Valentine Hearts,” it read. The wrapper was open and he pulled out the stack. On top, the first one had been written on, “My heart will always belong to you. Thank you for helping make it big enough to share. Love Forever.  Your Daughter.”

He reached for his coffee, but didn’t take a drink. Finally, he looked up and said, “Thomas is one lucky SOB.”

She smiled and drank from her cup.


bastinptc said...

Simply lovely.

23skidoo said...

No, really...I just got something stuck in my eye.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

That is seriously great, Wes.