Content Warning: Some Language.
My mind wonders as I await my turn in line. It was a mistake now, I realize, waiting until the week of Valentine's Day to buy my wife her favorite chocolates. Then again, I’ve never been one for planning. One of my wife's main complaints, among a long list of others. I shake my head to change the direction of my thoughts. Because if I’m being honest with myself, my last-minute trip to the chocolate shop was not a lack of planning, but more a lack of motivation.
What is this holiday, but a time to celebrate love?
As I wait my turn to order the chocolate my wife loves, I am sitting in an uncomfortable truth. A truth that has been heavy in my chest for many months now. I twist and turn around the feeling every day; when I make us coffee in the morning, on my drive home from work, while we take turns spitting in the sink as we brush our teeth. The motions are all the same, but it all seems off. We are just shadows of how we used to be.
My mind is a million miles away when the man behind me taps my shoulder. I glance back at him with a questioning look as he gestures in front of me. The line has moved up a considerable amount; I hadn’t noticed. I murmur a quick apology as I step forward.
This line is full of men, and a couple of women, who all appear vacant. I can’t help wondering if many of them waited until the last minute for similar reasons. I sigh in the comforting thought. Misery does love company after all.
The chocolate shop is on the second story of a mall that I do my best to avoid. It’s always too crowded and expensive. There's nothing here I can’t get online for a better price. I believe online shopping is the best invention, especially for someone like me. I hate crowds, they make me angry. Standing in this line is complete torture, I’m like a sardine. A consumer on a conveyor belt. It’s all mechanical.
I don’t know when I started hating crowds so much. I used to not mind them, but now they make me irritable. My wife and I even met somewhere crowded. If I met her now under those same circumstances I would be too stressed to hold a conversation, let alone woo her into accepting a date with me. I guess people change, or they never really do. That day could have just as easily been a fluke in my personality. A one-off. A glitch.
I’ve been in this fucking line for 20 minutes and I’m not even halfway there. I start tapping my foot, I check my phone; 5:40 PM already. At this rate, I won't be home until 7:00. I should probably text my wife and let her know I’m “working” late, to preserve the surprise; because a $25 box of chocolates is worth an extra 2 hours of my life. Will she even appreciate them?
We’ve only been married a little over 4 years. We were young when we got married, I guess you could say we’re still young. But not as stupid. Which could very well be the issue, if I admit there is one. The entire time we dated we were only ever having fun. We would go visit national parks, camp, hike easy but scenic trails, go to concerts or comedy clubs. We never just sat still. So what’s changed? Now, we work so much, we have some debt. Not a lot, but enough to keep us from any vacations. Her commute is shorter than mine, but when we both get home we have no energy. All we do anymore is stay still.
Only a handful of people are in front of me now, I'm almost there. I’m so tired, I’ve been up since five, traffic was a pain as usual. I just wanted to go home and zone out. It’s all I’ve done lately, these special occasions are becoming an inconvenience.
My phone buzzes in my hand, a text from my wife; “ok.” is all it reads. Ok. with a period. Why was the period necessary? “Ok” is easy to type, a quick acknowledgment as one goes about their business. But an “ok.” period included, that required that one extra millisecond of attention. I feel myself getting tenser with everything that included period could mean. I know her. She does not include a period after “ok” unless she’s irritated. As irritated as I am in this fucking line.
I try my best to pretend not to notice the “periods” in our conversations lately. If there is something wrong she can share what she’s thinking. If she can’t do that I shouldn’t be required to guess. She would just insist that there's nothing wrong anyways. And who knows, maybe there isn't anything wrong. Maybe the intended “period” was not intended after all. It could very well be an auto-correct feature. God, I’m so fucking tired.
“How can I help you, sir?”
I refocus, I’m next. I step up to the counter. “A box of the Dark Bordeaux, my wife's favorite,” I added that last part for absolutely no reason, this clerk doesn’t care.
“Oh, I’m sorry sir, we are actually out of the Dark Bordeaux, we do have plenty of Milk Bordeaux's though.”
