A Silver Anniversary story for Valentine’s Day

The wheel is come full circle, I am here. Shakespeare, King Lear

Feb 6 1987

Valentine’s day was roughly a week away. Liz would turn twenty-six on February 15th. In her solitary existence in her apartment Liz discovered sounds. She could distinctly hear the airplane flying overhead, the clock ticking, the whirring sound of the washer, the sounds of apartment doors as they opened and shut throughout the day and the traffic on the street. Tom lay curled up in his basket. The rhythmic rising and falling of his chest confirmed that he was not one of her soft toys. On most days all these sounds would be comforting to her, but not today. It worried her that her mother’s admonishments – that she would remain a spinster for life – could come true.

Liz knew she had to step out of the house and be around people. All campus towns have a drug store and she decided to stop by the Rite Aid. At some point it occurred to her that she may run into someone and her thoughts led her to think she may actually hook up with friends and do something spur of the moment, which she quickly dismissed as a remote possibility and knew that it would defy the veracity of her true nature. She strolled down the candy aisle and found a tin of Whitman’s sampler. Liz had the cashier gift pack it for her. The pretty wrapping paper would not conceal the usual gift that she got for Ray. Ray knew to open the wrapper carefully and always save the tin and the wrapping paper for her. For the last seven years her head and heart both felt sterile about what to buy for Ray and yet a part of her knew she would not go wrong with his gluttony appetite for chocolate.

Liz walked up to Ray’s apartment. She knew that Ray had classes this evening and would not be home. Ray and Liz were a year and half apart. She questioned herself and agreed that this would not be very cool if Ray were home. She knew Ray’s roommate, Lloyd, was home since she could hear the basketball game while she waited outside the door. Lloyd opened the door for her and after a brief Hi settled back to watch the game. Liz made herself comfortable on the couch. The game interrupted for a commercial break  and Lloyd casually asked Liz if she had any plans for Valentines day. Liz did not know how to reply and started with, “Hmmm….”

The basketball game had resumed. “His Airness” Michael Jordan was playing against New Jersey. Lloyd resumed watching the game without listening to Liz’s answer. Liz felt the intense pain of her solitary existence with his question, she felt like the whole world had come crashing down on her and she collapsed on the sofa sobbing in her distress. She did not know why she was crying and yet the sobs and whimpers turned louder. Part of her wanted Lloyd’s attention. Lloyd tried to ignore her and kept watching the game.
Finally Lloyd gave in, “Fudge, what did I say? What did I do? I am sorry Liz. Stop crying now. Will you?”
Liz cried even louder.
“ Heck, Can this wait for another three minutes. We are going in for half time then?”pleaded Lloyd with a smile.
Liz ‘s body was shivering and her sobbing was worse. Lloyd had to turn off the TV. Liz looked up at him. He saw that her big brown eyes which were always so full of life looked red. The tears had ruined her eye make up and there was black soot around her eyes.  Liz, an epitome of everything a female grad student should be, was crying helplessly. The only thing Lloyd knew was he could not bear to see Liz cry.

He dashed to his room and came back with his guitar and started playing random tunes. He kept looking at her and kept playing. He knew that he was the best at playing the guitar and singing in his rich baritone voice. When Liz’s sobbing subsided, Lloyd felt he was getting an audience. He started singing from Wham’s album except it was a parody:
Last Christmas I gave you my brains, but the very next day you gave it away. This year to save me from tears I will give it to someone special.
Liz actually smiled and Lloyd kept on playing
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye.
Tell me, baby,
Do you recognize me?
It’s been a year,
It doesn’t surprise me
(Merry Christmas)

I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying, “I love you,”
I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been.
But if you kissed me now
I know you’d fool me again.
Lloyd continued playing the song and this time he sang Last Easter I gave you my liver and the very next day you chewed it away and this year to save me from tears I will give it to someone special.
Liz was all smiles now.
At this point Lloyd slowly kept the guitar aside.

“I am sorry” said Liz.
“Its cool. Really”, said Lloyd as he settled down on the couch next to her. Lloyd felt that in his opinion, if a person is in love then they should give away their brain or liver since there are more important organs than the human heart.
The door opened and Ray walked in. Liz’s face looked like she had faced a storm and Lloyd sat extra close to her than what would be defined as comfortable space between the two. Looking at both of them Ray could only think of one thing and he pounced on Lloyd and boxed  him in the face. Lloyd’s face had reddened where he was hit and was taken aback. Liz blurted, “Why did you hit him, you moron?”.
“You are crying and look at you. You look like a mess and he looks so guilty about it. Even if I am your kid brother I care about you. What did he do to you?” asked Ray.

