just a day in february

74 years tomorrow, we say. valentine's day 1943. 

my grandparents met at an USO dance. my grandma, feisty then too, told him he was too short for her. my grandfather cut in anyway. 

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my grandfather lies in a hospital bed. when i first walk in, he follows me with his eyes. i don't know if he knows its me. when my mother walks in though, he perks up. he knows its her. 

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i've always known that when my mother's parents, maud & joe, got sick or passed away, i'd have to step up. that has been clear since one afternoon about 15 years ago, when my mom mentioned their eventual deaths and her face turned the color of a tomato. ohh, i remember thinking. oooh, she is going to lose it.

in the car, on the way to the hospital yesterday, i point out that she is telling me something i literally just heard because i was next to her in the car.

"you are gonna have to keep an eye on me. i am losing it," she says.

"i know. i've always known what my job would be in this situation."

she smiles. "yeah...you have."

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i get the call that we need to see my grandfather while standing in line for flowers. i decided to get my boyfriend flowers the day before valentine's day and to leave them so when he got home from work (and when i was at a meeting), he'd see them waiting for him. it is windy and cold and i am sweaty from spin class and my mom calls and says we have to go see grandpa.

he is not doing well.

ok. i run through everything i need to do and change before she gets me. i stand for a second in line, wondering if i should abandon the flowers.

i get them anyway because i realize that now, more than ever, i want to leave a little thing to let my boyfriend know i love him.

when i get home, i email some friends i had written about a possible galentine's day meet-up to cancel. i get emails of love back. when i text my boyfriend about what's going on, he offers to meet me at the hospital. i tell him not to do that. but knowing he would hits me deeply.

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i look between my grandmother and my grandfather. my grandmother sits in a chair in her coat. it is cold to her. she will ask me if i am cold another 100 times before the day is over. i will say "no" every time. even when i am a little chilly. i look at her and i look at my grandfather and i think about love and time. i wonder what it is like to have known and been with someone for 74 years. i wonder what it is like to sit next to them in a hospital bed. 

maybe she doesn't understand what's really happening, we muse.

later, my grandmother turns to me and says, "soon there won't be anything they can do".

maybe love and time and age prepare you in their own way.

maybe not.

i hold her hand and she holds it back. she strokes my hand. i know one day my hands will look like hers.

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after a particularly frustrating class, i pull out my phone and see i have a text.

grandpa broke his hip. he needs surgery.

that was last week.

in september, it was facebook and a voicemail that alerted me to my granddaddy's, my dad's dad, death.

i've never liked the phone.

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i knew this lesson already, but i relearned these last two weeks that sometimes great things happen at the same time as not so great things happen. highs and lows, peaks and valleys, come together.

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my mother is sitting and staring at my grandfather, her father. she looks at him the way a little girl looks at her daddy. i am watching the past and the present and i see the future on her face as she wipes a tear from her eye.

my grandfather says things that are hard to hear. he says them to my mother. i find myself getting mad at my grandfather for saying things that clearly hurt her. i don't say anything obviously, but i rub my mom's back when we step out the room.

my mom will sit here for hours. she will hold a vigil longer than all of us. she will listen to it all.

i remind her that she needs rest too.

she nods and looks back to my grandfather. 

i look down at my phone. a text. the boyfriend checking in, making sure i am okay. i text him the words i cannot say out loud.

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my parents met on valentine's day too. 

for years i thought i was destined to meet the one i loved on valentine's day too.

i think i realized that wasn't necessarily going to happen when my dad got engaged to his now ex-wife on valentine's day too.

who needs all that weight on a day in february?

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we leave after hours in the hospital. my mom admits she only left because i was there. otherwise she would still be there. 

it is only later, as we drive back toward the city, that i wonder if i have seen my grandfather for the last time.

but he was talking. and he knew i was there. and so...

i don't know. 

i don't like not knowing.

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i forget to tell my mom happy valentine's day when i step out the car and when i call her in the morning. but i say i love you both times.

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i get home from the hospital around midnight. i call my mother to make sure she gets home okay and when she does, around 12:30am, i tiptoe into the bedroom. it is cold in the bedroom because he is always too hot. i am always too cold. and so i think of closing the window, but i don't. i sneak under the covers and then he shifts and puts his arms around me. i don't know if he is really awake or if it is a reflex. i don't say anything and he doesn't say anything, but i am under the covers and warm because he is there. 

in the morning, he gets out of bed to begin his morning routine. i open my eyes and smile. when he tells me happy valentine's day, i realize i had forgotten, just for a moment, what day it was.

today is valentine's day. 

my grandparents met 74 years ago today. 

my parents met 35 years ago today. 

this is just a day in february that makes me think about love, loved ones, and loved things.