My Valentine

My Valentine
Rachael Z. Ikins (c)2014

He entered my life at a time when I had no food in my fridge.
I ate what students cooked at my work where I was a teaching assistant/sign language interpreter
and I shopped once a month. When the food ran out each month, I did not eat.I told nobody
and did not complain. I was busy working and attending university classes,
living on my own for the first time.

Imagine me and my pride, not wanting him to see the bright white empty fridge.
He showed up with eggs in his coat pocket and heavy cream and
Swiss cheese for an omelet. I was ravenous. It was like nothing I ‘d ever eaten.
I was a nervous wreck after he glanced without comment into the fridge. Worried until he telephoned that night. Even then,
I was uncomfortable. Without preamble, he said
“I know what it is… to be hungry.”
The next afternoon when he arrived, he stuffed $100 bill
in a front pocket of my jeans.”Go buy food.” he suggested.
I spent $98.67 later at the grocery store. What fun that shopping trip was!
My cart was packed to overflowing.

In our early months,in my cramped little student apartment, we cooked and cooked.
Quenelles, quiches and pates, salmon Kulebac, cold salmon mousse with Green Goddess dressing.
He created pastry from scratch with ice cubes, sweet butter and flour. He wrapped a long pink salmon filet in the pastry
fresh diced fine herbs, his favorite, French tarragon from his garden and hardboiled,
chopped egg sprinkled on the fish. After he crimped and sealed the pastry edges, he brushed it with beaten egg for
a golden shine.

Those first few months were magic. We cooked and cooked and ate, drank gallons of the finest wines,
made love, ate some more, dribbled sauce Melba on each other’s naked skin and
made love for dessert. We bathed together in bubble baths by candlelight, classical music
or rhythm and blues on the stereo.

We “went on the road” together. At the educational extension school where I worked, they taught
basic restaurant cooking. He offered to do a cooking demonstration for them.
Many students and teachers on campus sat in. To have someone of his talent and skill as a visitor was rare.
He was a chef of world-class talent. I assisted him. I think we made beef Wellington or tournedos Rossini.
Demi-glace sauce drizzled over, potatoes Dauphinois on the side. He was, as well, a history
buff. As he cooked, he explained the history of each dish and after whom each was named.

January 23, his birthday, 3 years later we married each other in the living room of our stone house. It was a long time ago.
That morning we awoke to a blizzard. As the day passed, snow mounded up. We dug a winding path from driveway
to front door. Come evening-the wedding was to begin at 7:30 p.m., we had lined the path with luminarias. Some guest
thought to cross the street to photograph the flickering, candle-lit snow. The minister arrived. I wore my mother’s
wedding dress which she designed and wore in 1945. The fabric came from my pilot father’s silk parachute.
We wrote our own vows, and also recited portions from the Song of Solomon. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
accompanied each of those with the bride as we walked from the back of the house to the front room to stand in front of the fireplace
where the fire chuckled cheerful warmth and he waited for me, beautiful in a dove gray morning coat and tails. An arch
of living ferns curved over us. The air smelled of fresh plants. I carried pink and white rubrum lilies and roses,
his boutonniere, a single pink lily and baby’s breath. My black peke/chihuahua mix rescue dog sported his own bow tie.
He walked on my train and sat just behind me on it through the entire ceremony. I have always wished someone had captured a shot
of my small canine ring bearer.

Our five year old neighbor was my flower girl. She looked like a princess in the long pink gown we chose for her.
She sobbed into my skirts later, that she had forgotten to drop the rose petals along her way. She feared
that because of this omission the magic would be broken. I hugged and reassured her, even as my heart sped
with nameless dread, that the magic had happened. In later years, my mind has been drawn again and again
to her concern about breaking the spell that night in 1987. In truth it did seem that our life was fraught with much hardship
and loss. Once more, long after his death, I married a second time. Once again a small black dog wore a bow tie and was the sole attendant..

The similarities end there. A year and a half later, I escaped to my freedom. We divorced. I wonder if I will ever find the gentle kindness, respect and passionate love that was my husband’s
gift to me again. I wonder if the scars left by the second experience will prevent me from reaching for that magic. I wonder.

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