Remembering Valentine’s Day

Or how things get messy, fast

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

It ended up being a rainy day — which, honestly, was probably perfect. Not that we needed rain to cancel her plans. That happened the night before.

Her last visit was in February of 2021 right after she turned six. It was a big deal, and we had made a banner for her visit.

It stretched the length of the patio door, and more importantly, it had a picture printed of her in her Wonder Woman uniform. I really can’t say costume, because that implies she is only pretending to be a superhero.

In our family, we don’t pretend. Superheroes have always been and will continue to be, a serious business. Especially by those of us identifying as female.

You can never have too many Wonder Women.

It was also the first time that we’d visited solo. On her last trip to visit our parents, we had gone for a walk together and she noted that it was the first time we had been alone together. And she wasn’t wrong. I’d known her since she was just a baby, but we hadn’t ever had any one-on-one time.

Photo from the author’s collection

Since it was COVID time, and she was doing school virtually, arranging a week to visit wasn’t that difficult. She could do school from my house just as easily as she could from hers. We picked Toledo as the meet-up place.

It’s a long drive from Cheboygan, Michigan to Philadelphia. Even longer if you are six. We left Toledo and stayed the night in Pittsburgh, visiting my partner’s family who lived nearby before finishing the trek. Only the naps stopped the “are we almost there’s” and the “can I watch YouTube on your phone” asks.

We did school, we played in the snow, and we desperately wondered what the hell had happened to the neighborhood kids that are always running through our yard. There were crafts and cooking. There was a lot of mac and cheese consumed. We even had a birthday party filled with people she didn’t know and a pinata on the porch.

It had been a good week. Challenging, but I’d be hard pressed to point today at what the challenges were at that time. If I had to say, it would be that we aren’t used to having kids around, and so it’s harder than it probably needed to be.

Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

We left on Saturday. I flew her back to Detroit. Met our parents at the airport and we got hotel rooms not far away. It was an overnight trip for me, a quick visit with the folks, a drop off of the sister, and back on an airplane.

It was Valentine’s Day. I tried all morning to call my partner. I texted when the phone kept going to voicemail. Sitting at my gate at the airport I finally got a text — where were my keys to the car?

I replied that I had them with me.

He couldn’t find his keys. His phone was locked in the car. He had too much to drink, he said, his bandmate drove him home.

I called his bandmate. He was uncharacteristically terse. He didn’t have the keys.

I’d have to get an Uber from the airport home. Unhappy didn’t begin to describe it.

Sometimes, the universe sets you up for bigger things by handing you a few softballs to get you acclimated to what’s about to go down.

After my $100 Uber ride, I walked into my house. Everything felt — off. I could see the hangover on his bruised face. His hand was swollen.

“Did you get into a fight?” I asked.

Then I saw the dining room table was jacked up on one side with not its leg but something else entirely. And the chairs were down to about two from five.

I think I can fix the table, he said as he watched me look at it.

He said he didn’t know what happened. He drank too much. He was stressed and anxious from the visit.

There were arguments at his gig with his bandmate’s girlfriend when they tried to take his keys. He broke things there. He broke things at home. Our bed was now being held up with milk crates. There were holes in the walls. His finger was broken.

Numbness tingled like rain on my skin as all the emotions happened at once.

And here we are, hundreds of hours of therapy and work, and a five-minute explosion of conjured emotion has me feeling the same way I did then.




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Nikki Barr

Nikki Barr


Normal human in an extraordinaire world. Memoir / Humor / Just Life