I was twenty-two when I moved to Texas. I was there for four months. I only took the job to test the limits of myself, the man I had become living in California. I told my boyfriend I needed space. It just happened that I needed 1,200 miles of it. I’m not sure if this time changed me significantly or not at all, but I was driving a Versa then and we drove 20 hours in the desert and plains to find out.
But something in me changed. I was not the person who I was in California, a person who desperately looked for signs in the cracks bathroom tiles and in the clouds in the horizon. I slept a lot in Texas; I had the whole bed to myself. I ate, cooked, baked for one. I learned about necessity and indulgence. I learned that you could cut yourself off from the world in a matter of days. I learned that the difference between our two perspectives of what it was like to be in love were two mythologies that were told by memory, jumbled up and the heroes left out.
Five weeks later, I began on his Valentine’s Day gift. I had to make it special, unique. It was our first Valentine’s alone since I was 19 and he was 23. I didn’t have the money to fly to his house in San Diego, so I did the next best thing: I made a dinner and a movie night in a box and mailed it to him. It was his favorite foods, his favorite movie, a handwritten note, and a lot of effort, but it was special and unique. It was for him to enjoy and for me to hear it in his voice.
And in that box, simple and cardboard and stuffed with newspaper, I included:
Pasta dyed a deep, unctuous pink by roasting beets. I tried this pasta a day before shipping it, carefully twisted into nests and wrapped in tissue paper. I roasted beets in tin foil and chopped it into pulp in a food processor. I folded this into egg yolk and flour and kneaded the dough by hand. It took two hours to get it right, but when it worked it felt like a labor of love.
A small chocolate cake, taken from a brownie recipe I had made him for his birthday a year before. I topped it with a marzipan heart and sprinkled sea salt on it. Each bite would hit his tongue: a sharp contrast of mineral and fudgy sweetness to keep him interested throughout the meal.
Chocolate truffles I had made from scratch, along with bacon-flavored salted popcorn to enjoy while watching his favorite movie, to mindlessly snack on, to keep his hands busy, and to remind us of our first date at the theater.
A DVD of The Parent Trap. Even at 27, it was still his favorite film.
And a special blend of hot cocoa I made myself, to sip before bed when we would Skype that night. A small envelope of chocolate and vanilla and cocoa powder and salt, whisk in almond milk and a splash of half ‘n half. I wrote the instructions in my scribble for him to get it just right.
When you are in a moment, you often don’t know that you have choices, options, decisions to make that affect others, too. I lived for years in the raw jumble of adolescence where I could not always differentiate between my cause and someone else’s effect. This moment was two years ago, when I chose to make it a point to make this holiday special. To make it up to my boyfriend for all the trouble I had put him through for moving away. That those 1,200 miles didn’t have to feel so far away, because I had made all that food for me, too, and fell asleep to the same movie with him on the phone.
I didn’t last long in Texas. I moved back three months later. And now we both live in Pennsylvania and just bought our first home last week. We have three dogs now and plan on getting chickens this Spring. And while we may never spend another Valentine’s Day apart, if we had to, I would find a way to make that one special, too.