Rush, New York, February 14, 2011
Mary Grace opened the yellowing envelope carefully; it gave way easily with seams that no longer adhered and corners worn by years of handling. Gently pushing it apart with her left hand, she reached in and grabbed the card inside.
The card was single ply with a picture of two fawns bumping noses.
She smiled at the sentiment of a six-year-old boy from decades past whose simple love and care reached across time to touch her heart.
She swallowed and blinked back tears. The most precious thing she could ever point to in a very troubled childhood. She recalled with fondness and only a tiny bit of residual sadness the day she received the treasure.
“My Mom says I hafta give everybody a Valentine,” the boy said. You don’t hafta keep it if you don’t wanna.” A hand reached over.
“But even if I didn’t hafta give you one, I would. I like you a lot.” He stepped closer, looking for all the world, as they say, as if he was about to bestow a kiss.
The boy was shooed away by a very kind and well meaning teacher who merely reflected how things were back then. The woman grabbed the Valentine and shook her head no. Innocence interrupted in a way as the woman returned to the front of the classroom and placed the card on her desk. Thankfully the day was nearly over, and the card was retrieved later while the teacher was pre-occupied with getting coats and galoshes and hats all sorted out on a cold afternoon in February.
“What you did, Anthony?” She shook her head as she stared down at the card. The pencil was nearly faded, but overwritten several times in ink; each time the hand was steady until recently when pens became shaky even if memory was as steady as always.
“You…I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, Anthony Macaluso.”
She blinked back tears over the memory of a boy who made the supreme difference in her life. And who made a supreme sacrifice on behalf of companions years ago in a rice paddy a whole world away. She shook her head and smiled even as the tears flowed; a yearly ritual that was dreaded and welcomed at the same time. The stains from crying over the years added character to the fading card; almost like the patina on the birch backing of a Martin guitar or the brown stains on the bottom of a favorite coffee mug.
She sighed as she remembered the boy from so long ago; forever etched in her memory as a six year old with red hair and big green, caring eyes. He and his family moved away that summer, and she never saw him again. Only in reading in the paper had she learned of his fate. The boy became a man who loved enough not to love his own life too much, as some would say. Not a surprise, when he loved enough to give a Valentine that made her life complete so many years ago.
“Mom says to give everybody one…so nobody will know, okay?” The soft, tentative voice spoke from beyond the pale as if the little boy stood before her at that moment.
“I didn’t want to get you in trouble,” the boy would say afterwards. It never became trouble because no one ever knew other than the teacher who spared them both. A hastily confiscated card ‘accidentally’ left unattended to be retrieved when nobody was looking. She peered down at the card and noticed, of course, that fresh tear stains graced the paper. Ironic, she thought, remembering her middle name.
“Mary Grace…actually Mary Graziano Forte.” She spoke it quietly to herself, but the voice was still heard.
“He must have been something special,” the man who sat across from her in the rocker; he didn’t look up since it was a ritual for her that spanned decades, predating even their thirty years together. The words spoke more of an acknowledgment of her history rather than a question; another opportunity to thank God for the love of a boy who was blind in all the best ways with otherwise perfect vision. She looked at the card once again and then up at her husband. The cards he gave her over the years were just as special; each tea rose or carnation or dinner out had just as much importance in her life, if in a completely different context.
“I should get another envelope for this.” Something she would say every year and then forget; not in forgetfulness, but because to replace the envelope would be, perhaps, to lose the most important part of the treasure, even if it was faded and yellowed with age. She read the card once more before placing in the envelope.
Luv, Anthony Macaluso
She slipped the card into the envelope and folded the flap carefully before turning to look at the front one last time until the next Valentine’s Day one year hence; blessed by another year's worth of tears.
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