February 14th is different for me. Years ago, I was married on this day. Two months prior, I nearly bled to death. As life drained out of me and my skin color blended with the white sheets in the emergency room (you can’t believe it unless you've seen it), I received a proposal of marriage. It was meant to give me the will to live. It wasn't necessary. I was in good medical hands and had no desire to go anywhere. My life was my three kids and my desire for them to have a typical family. The five of us were coming to that but we had put off making a legal commitment. Three kids as part of my bargain didn't seem to represent a fair prospect for him.
They normally don’t allow people in the ER beyond the waiting room but he just walked in after locating me in the warren of swinging doors and bright lights. That was the kind of man he was. No was not in his acceptable inventory of responses. Nobody stopped him. I saw his face among those who were tending to me; I accepted him to have found me. He later said he counted 17 people in that room, not including the two of us. I remember, even now, racing to the OR watching the ceiling tiles whiz by overhead, some pieces missing with wires and pipes exposed, like in a movie. I woke hours later in the ICU and watched flakes of snow whirling outside the foggy window. A nurse told me he’d just left; it was 5 a.m. and I should let him get some sleep. She phoned him and he was standing next to me the next time I opened my eyes. The weather was torturous. It was 12 degrees and he’d gone home and checked the wrapped pipes, turned around and came back. He brought my hairbrush. He was that kind of man.
Over the years, we had a grand party every Valentine’s Day. We invited everyone we knew and they all came. A bartender was hired; glasses were rented; food was cooked for days. It was a festive gala, a chance for people to dress up and make merry in what was usually the dullest, grayest time of year. Photos have been lost; tossed out, I suspect, by a bitter child. But that’s another story.
Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point about the process of memory in his chapter about The Power of Content. [Transactive memory is part of what intimacy means and when a unit is broken up, as it is in divorce, depression develops due to the] loss of  external memory systems.
And so… my recollection is only half of what it should be. I could make a pie chart of where collections of memorable events exist. I've lost much; I've way too many living ghosts.
I hate hospitals. The weeks and months of smelling those odors, hearing those sounds. I became far too familiar with routines, schedules and movements. I was often mistaken for a doctor or nurse, even without a uniform.
We came to refer to it as the drive-by germ. It hit our house in late January, just as we were planning the next Valentine party.
I slept in his ICU room for nearly a month. They moved him to a standard room and I had to sleep in a chair. I couldn't leave. He lost his ears, his toes, half his fingers. He was on breathing machines at 100% for too damn long. He lost his mind, his memory, the things we shared together, the things we cherished, the moments, the harmony, the sweet accord that made us whole.
I thought I’d gotten over him. Last year a phone call came in the night and we rushed to that place I hate…the hospital. It was eleven years since I'd seen him. You get over a person in that amount of time, right? Especially if that person is not even recognizable as whom he was to you, when he was a complete, sane person?
I honestly didn't think he’d make it through the night. There was blood everywhere, a huge gash in his forehead, broken bones on both sides on his body, his back. Intubated; those familiar tubes trailing from his nose and mouth, the pumping of air into lungs that resist each thrust. He’d been hit by a pizza delivery car; stepped off a curb in his usual oblivion and BAM! Here we were again.
“He has nine lives,” we joked. It was funny. Sort of. He’s escaped death more than anyone I know, twice as a child in horrible accidents. I visited him three times again after that, twice in the ICU, where they had him stabilized; then again in a regular room when he was awake and aware. He didn't cling to my hand like he had when he didn't really realize who I was. He dismissed us all with the wave of his deformed, damaged hands. I closed the door.
Christmas is difficult. We had such a multitude of traditions and so much fun; it’s never been the same. I've chosen to be in Mexico for the holidays, where the culture captures me and I don’t dwell on how our typical family completely fell apart, shattered in so many pieces, no pot of glue could put it together again.
Valentine’s Day, however, follows me wherever I go. Those many years ago, my first one without him... friends, who took pity, invited me to dinner. A mistake. After they talked about him through the entire meal, I excused myself to go back to the hospital, sit next to him and listen to the wheezes and beeps, the monitors and machines that were keeping him alive. I woke at dawn, drove home and fell back to sleep curled in a ball. Those things I remember.
When he came out of the coma, woke and spoke, he recognized no one and thought I was someone named Sheila. Slowly he began to come back to us but he never really reached that point where we knew him. His transactive memory was gone. It was the death of our intimacy.
My life has gone on. I've had magic and wondrous times. I've even had love again, which was something I doubted would ever revisit me in this mortal existence. I've been lucky and there are few regrets. Valentine’s Day though… it’s a burden I shoulder.
Thanks for reading.
(At the time of his illness, a vaccination was being developed for meningitis, which is highly recommended for teenagers, who are more susceptible than younger children. Too late for Breeze, who lost his spleen as a young boy in one of the aforementioned accidents. Had it been only a couple years later, he would have been eligible and chances are we would still be making memories.)