Clippings: Valentine’s Day, transatlantic style

On Sunday night, after an evening in the office, I drove home in the latest snowstorm. As I normally do, I swerved my car as close as possible to the mailbox at the end of the driveway so as to retrieve my mail from the comfort of my warm car. Inside the ice-encrusted mailbox was crammed a cardboard box wedged in so tightly I had to use two hands to pry it out. Inside my house, I sliced open the tape with a folding knife and peeled back the lid.
Inside, nestled between plastic packing pillows was a watch. It has a handsome blue-black leather band and a heavy silver bezel that fit squarely on my wrist. I haven’t worn a watch in years but I immediately felt a strong attachment to the timepiece and how could I not? It was from my girlfriend. Attached by a string, was a small note reading “Valentine’s Day!”
Every year in the second week in February, the majority of the people I know become divided into two camps; those that quietly go about their business with or without a significant other and a small but increasingly intolerable group who in their mighty self-righteousness scream about how much they hate it.
For me, this Valentine’s Day will be a different experience.
The girlfriend moved to Poland through a Fulbright scholarship and currently lives in the city of Rzeszów where she teaches English to business students. As a result, we have taken up the cumbersome mantle of the long-distance relationship and embraced all the weirdness that has come with it.
The experience has had a learning curve and I’d be lying if I said this was easy. Her departure in September was beyond jarring. Everything around me — the coffee mugs, towels, sticky notes and a big felt cowboy hat (she’s from Texas) she left behind — all indicated her absence. A hole had been punched in my environment that left me reeling, at least until one weekend when I drove up Route 7 to Jerusalem and hiked Mount Ellen at the peak of foliage and had a moment of clarity.
Because what I had really found myself left with were time and space — and plenty of both.
Since September, I’ve learned to focus my energies in a Zen-like manner. I’m exploring my interests in photography and fiction writing, and have assisted in the launch of a new online magazine called Offprint. I’m developing a killer mac & cheese recipe (ask anyone on the Independent staff and they’ll confirm). There are 19 ski resorts in this state, and I’m well on my way to skiing them all before the end of the season. Like a shark, I’ve found I have to keep moving in order to function.
These are more than merely exercises in distraction. Instead, I’ve come to view the time and space apart as a source of empowerment that when exercised correctly can border on enlightening.
What we’ve learned in five months is there is a world of experiences to be had that are bigger and more important than anything one person could offer, and to deny those experiences would be an act of selfishness or fear. We’re free to explore ourselves and the world around us, all while knowing there’s someone waiting patiently for us — and who thinks we’re pretty awesome.
Plus, my late nights at the office will never endanger dinner plans, as has nearly happened more times than I can count.
While I keep her updated with weekly snowfall totals here in the Champlain Valley, she’s currently on vacation, traveling to Istanbul, Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. And I’m OK with that.
So this weekend, I’ll spend my Valentine’s Day shooting photos of ski jumping at the historic Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro. In the evening, I’ll likely sit on my couch, drink a beer and watch TV with the family dog. It certainly won’t be the Valentine’s Day we had last year, when my car got towed in a blizzard, and we bought all the half-priced candy from Rite Aid we could carry. But it’s a sacrifice we’ve agreed to make as we hurtle along together — but apart — toward an unknown destination.
The watch is ticking faithfully away as I type this, and I am still adjusting to its weight and the cold stainless steel against my skin when I put it on in the morning. Meanwhile, I’m assembling a Valentine’s Day gift of my own in a cardboard box on my kitchen table. So far, it contains a jar of peanut butter, a toothbrush, a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, hand lotion and a small box with the image of bird in flight stamped on the lid.
This will be my gift to her. She’ll be stateside in March to visit graduate schools and she’ll get it then. Because time, as evidenced by this watch, surely moves forward.

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