Valentine’s Day was never a special holiday in our marriage. Instead, it was the day after that held all the magic. The day the Whitman’s Sampler dropped to 50% off at the Walgreens down the street. That day, Rob ran out and grabbed me the biggest box of chocolates he could get under our self-imposed $15 limit. A thirty dollar value! He’d eat all the nut clusters and caramels. I preferred the fruity creams. We were the perfect match. One year, Rob discovered Russell Stover sold a box labeled “Assorted Creams.” That year he bought two discounted boxes — one of creams for me, another of nutty morsels for himself. To borrow a phrase from my childhood, “When cheap, buy lots.”
When I think of Valentine’s Day, I remember that adults-only chocolate. Chocolate tasted silently in the kitchen, our boxes opened carefully to prevent the wrapping from telltale crinkling. Chocolate savored on the couch after begging children had gone to bed. Chocolate enjoyed with black morning coffee for an added touch of sweetness. Chocolate on his breath when I leaned in to kiss him. Every year we made a pact to stretch the candy out, and every year we broke our pact together. Self-control wasn’t our strongest attribute. I won’t tell you how quickly we devoured it.
When I arrived home yesterday, a large brown box sat on my front stoop. Inside it a box of chocolates. For a moment, I thought they were from Rob. I know that may seem silly in its impossibility, but I did. I miss him that much. Sometimes, he feels just a breath away. Instead, a friend had remembered our Valentine’s Day tradition and sent them to me. My first full price box of chocolates in almost 20 years. Sixty-four glorious pieces in all. A preemptive love delivery.
This year, I don’t need self-control to keep me from eating Rob’s fair share. I wish I did. I could probably cultivate that skill a little more. Dead husbands don’t demand their half of the box. I wish I had him as a reason to pace myself. I wish he were here — full stop. I counted on the calendar; and, if I eat a piece a day, I’ll finish the box in mid-April, the week after Easter. He’ll have been gone almost nine months by then. I know Rob would poo poo that choice. No need to mix my holiday candies, he’d say. Orange creams and nut clusters don’t go with Cadbury eggs and jelly beans. Enjoy them now while they are fresh.
I don’t want to figure out how to eat my chocolate without Rob. It seems so small, so trivial. I want to smell his chocolate breath. I want to sneak another piece with him in the kitchen where we’ve hidden our boxes on the top shelf of the pantry. I don’t want to eat my candy without him. I don’t want to do my life without him, holiday or any day.
Today is another first in a difficult year of firsts. My first Valentine’s Day without my husband. However, today I think I’ll be okay. No need to wallow or shed a tear. I’m glad this day doesn’t make me wince. The prices are still too high. Tomorrow, I’ll avoid the drugstore. The aisles of discounted Russell Stovers and Whitman’s Samplers would only make me cry. I’ll stay home and eat one — or maybe two or three — of Rob’s chocolate nut clusters instead. A bittersweet reminder of my love, my Valentine.