Liz told Ray how Lloyd took care of her. That evening Michael Jordan scored 58 points vs New Jersey Nets. Lloyd had missed the rest of the game. The action replays did not come close to the sacrifice which was very worth it for him since he had found love. Liz, Lloyd and Ray feasted on the Whitman’s sampler box while Liz made origami hearts out of the red wrapping paper. She left those hearts for Lloyd to find in his shoes  and coat pockets the next morning.
On February 14, 1987 Liz was Lloyd’s valentine..
In the summer of 87 Liz, Lloyd and Ray graduated. On February 14 1988 Liz and Lloyd were officially Mr. and Mrs. Bennett.
A year later Liz gave birth to their son Mark and Emily followed three years later. Liz never had to worry about sharing parenting chores with Lloyd since he was always there to hum lullaby’s in his rich baritone voice, feed the babies, burp them, change diapers and her pillar of support when she most needed him. One year merged into another and the nature of their chores changed to more housework and yard work, potlucks and barbecues, basketball and volleyball practice for the kids and more and more laundry. Liz and Lloyd had learned to methodically set unwritten rules about cooking, cleaning, Do’s and Don’t for themselves and the kids and most importantly emphasizing love and caring in everything they did for each other. Every Valentine’s Day Lloyd gave Liz different parts of the human body except the heart as his token of love.  Liz’s cat Tom now moved slowly, purred less and slept more and more.

The spring of 2006 was grave for Liz and Lloyd. The economic crisis  had led to Lloyd losing his job. Lloyd’s new role was being a stay at home Dad, cooking cleaning, finding projects to do and working on paying bills accounting for every penny to make ends meet. He seriously had considered working on bagging groceries at the local grocery store but Liz’s vanity discouraged him. Recently he had been unable to figure out where the family missed out on a hundred dollars every month. He verbalized his fears to Liz if the one of the kids was nicking the money. He also noticed that every Thursday evening Liz came home late at least by an hour. When he questioned her about her coming late or the missing hundred dollars she  kept rationalizing different ideas which made him fearful of losing his place as the man of the family.

Thursday Feb 8 2007

Liz stopped by at the drugstore after a hard day of work and meetings at the University to pick up some Tylenol. She felt relieved to see that some places stayed the same in Campus town. You can always find a Rite Aid store. Heart shaped balloons and teddy bears in red with signs ending in ninety nine cents were vividly placed at strategic points to attract the shoppers eye. She picked her Tylenol and as she walked to the cashiers and noticed a Whitman’s sampler. They were on a budget and this would cost her another ten dollars. She picked up the box and decided she would use the petty cash she had saved for gifts.
Next she reached for her cell phone to ask Lloyd if he needed anything and realized her phone was dead. She had forgotten to charge it.
She was close to home and as her car turned the corner she could see that there were emergency vehicles lined in front of her house. Neighbors had gathered on the street and were straining themselves to look up at Bennetts roof. From the silhouette she realized it was Lloyd sitting with his knees close to his chest and his arms curled around his legs, his face pressed into his thighs,occasionally rocking back and forth upon the roof.  One of her neighbors told her that he had threatened to jump from the roof. She went up to the authorities and pressed her way in. Her brave teenagers were shivering and crying and that’s when she retrieved her guitar from the car trunk. She started playing different tunes and the crowd quieted. Then she started playing Wham and Lloyd looked at her. He could hear her sing something that resonated in his soul and he grabbed himself around his knees and listened. By then a fireman had reached on the rooftop.

Rescue was followed by Rehab for Lloyd. One week later Lloyd came home. In the last couple of years Liz had secretly taken to learning how to play guitar since she wanted to surprise Lloyd on their 25th anniversary. It was getting harder for her to show the deficit of hundred dollars every month in their bills especially with Lloyd counting every penny.
On Feb 14 2007, the family ate chocolates from the Whitman’s sampler and the next morning  when Liz stepped in her work shoes and coat she found forty six origami hearts scribbled with “Happy Birthday” all over them.


I dedicate this short realistic fiction story to the real life Lloyd’s who lost their jobs, some their homes and some “everything” they had in in the economic crisis of 2006.  Thank you for reading this story.

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