Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).
– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Valentine’s Day is approaching and I’ve realised that I don’t have a Valentine’s story. I’m still not sure what I think of it as an ‘event.’ The cynic in me derides it as a way to sell cards and punish everyone. The lonely feel more alone and couples feel inadequate as the need to be meaningful spirals out of control.
But the secret romantic sees it is a chance to celebrate love. To remember that miracles can happen and it is possible to find someone who will try to make you happy…forever. Fortunately, I grew up surrounded by successful marriages (even if they weren’t always first marriages!), so I still have faith in those kind of miracles…most kinds of miracles actually, but that’s another story.
Love and I have a strange relationship. It’s a word I overuse and, frankly, I’m prone to hyperbole. I love long showers, I love walking in the rain, I love putting in chest drains, I love stupid action movies, I love Cornish pasties, I love old men with impressive moustaches…but actual Love with a capital L? For this, I must live vicariously and forever in hope!
In that spirit, I thought I’d share my favourite love story. My grandmother is in her 90s and, sadly, is now quite demented. She tells me the same stories over and over again, and often now tells me about how she first met my grandfather.
They met shortly after WW2 when they were both working in the same hospital. She was a radiographer and he was a young orthopaedic registrar. My grandmother tells me how she was called to present x-rays for him. She remembers the first time she saw him very clearly. She couldn’t stop looking at him…but for all of the wrong reasons. She thought he looked ridiculously young, had bad hair and a stutter, among other complaints. She is now quite surprised at how critically she viewed him and how she found fault in everything about him. But the more she looked, the more she found that she liked what she saw. Yes, he may have bad hair but it was falling into the most beautiful eyes. His stutter faded when he became more confident and what he said was infinitely more interesting than how he said it. Before she knew it, she realised that she actually didn’t mind the flaws she had originally seen. The man he was underneath was more important. At this point, the story always drifts away…
…and so that’s where my memories of talking to my grandfather must take over. Even after 50 years of marriage, he was still astonished that my grandmother had chosen him. She was an intimidating and powerful woman, taller and older than him with a fiery personality and an elegance that I still envy. He adored her throughout his life. As a surgeon, he was always at work and used to look at his children, and later grandchildren, and congratulate her on all she had achieved. He loved her and the life that they had created together. In a conversation that remains one of my most mortifying memories, he tried to explain to a 13 year old me that ‘sex and all that excitement’ wasn’t enough. I needed to find someone who respected me, who understood me and valued me. And, he added with a grin, if they can keep you amused over the years, so much the better!
Granddaddy died over 10 years ago now. I still remember them walking arm in arm, laughing at a secret joke. I don’t remember them arguing. I remember how my grandmother could look over to him, raise her eyebrow, and he would get up and make her a gin and tonic as requested, without a word passing between them. I remember her helping him up when his hips wore out and caring for him when he was sick. I could go on, I am in awe of them.
Couples that survive together into old age warm my heart. I love it, more than I love anything else…and I long for it, with my whole self. But in the meantime, I can listen to my grandmother’s stories and hope she shares more this time, fondly remembering the love they shared and hoping that I have learnt enough to find it myself one day.