I waited in line for 40 minutes. “If I get her the Milk Bordeaux's, she’ll think I forgot her favorite '' I chuckled at the clerk. I’m pissed.
The clerk looks at me almost sympathetically. Almost. I can’t imagine how much she gives a shit, really. “Might I suggest some of our other dark chocolate selections?”
I’m focusing on my breath. I don't want to be short with this girl. I guess I shouldn't have waited. My reasoning with myself isn’t helping all that much.
“Just give me an assortment of dark chocolates, my wife hates milk chocolate. That should appease her.” I say like I’m here because this is what she wants.
The clerk puts a dozen of whatever kind in a box and slides it over to another clerk. “ She’ll ring you up over there” I walk over to the older clerk at the register. This was a complete waste of time. I wasn’t sure if my wife would care before, but now I’m certain.
“I couldn’t help hearing about the Dark Bordeaux, sorry we’re out. I hope your wife will like these.” the clerk takes the box and types in a combination on the register.
“Thanks, I…” I don't know how to respond. I honestly think she won't like these, but telling the clerk that won't make a difference. It will just be awkward. “I just wanted to get her favorites….I’m sure she’ll like these though.” I finish, so convincingly,
The clerk's mouth moves to the side. She is not convinced. Oh well.
The clerk gets a pen and paper out from under the counter and writes for a moment. I stand there uncomfortable, not entirely sure what I should be doing. I just want to pay for the chocolates and go home. This should be a thirty-second transaction. Forty-five tops. Why is she making this more difficult than it needs to be?
She finally stands straight, looking up from her paper, and hands it to me. I take it in a rigid awkwardness.
“That's the recipe for the Dark Bordeaux’s. They aren’t that difficult to make. If your wife was looking forward to them I suggest you give it a shot!” She shows me a warm smile. I look down at the paper, it's only 12 steps. A handful of ingredients. It looks….doable, I admit to myself.
“Thank you.” Is all I can say. I look at her, folding up the recipe she gave me and placing it in my back pocket.
“Maybe get these as a backup.” She winks at me with a grin. I can’t help but laugh in reply, “Ya, I think that might be for the best.” I joke back.
I drive home, my wife in the shower when I get there. I opted to leave the candies in the car, so she doesn't see them. It's cold enough that I don't have to worry about them melting.
The TV is on in the bedroom. I relax on the bed and zone out to whatever is on. A few moments later she comes out, wrapped in a bathrobe, her hair up in a towel. “Your home” she states. Or asks. I’m not sure.”How was your day?”
“Fine.” I reply, “ just exhausted.” I admit; the same thing I say damn near every night she asks. “How was yours?”
“Oh, it was fine. Work was busy today.” She replies, damn near the same thing every night. “Did you eat?” she asks.
“I’m not that hungry, did you?”
“I did, I figured since you said you would be late..” she trails off, changing into her pajamas, finishing up with her nighttime routine of putting on lotion.
Not much is said, we say good night, and go to bed. That uncomfortable truth dancing in my chest. How can we be in pain when we haven't hurt each other? I lay deep in thought. In silence. I feel her body twitch, signifying the moment she fell asleep.
There was a time I was mad about this woman. I swore I would move mountains to make her happy. That feeling was once so strong I didn’t notice the currents of time dulling it. Now I cant even bother to get to the store to buy her favorite chocolate before they run out.
I hate sleepless nights. I’ve had a lot of them lately. Forcing me to face that uncomfortable truth. How is this going to end? Not if, but how, and when. I now ask myself to face another uncomfortable truth; is that what I want? Is that what she wants?
Is that what we want? We are on a precipice. Either we work for this or we get nudged over the edge.
I get up, reaching for my work slacks I wore that day to fish the folded piece of paper out of the back pocket. I head to the living room so I don’t wake her.
