I don’t remember if Kateri was coming home from the restaurant or from the art/artist/fancy store on Church Street, but I remember I was frantically learning origami so that when she came home and walked into the studio… which was above a garage… she walked in to her own little field of flowers… in February.
It was 2002, we had just moved out of the thriving metropolis of Burlington (because trees make better neighbors), and it was our first real Valentine’s Day together as a committed couple. We had met in 1998 and were one of those lucky couples that were friends before we started… you know… doing it. The September before, I was living in Burlington after Kateri and I had driven cross country from Wyoming… where we met. She was painting down south a bit since… well… I needed “my space” and didn’t exactly want to be in a relationship.
That lasted 3 and a half months until we were talking on the phone one evening and she had mentioned she had been hanging out with this guy who was really interesting and cool. (Those weren’t her exact words, but that’s all I’m gonna say about him. Although, he seemed very interesting… from what I heard) At first, I told her that I needed a little time to process the information and to see if I could live in this type of scenario… I couldn’t. It hit me… and it hit me hard. Although we were just really good friends at the time… that also had a little extracurricular fun once in a while… it was at that moment that I knew I didn’t want to live without her… and she was slipping away.
So one evening (who’s kidding, it was the middle of the night… I was a twenty something cook) I sat at the little desk in the room I was renting with a forty of Foster’s, rain was hitting the roof and nose diving to the ground, and I wrote a letter to Kateri professing my love for her. It’s weird thinking about that desk in that room and all the memories that come with it, but none of those are really that important. I knew at that moment that I wasn’t willing to let her slip off into the world and become just another memory of my twenties. I knew I wanted her in my life… I needed her in my life… because she made it better. When I thought of her, images of life… of a wonderful life… filled my mind. When I thought about a wife… when I thought about a family… when I thought of adventures and the mundane… I thought of her. When love hits… it hits hard… and I’m glad I didn’t let it just fall by the wayside.
Long story short, we wanted out of the house, out of Burlington… we wanted our own space to start living our lives together. We had met this kid in Wyoming, who was also a Vermonter, and he mentioned that his father had a home with a studio attached to it above the garage. He made the introductions. It was perfect. It also helped that the giant house the studio/garage was attached to was empty… and on 28 acres. So when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I asked Steve (the dad) if I could use the bathroom in the big house so that Kateri could take a bath (it was a huge bathtub… and anyone who knows Kateri… she loves to take a bath… unless it doesn’t cover her boobs… then she finds that to be annoying… remember?). I got candles, some music, and all that jive. But she was gonna come to the studio first… so I wanted to do something that she would instantly see… like fifty origami tulips. Now, I wish I could say that I chose the origami tulip because I’m a hopeless romantic and there was some epiphany with Valentine’s Day, but it was really only because people give you things like books on origami for Christmas and we had a couple in a corner. So I thought, “Well, that would be kinda cool… and I don’t need to leave!”. So I started folding the bases of the tulips… and then the flower… then put them together and carefully placed them all over the studio to greet her when she came home from work. Side note-when you sorta just wing it, sometimes your origami tulips come with all sorts of colors and patterns.
I know Kateri liked it. I remember she kept one of the tulips for quite a while… it would show up here and there, on this move or that. It made Kateri feel good to be shown affection, to feel wanted, to feel like a woman. Which sounds pretty straight forward, but she was a rugged bitch (her words), too. One of the goals our friend who made our wedding rings had was to make her a ring she could change a tire in… or maybe dig in the dirt… but I’m pretty sure it was a change tire. Kateri loved dressing up… once in a while. Put on the fancy earrings. Heals…. very once in a while. Kateri loved to dig in the dirt, wear overalls… T-shirts with Neil Young on them. She was strong and independent. She was also feminine and liked to be girly here and there. She was absolutely perfect to me… the perfect balance… and I loved it when she had those relaxed, droopy eyes after sitting in a tub long enough that she had to add hot water and move on to Dinah after Etta. Kateri liked romance. And I loved trying to be romantic with her.
As this day has been approaching, I haven’t really had any concerns about what it may bring up. Yes, it’s a little weird, but it’s just one day. Kateri and I loved each other every moment of every day we were both on this earth… together. I know that if she is hanging around somewhere… she is loving me… and I know I will love her until the day comes that I leave this earth. People in love don’t need a holiday to show each other how much they love one another… that’s what life is for… and everything that comes along with it. Honestly, because of the last year I can’t remember many Valentine’s Days with Kateri. Yes, there were dinners and sometimes a trip, but they blend in and get lost with all the anniversaries, birthdays, Easters, Christmas’… Wednesdays, Sundays, and the 7,300 other days we were in each other’s lives. It’s those other days, and the challenges they bring, that gives us the opportunities to show just how much we love someone.
Boxes of chocolates and flowers are always nice, but when you are in the middle of witnessing cancer kill your wife… when you see the worry and the pain… when you visibly see the love of your life’s body being ravaged by something you can’t see… well, a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day doesn’t really seem to cut it… or matter. Those rough times are the times you show your wife you are there… no matter how dark it is. Those are the times that test the “I do”… those are the times that hurt… those are the times when love is hard… and not necessarily always brought to you by Hallmark.
Widower Notes n Thoughts:
- Love gives us strength, inspiration, happiness… it puts a smile on our face. Sometimes, it also gives us a beating and punches that face… and it hurts… and we cry.
- Love is in the eye of the beholder.
- Love makes us do some pretty stupid things, but they’re in the name of love… so there’s leniency.
- You can search for love… but it waits to find you.
- Love comes in degrees… and from all over the place… sometimes when you least expect it… and from people you didn’t expect it to come from.
- Loving Kateri is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced… because she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen… and I miss her.
- Kateri liked tulips… but not if they were planted in rows.
- Man… I wish I had a box of chocolates.