Jake and I have now spent 14 Valentine’s Days together, and I remember exactly two of them.
My first memory is of our only Valentine’s Day engaged in which we spent the holiday together at a pot show. We drove thirty minutes and then sat for an hour in a hotel meeting room while a salesman tried to sell us the most expensive and classiest pot around—a full set of greaseless, waterless cookware.
A couple of college kids, we were always on the lookout for free stuff, and this event (using that term loosely given that there were only about 10 people in attendance) promised free food and a chance to win a free vacation which, to Jake and me, sounded like free dinner and a potential free honeymoon. It seemed like a win-win at the time.
Dinner turned out to be a single chicken breast which—amazingly—was cooked without grease or oil. It was then cut up into small pieces and we each got to sample one single bite. When we found out you had to buy something in order to be entered for a chance at the free vacation, we officially called the evening a bust, but as we tried to sneak out the back, the salesman cut us off and offered a final pitch.
“You’ll never have to buy another set of pots and pans for your entire life,” he told us after some small talk that let us know he was truly invested in our lives. “You’ll be starting your marriage with something that will last forever.”
Jake and I didn’t even have $2,000 (I told you—classy pots) combined at that point and certainly wouldn’t have spent the money on cookware even if we did. Jake though, ever the negotiator, couldn’t resist an offer. He picked up the smallest pot. “l’ll buy this one for $40,” he said.
“I can’t just sell you one pot,” the salesman said. “You have to buy the entire set.” He then went on to tell us about the importance of good pots and pans and how much he really believed in this product. “I got into this business to help people,” he said.
Jake, completely unswayed, countered back: “If you want to help people, then why can’t you just sell me this one pot?” he asked.
“I can’t cut you that big a deal,” the salesman said. “And even if I did, you couldn’t fully appreciate it because you didn’t earn it yourself.” With that, we left—empty handed and hungry.
Thirty minutes later, we sat eating burgers and endless french fries at Red Robin, while we talked and laughed about all the unearned things in our lives which we felt as though we really did appreciate.
My second Valentine’s Day memory is one year later and seven months after Jake and I were married.
I had decided to institute a new holiday tradition (note: this lasted two years) in which every Valentine’s Day we would find a new recipe and cook a nice meal together. I pulled out my fanciest cookbook (Thanks, Rachael Ray!), and together we boiled pasta, roasted vegetables, and baked chicken in our small apartment kitchen. I don’t remember many specifics other than this: We burst roasted cherry tomatoes for the sauce and discussed our gratitude for the cheap teflon cookware we had been gifted for our wedding.
At some point during this prep-work, Jake’s best friend called to see what we were up to, so we invited him over. Together, we sat down to eat our homemade dinner and then, because those were the leave-the-house-whenever-you-want-to years, we decided to see a movie.
That’s it. That’s all I remember.
There are 12 more Valentine’s Days of lost memories and forgotten experiences in addition to these two semi-vague recollections. I legitimately cannot even tell you what we did last year on this day. The specifics are gone—purged from my mind forever.
I have so many other memories though.
For instance, ten years ago, in the middle of the week and nowhere near Valentine’s Day, I found a post-it note hidden in the middle of a loaf of bread in our cupboard. Jake had put it there a few days earlier before he traveled overseas for ten days. I found a dozen more post-it notes in various places around our house while he was gone—reminders that he had been thinking about me before he left and missed me each day after.
A little less than seven years ago and right after Lily was born, Jake took a break from studying for his medical school boards to eat dinner with us. As soon as he walked in the door, I burst into tears—the delirious cries of a new mom who had no clue what she was feeling. That night (and a bunch of other nights), Jake neglected his books without pause and stayed with me longer than he should have, so he could hold Lily in his arms and me in his presence.
A few weeks ago, Jake woke up in the afternoon after a night shift and came downstairs to a half-cooked dinner and a kitchen filled with whining children. He took the wooden spoon out of my hand and told me to go eat dinner by myself somewhere “for self-preservation.” A few days ago, I caught him taking a picture of me inside Petco while I looked at a wall of fish tanks with the kids—an unspoken response to me mentioning that I wanted to be in more family pictures. Just yesterday, he opted to stay home instead of leaving to play basketball, so we could sit in our living room next to the fire after the kids went to bed.
I don’t remember much about Valentine’s Day, but I am filled with vivid memories like these—small moments in time which remind me that love requires no pomp, circumstance, or nationally recognized holiday. Generous and sacrificial love is found in the simple and ordinary moments too, and this is the kind of love I am most thankful for every day. It is not loud or flashy, but it’s steady. It’s familiar. And, better yet, it’s given even though I have done nothing to earn it which (and I say this resolutely) makes me appreciate it even more.
I’m tempted to regret those 12 lost memories—to wish I had better documented or kept a more thorough record of all the official holidays we have spent together. But, Valentine’s Day isn’t all we have, and, thankfully, the Mondays and the Thursdays and the Sunday afternoons have all been worth remembering too.