Last Valentine’s Day, I was shopping in the card section at Walmart a few days before the 14th. I must have looked at thirty cards; according to many reliable sources, I am picky. It’s a label I’m willing to embrace if it means I’m the type of guy who wants to pick a card that says just the right thing and doesn't cost nine dollars. When did greeting cards become so expensive?
I imagined giving Laurie’s reaction when I gave her something more practical, like a five-dollar box of chocolates with “Love You, Sweetie,” written with a sharpie all over the shrink-wrap. I’d say, “I thought you’d prefer the money spent on sweets.” She’d put her arms around me and kiss me. “You’re the smartest husband in the world,” she’d say. Do I know my wife or what?
As I walked up and down the crowded card section, I noticed that I was surrounded by women. This is a sharp contrast from my shopping experience last year, when I worked a late shift the day before Valentine's. I stopped at Walmart on my way home sometime after midnight, and was surprised to see the card section was full of guys, each of whom held a bouquet of flowers and nervously paced the sparse card selection. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who waited until the last minute.
I saw guys in ties and guys in coveralls. Regardless of class or race, we formed a band of brothers, each of us haunted by the Ghost of Forgotten Valentine’s Past. However, this year, I was an entire week early. This, to me, explained all the women in the card section. As I was looking through the "to her from him" cards, I noticed how so many of cards are apologetic: “I know I don’t tell you often enough…” “I don’t know how I got to be so lucky…” “Sorry this is late…” “For the woman I don’t deserve…” “You’re always so patient with me…” And I couldn’t help but feel a little offended.
Now that I’ve been married long enough to no longer be considered a newlywed, I figure I now have enough credibility to resent the image of husbands that sitcoms portray, specifically that men are bumbling, insensitive idiots? Sure I feel as lucky as the next guy to have a terrific wife, but I don’t feel the need to apologize for anything. Laurie knows how much I love her. Then again, there was that incident the previous week about the chocolates.
Laurie had returned home from grocery shopping at Walmart. She walked in the door, came over to me, and kissed me on the cheek. “I saw the box of chocolates I want you get me for Valentine’s Day,” she sang. “Well, if you were already there, then why didn’t you just buy the stupid things yourself?” A split second before she started crying, I asked myself, “Did you just say that?” It sounded a lot funnier in my mind. And yet I heard the words said in a voice that sounded a lot like mine.
We finished putting the groceries away in silence. Then she retired to our bedroom while I spent the rest of the evening sitting on the couch, half-concentrating on whatever was on TV, and trying to think of a way to justify what I said. But I couldn’t, at least not without feeling like a bumbling, insensitive idiot. I tried to think of how to make it up to her. She’s so good at showing me how much I mean to her. She tells me she loves me with little gifts and little gestures and spending all day cleaning the house because she wants me to come home to a nice house.
I tell her I love her when I pay the utilities bill. Why can't I be creative like her? And now I couldn’t even buy her the box of chocolates because now they’re tainted. Oh God! I thought. Why am I such an idiot! It was sometime the next day that I found myself at Walmart where I made my way straight line to the card section. I weaved in and out of the women perusing the cards they would buy their husbands, along with dainty little treats. I felt their eyes on me and wondered if they thought I was really sensitive, the kind of guy who always remembers to tell his wife how special she is. And for a moment, I allowed myself the fantasy.
That’s right, Ladies, I’m buying my wife’s Valentine’s card a week early because that’s just the kind of guy I am. Then I tried not to be too noticeable when I started looking through the “I’m sorry” cards.