She Loves You, Sydney! Don’t Despair!

February 17, 2009

It came in Thursday’s mail. It was clearly a Valentine, in a greeting card-sized red envelope, although with metered postage, which gave it a kind of impersonal flavor. It was addressed in a feminine hand to Sydney W_____ at our house number but a different street. There was no return address.

That happens sometimes, most often with something for a different block on our street, and usually it’s business mail or junk mail, not a personal hand-written traditional first class letter. I did what I always do, unless it’s for the people down the street. I put a sticky note on it (“Not for us. Thanks.”) and put it back in the mailbox. I knew it would get picked up on Friday, and I hoped it could be redirected by Saturday. I knew it probably wouldn’t, though, and I should have found the mail carrier, who was probably still in the neighborhood, or taken it directly to the post office, but I didn’t. I’m working, you know. Riding a wave, writing out of the box, pushing the envelope. No time for neighborliness!

Thursday night Ron brought home a rose from the grocery store. So early? It was already on special, he explained. I made the usual teasing comments about his working on my love letter. My request for such and his (failure? refusal? — those really aren’t the right nouns) to provide it is now such a familiar trope in our relationship that if he actually wrote one it would ruin a tradition. I put the rose in one of my cobalt vases without telling him that I couldn’t find the card I’d gotten for him about a month ago. It had disappeared into one of my many piles of papers and I hadn’t yet made a thorough search.

The card I’d gotten him was one of those really artistic (and expensive) items made by Papyrus. (This one, actually.) The selection of cards, both the high-end Papyrus and Caspari and the more traditional Hallmark and American Greetings, can be overwhelming — funny, romantic, suggestive, meant for those in marriages or serious relationships, for little children and adult children, near relatives and not-so-near. You can send cards to your sister, your cousin, your mother-in-law, your teacher, although I haven’t seen one for, say “a fine funeral director on Valentine’s Day.” I always get Ron an understated artistic one (here’s last year’s, another Papyrus selection), and one for Lynn that has hearts and flowers and some gooey sentiment about how perfect she is that has probably made me cry. I’ve been writing a lot here about how important my friends are to me, about how my awareness of the love of those who carry me keeps deepening, but I don’t typically send them valentines, for fear of being intrusive.

By Friday night I’d found the pile that contained the card I’d gotten for Ron and the mushy made-me-cry one I had for Lynn. I signed Ron’s and left it at his computer for him to find Saturday morning. I put the one for Lynn away for next year because I’d found a different one that went well with the “love box” I took to her last week, a collection of ramen noodles and candy hearts and microwave popcorn such as she used to get from our church. She was always delighted with that box. A college graduate now, she’s not on the love box list anymore, a sign of her moving into adulthood that I thought might make her a little melancholy.

I spent most of Valentine’s Day itself home alone. Ron went to Millersville to have lunch with Lynn and then attend the women’s and the men’s basketball games at the university. I worked all afternoon on the manuscript for my 2009 Bread Loaf application and then went to the Josh Klein Spaghetti Dinner, a fund-raiser for organ donation awareness that honors a youngster who lived in my neighborhood and who died in 1999 waiting for a transplant. It’s always on the Saturday of the high school musical, and some of those years we were there not only because the purpose of the dinner is important to us, but also to see Lynn perform. Not surprisingly, I saw a lot of old friends, people I don’t see much of anymore because our kids are grown and our lives have changed. If I were in the habit of sending Valentines to people like that in my life, I’d have sent a lot.

I didn’t get any actual cards and certainly no love letters on Saturday, and I really didn’t expect any. I did have two telephone conversations with people I care about a lot and who care for me that included a mention of our national day of commercial love expression, and I’m more convinced than ever that the people I love know that I love them, and those who love me show it in myriad ways that do not require cards on any one particular day. Thinking about these lights in my life, talking to some of them, made this day as special as all of the days of my life have been recently, and I went to bed happy.

We didn’t get mail yesterday because it was Presidents’ Day. As usual, I listened for the mailman. When he goes down the other side of the street I know I have about forty minutes until he traverses the neighborhood and comes up our side on his way out. That’s usually a signal to wrap up what I’m working on and get some lunch. But it was past 3:00 today when I finally heard the stop-and-start hum of the mail truck. The pile of mail I drew out was thick, everything folded into a tabloid-size catalog from a used book service.

Among the bills and the bank statements and the bids for donations to alumni funds, there was the red envelope with the card for Sydney.

And so today I finally did the right thing. I used Google Earth to find the street, over the hill to the west several neighborhoods to some new construction I’m not familiar with because Lynn didn’t have any friends who lived there. I wrote on a sticky note, “This was delivered to our house (same number, different street) TWICE by the postal service. She really did try, Sydney!” and drove over there. My fiction writer’s mind entertained me on the trip. Was it a romantic and sentimental card or a funny one? Why did it have metered postage? Why was there no return address? Did Sydney despair of hearing from this individual and turn to someone else? Did he send her a dozen roses with a teddy bear, perhaps, and not buy it when she insisted she sent him a card?

There was no mail in the box at the curb at the address on the card. I could see some Fed Ex boxes on the porch, so I took the card up there. The name on the boxes was a woman’s name, and the last name was not the same as Sydney’s. I left the card anyway, tucking it at about knee height under the top box.

The rose Ron brought last Thursday is fully, gloriously open, the truest scarlet I’ve ever seen. Some other flowers I got Saturday have also reached their peak, and some have gone past. Our cleaning service comes tomorrow, so it’s time to discard these items, wash out the cobalt pieces, and put them back on the mantel. (I’ll put the card on a shelf above Ron’s computer. It’s too pretty to throw away.)

I had a good Valentine’s Day, and I hope Sydney did too. Ditto for whoever sent him a card that went astray twice, and for whoever is handling it tonight.


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