Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Write: Chocolate Swiss Army Knives and A Heart to Drive Off In

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2013 at 3:30 am

So it’s almost February, which means it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Sorry. I know. But I was in Target today and the whole store is one big Valentine, all red and white, exactly the colors of an emergency or a Swiss Army Knife.

A Swiss Army Knife would be a fabulous Valentine’s gift, by the way. And check out this one. Even better. The chocolate’s Swiss, of course.


In the spirit of the soon-to-be season, here’s a piece I wrote about Valentine’s Day and my lust for one particular giant chocolate heart. You know the kind — it doesn’t fit through the door, it doesn’t fit in the fridge, it has to shop in the Big & Tall section and feel bad about itself.

It doesn’t fit the way a lot of relationships don’t fit, which is the point. And the chocolate is usually lousy, but, well, there you go.

Thanks very much to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and editor Greg Victor for publishing it first, right around this time last year.



I wanted the giant heart box. Forget roses, stuffed bears, those smaller, more civilized heart-pocked boxes with their golden ribbons. I wanted chocolate in a box the size of a ham. I wanted a Super-Size-Me box that would have to be strapped into a passenger seat and protected by an air bag. I wanted a heart that could double as a soapbox my beloved would stand on as he wailed to the world, “Because I love you this much!”

And I got one on Valentine’s Day years ago.

I was living in New York then, working as a flight attendant. I’d been dating D for a while. We didn’t like each other much, but it worked. It worked the way things work when the person next to you on the bus doesn’t smell like moldy broccoli or talk to his sandwich.

I was away a lot. D was a cop and often on duty when I was home. He looked cute in his uniform. We both liked to travel and I had flight benefits. I got a Police Benevolent Association card that helped me get out of parking tickets and someone to call when a roach cuddled my toothbrush. He had someone who could take him to Spain on the cheap and make meatballs on the toy-sized stove in his New York apartment.

“I like our arrangement,” D would say, as if our lives were a bunch of carnations, tacky and bound together out of obligation or necessity, a gesture.

I’m not sure when I became obsessed with the big Valentine’s heart box, but size-wise it probably had something to do with the box of chocolates my father would bring home from work every Christmas.

My father worked in a tool shop in Wall, Pa. His bosses, like most bosses, hated workers, but every Christmas, they’d cough up a hairball of decency and give everyone a four-pound box of chocolates.

The box was huge, rectangular, with three layers inside, an office building full of chocolates, each in its own cubicle. My parents and I would huddle on the couch and watch the evening news. I’d sit in the middle with the box on my lap, and we’d fight for the red-foil-wrapped cherries or the last toffee crunch.

“It’s the least the bastards can do,” my father said.

That Valentine’s Day, D showed up at my apartment, awkward as a salesman in the doorway. We’d had a fight the day before, something about ketchup. I was getting dressed for work. I had a three-day trip, with double layovers in Little Rock.

On the romance scale, Arkansas is not Paris, though Arkansas’ official gem is the diamond and the state insect is the honeybee, and Little Rock was once home to Bill Clinton, and Arkansas’ state instrument is the fiddle and nothing says sexy like a fiddle-round of “Sadie at the Back Door” or “Who Hit Nellie With the Stove Pipe.”

Next to our layover hotel, there was a Waffle House with red shoe-polished letters on the front window that read “Waffles Are For Lovers, $2.99.” The world told me I should be miserable imagining myself alone on Valentine’s Day with a stack of heart-shaped waffles and bottomless coffee, but I wasn’t. It seemed mostly peaceful.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” D said. He tried to tuck the heart behind his back. He had to come through the door sideways. The box tipped and I could hear the chocolates in there, sliding around.

The box was everything I imagined. Huge, velvet-covered, fake-silk lined. The chocolates were not great, waxy, but it didn’t matter. There it was, finally. A heart I could drive off in.

“Love you,” D said. He kissed the top of my head while he scoped my apartment in that cop way he had, checking for evidence.

Maybe I thought in that minute, in the red glow emanating from a heart bigger than a pizza, that we had something.

Probably not.

“Love you, too,” I’m sure I said back. We both said it like that, “love you,” not “I love you,” but “love you,” as in someone, someday will. It was more of a wish, a blessing, than any kind of vow.

“You shouldn’t have,” I said about the heart, which is what people say when they mean “Thank you. This is both nice and disappointing. This is not what I had hoped it would be. You really shouldn’t have.”

When I tried to put the box of chocolates in the fridge to keep them safe from roaches while I was gone, it didn’t fit, the way D and I never fit. This is what’s often left out of those commercial Valentine’s fantasies — the truth that there are two real people involved and the only thing that matters is how two lives can come together and somehow hold on. It would take me years to learn the miracle of that.

D sighed. He took the heart back to his apartment, to his slightly bigger fridge. While I was on my Waffle House layover, he and his brother would pick through the chocolates. They’d eat all the decent ones and leave finger holes in the bottoms of the leftover pieces, all pink and yellow creams.

“We’ll be waiting for you,” he said, about him and the chocolates and the truth about love I’d yet to learn.

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