I read over the steps to making her favorite chocolates. Flirting with the thought that this gesture might be grand enough, and her reaction might give me a hint as to her feelings without needing to have a conversation. A conversation that would make the uncomfortable truth into something too real. With only a few days until Valentine's Day, I don’t know when I will have time to go shopping and then cook these without her noticing. It would have to be when she’s not home. And she is only not home when she’s at work; when we’re at work. I ran through a dozen scenarios to figure out how to achieve my goal. I decided to call out of work the next day.
I head to the grocery store right after my wife leaves for work. Knowing I’m on a time limit. I head straight for the baking aisle, grabbing everything I know I’ll need, having watched a couple of recipe videos for good measure. I’m about to head to the check stand, and the thought crossed my mind. I might as well grab some stuff to make a nice dinner for the occasion. Neither of us will want to go out on a holiday and a weekday. A nice home-cooked meal sounds nice. If I want to surprise her I would need to get home from work before her that day. I will call out again, I decided. I’ll blow through all my sick leave before February’s even over, no big deal.
I get home, attempting to hide all the ingredients for dinner in the fridge the best I can. Then it's time to get started on the chocolate, I have plenty of time. I follow the recipe and video step by step. I stir in the instant coffee, add powdered sugar, roll the sugar dough into little balls, melt the chocolate and lastly dip the dough in the chocolate. They didn’t have the same sprinkles at the grocery store as they have at the chocolate shop, so I opted for tiny blue sprinkles, her favorite color. I place the chocolates in an airtight container I bought for the occasion, with hearts on it. I look at the clock, okay, she’ll be home in a couple of hours. I open the sliding glass door, in hopes I can get the smell of melting chocolate out of the air. I hide the box of chocolates; now I just have to wait for the big day.
That night I lay in bed awake again, but this time I’m wide awake with anticipation instead of dread. I know making her favorite chocolate wasn’t the same as moving a mountain, but it's the first thing I’ve done for her in a long time. Realizing that truth makes it a little less uncomfortable. I’m starting to see what I need to change.
That weekend we sat on the couch watching TV, and she turned to me. “Do you want to do anything for Valentine's Day?” she asked, not very hopeful, which pains me. That pain lessened only by the fact that I already have something planned for her. But I want it to be a surprise. “We can just have dinner here, I guess.” I reply, totally noncommittal. “Okay.” she replies, with a period.
Valentine's Day arrives, I pretend to go to work only to turn the car around and come back home. I want to make sure everything is perfect for her tonight. My job acted a bit irritated that I was calling out twice in a row, but fuck ‘em.
I set the table, put the chocolates out, I even ran to the store to get her some roses, though my lack of forethought there made for slim pickings. I light some candles, and dinner’s in the oven when I hear her unlock the door.
She walks in, surprised to see me, usually, she’s home before me. I go to the door to greet her with a hug, “Happy Valentine's Day.”
“What?” is her only reply. God, have I been such a neglectful husband as to shock her when I show her any affection? My heart sinks in the realization of that new truth.
I take her coat from her and lead her to the kitchen. Her eyes fall on the table set with the roses, candles, the smell of dinner in the air. “What’s all this?”
I take both her hands in mine and hold her close. I hadn’t thought about preparing anything I wanted to say, my lack of forethought strikes again. But she needs to know how much she means to me, and despite these uncomfortable truths, I want her. Now and always.
“My love,” I say, looking down at our clasped hands, I go to rest my forehead on hers. “I have not made it apparent lately how much you mean to me. I have been flawed without excuse, so flawed I went to buy you your favorite chocolate but waited too late and they were sold out. This made me realize some uncomfortable truths.” I sigh deeply, unable to believe I admitted that, or unable to accept it took me so long. “One, I was not doing everything I could to make sure you were happy, and two, that I needed to.” I go and get the chocolates I made and present them to her. She takes them with tears in her eyes and opens the lid to the small box.
Seeing what's inside she looks up at me; “what's this?”
“I was so careless that I was not able to buy you your favorite chocolates, so I made them for you instead.”
Surprised, she looked at the chocolates, admiring them. Crying now, she looked back to me, raising herself on her toes, and kissed me. Really kissed me; for the first time in months. It was in that kiss that I knew we were worth fighting for, and she felt it too.