It's that time of year again. The shops are awash with red, the streets suddenly lined with hearts and flowers and teddy bears. Love is in the air. Love is on air. Love is everywhere. Valentine's Day is looming and there is no avoiding it.
Truth be told, I've always found Valentine's Day a bit grim. I'm not sure I've ever had a really good one. When I was single, it seemed that every man was out in the street carrying bunches of flowers and balloons that weren't for me and when I've been in a relationship, the hearts and balloons that I have received have always seemed wrong; who can be attracted to a man who has just presented you with a teddy holding a felt heart or to someone whose best effort is a ready meal for two from M&S. (Not me, that's who, in case you're wondering.) And let's face it, nobody really wants to go out on Valentine's Day - too expensive, too cheesy - but if you stay home watching TV what does that say about the state of affairs? In my experience, it's usually a day of pressure and expectation, commercialism and disappointment. One could almost be grateful not have to deal with it, except...
When the one you loved died not so long ago, Valentine's Day just becomes another obstacle to navigate (along with Christmas, New Year, his birthday, your birthday, your anniversaries - first kiss, first date, last kiss, last date - the list is endless.) However much you might believe that love continues beyond death and that signs from beyond the grave occur (and I do), when the odds of your partner sending a celestial greetings card are as remote as the possibility of him walking through the door with a bunch of flowers, Valentine's Day, like most days, sucks. It is a day of missing, of remembering.
Last Valentine's Day I didn't give you anything. I bought you a card from a shop in Knaresborough but I never wrote on it. I found it the other day in a pile of papers, a plain white card with a drawing of an amethyst and the words, 'You're a gem' on the front. The words were right. You were: a most precious gem, a real diamond in the rough. But something about the colour lilac and the crispness of the white card was wrong. I didn't send it. Instead I just sent you a text in amongst a string of other messages: 'Happy Valentine's Day by the way'. You sent me a message too but, for some reason, I didn't see it. I found it on the Saturday after your death as I lay crying on my bed, re-reading all of your messages - a little red heart that opened up as I scrolled past it, the words 'I love you' popping up like a message from the grave to soothe my aching heart. Last Valentine's Day, in the evening we went to the cinema. I booked us a couple's seat. It was just cheesy enough. We sat, wrapped up in each other, wrapped up in the movie. Perfect.
This year, for Valentine's Day, I give you a park bench: sturdy and solid, a place to rest, just as you were. It will be by the edge of the water next to the old grinding workshop, a deep pool whose water still powers the wheel, just as your love still powers the cogs of my life, keeping me moving, living, loving, creating even in your absence.
I give you a park bench, a place of calm as you were. Strong and stable with a view of trees and clouds and an inscription of the words you spoke to me in that park, a few weeks before your death: 'Stop here and feel the sun.' It will be a place for tired folk to take a moment to rest and reflect on the beauty of nature, the fragility of life.
I give you a bench, like a pause in the vast breadth of time. It is small in the scheme of things. It has edges, a beginning and an end. Over time it will weather, no doubt and the words will fade. Nothing lasts forever. But I give you this bench as a sign of my love. We never got married. Death did us part. But with all that I am, I honour you and in all that I go on to do, I will remember you. You will be with me every step of the way.
This year, I'll buy my own flowers and eat my meal for one, loving myself as you once loved me. You were a gem, Blacksmith Paul. Happy Valentine's Day, my love.