The Valentine - Preface

"The Valentine" is the last in a series of online journal entries called "Cardiology."

Like the Valentine itself, I'd like the story to be perfect. Unfortunately, at this moment, I know it's not.

But despite its imperfection, I've come to feel that it's the most important thing I've ever written.

Because it's for Helen, for always...


The Valentine

It was going to be late, the Valentine was. But he didn't think that she'd mind. He'd found it at the supermarket, where they were taking down displays from the recent holiday, and realized that it was perfect.

After going through the checkout line, he drove home to put away the groceries and while he was there he put her name on the envelope and signed the card. Then he got back into his car and drove across town.

It was snowing and cold and, when he got there, the place looked deserted. He'd only been there once before, so he decided to stop at the office to hopefully avoid getting lost.

The woman in the office was friendly and smiled tolerantly when she saw the card in his hand.

"I know," he said, "it's late."

"Oh, I don't think she'll mind," the woman replied.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," he said, and feeling a bit more confident, walked back outside to his car.

He'd been pretty sure that she'd like the Valentine, late or not. But it was still good to know that someone else agreed with him.

Either way, the card itself was perfect. It came with a red envelope on which he'd printed her name in block letters. She'd know at a glance that it was from him because that's how he'd always made them out for her.

The difference was that, most times, it'd been really difficult to find the right card. He'd often felt that they either said too much or said it in a way that just wouldn't sound right coming from him.

But this card, found among the leftovers from two days before, was perfect. It was the first one he'd pulled, from the nearly-empty display, and it was perfect.

On the front of the card were the words, "I love you..." And below that was a vertical column of three red flowers, each with a smiling yellow face at the center and each of them peeking, through a round cutout, from inside the card.

When the card was opened, the smiling faces were revealed to be shining little suns, with a single word above each of them and "Happy Valentine's Day" at the very bottom.

Now, as he stopped the car and prepared to get out, he opened the envelope for one last look, a final though unnecessary affirmation that it was just right.

"I love you..." the front of it said. Then, on the inside, above the smiling suns, the words, "today," "tomorrow," and "always." And, at the very bottom, "Happy Valentine's Day."


Walking from his car, in the lightly falling snow, he placed the card on the mound of dark and still-unsettled earth.

Then, as he drove back up the narrow track, he noticed the woman watching from the office window.

And as he drove past her, through the iron and granite gates, he waved...


For Helen. For always...

Transmissions from PBR Street Gang

"Almighty, Almighty, this is PBR Street Gang, over."

[radio silence]

"Almighty, Almighty, this is PBR Street Gang awaiting orders, over."

[radio silence]

"Almighty, Almighty, this is PBR Street Gang. Do you read me, over?"

[radio silence]

"Almighty, Almighty, this is PBR Street Gang..."



About the Silence

A friend has cautioned me not to be defined by the silence which I've spoken of confronting since my wife's passing.

Many years ago, my father similarly implored me not to choose jail over serving in an unjust war. He said that if I chose jail, my pen, my newly-discovered writer's voice, would be silenced.

I guess he'd never heard of Nelson Mandella or any of the others who have spoken eloquently, and with great effect, from their prison cells.

Alas, I'm not a Nelson Mandella or anything remotely like him. And, in the end, I never went to prison, nor did I serve.

Following the drama of the 'sixties, I've led a pretty anti-climactic life, only garnering recognition for such blue collar exploits as winning Mechanic of the Month several times at a Toyota dealership and, my proudest accomplishment, as Employee of the Year at a Wyndham hotel.

But having offered this perspective, on a life which is now mostly behind me, and not wanting to seem unappreciative of those whose advice is driven by their concern for my well-being, I think my answer in both instances would be the same.

Which is simply that it really doesn't matter if I "go gentle into that good night" or if I choose instead to "rage against the dying of the light."

If no one is listening, it doesn't matter if I go in silence or scream myself hoarse trying to connect my own experience with that of the rest of humanity.

Because I'll still be, as I suspect we'll all someday be, out there in the void, voiceless and, you know, alone...


Flying Home

Later today, our eldest daughter, who had flown in from California to help with her mother's care, will be flying back home.

It was her third trip back East, since the beginning of her mother's illness, and she was present for those last sad and difficult days in the intensive care unit.

By the time she arrived, for this visit, her mom had already been intubated and was resting in that drug-induced twilight from which she would never fully awaken. Nor, because of the breathing tube which was forcing metered oxygen into her lungs, would she ever again be capable of speech.

But when Katherine appeared at her bedside, her mother astonished everyone by clearly smiling at the sound of her voice and by attempting to speak when Kath told her that she was there for her and that she loved her.

By that time, the pacemaker had been implanted and the nerve-blocking ablation had been performed between the right upper and lower chambers of her heart. Also, within a day, she would be moved to an adjacent room where around-the-clock dialysis could be started.

But after bravely rallying once again over her final night, she would slip away from us, her worn body having at last given in to catastrophic organ failure and to what her death certificate calls "undifferentiated shock."

After that, Katherine would stay with us and would work with her next-oldest sibling, our daughter Rebecca, to help put their mother's final affairs in order.

Whatever she has done, she has done tirelessly and well, from being a wonderful auntie to her sister's three young children, a consoling voice to our silently-grieving but obviously-hurting grandson, and a valued presence at the myriad administrative and legal proceedings which have followed her mother's passing.

All of us will truly miss her, but her husband and four young children have been missing her as well. And she is also needed at home to resume management of the fire-investigation business with which she and her husband support themselves and their family.

As I was leaving to take my grandson home tonight, so that he could hopefully get rested and back to school in the morning, she pulled him aside and told him how much his grandmother had loved him and how much everyone appreciated him being there for the family.

On the drive home, this mostly-stoic young teen said to me that he wished we could all just go back with her to California. I told him that I wished that too. That, in fact, it's something that the family had briefly discussed, some months before his grandmother's illness.

I had also proposed to my wife, during one of those periods when we could still realistically dream of completing her recovery at home, that we take one of those scenic tours across country by train to visit Katherine's family in California.

Because she was so gravely ill, even then, she had a hard time embracing this for herself. But maybe it's a dream that I'll revisit with my grandson and the others, even though I'd find it hard to leave her here alone, in her place of rest.

Knowing that she is now the keeper, for all time, of this and so many other dreams...


No Matter What Is Said

When I awoke,
the morning after
we had returned you
to the earth,

I wondered
in tearful desperation
what might be done
to ease for you
your separation
from this place,
this life.

Then I saw
the contradiction
in these words but
nothing helped

no matter what is said,
I'm still here
without you...


Scaling Back for the Road Ahead, Destination Unknown

It's like putting pieces of your life in bags and hoping that you've kept the right ones.

That the vital ones will be found intact when, and if, you find that you need them.

It's like having to say, "This part of my life had value and this part did not."

And then stopping to wonder, in one of those moments of numb and aching silence, whether any of it truly did...