Just Friends

I was the girl they gave the safe hearts to.
–the candies with notes stamped in red.
I couldn’t be trusted with Adore or Kiss Me
Anytime because the boys knew I would.
If I did, they wouldn’t have a Nice Girl to bring
Their broken hearts. Besides I was forty pounds
overweight with the reputation as the class
Sex symbol. They had to keep the irony straight.

I have hearts to give, but they are not safe.
They poison the strong, but the weak take them.
Often becoming addicted. Hearts locked in my hope chest.
I keep my hearts potent to keep away lovers
afraid of the weight that would make me a woman.

This is the lead poem in my first poetry collection, When the Plow Cuts, a book I hope to republish in the months ahead. I wrote this in grad school in response to the baggie of candy hearts placed on my desk by my office mate. I had a crush on him. The last line comes from a dream that seemed real, of my father stretching out over top of me, while in bed, when I was a girl. When I woke up I knew it couldn’t be real because my dog would have bit his ass. My teacher told me not to be afraid of that weight.

Those years I scared men away. I scared them and scared them, until I found a man who wasn’t afraid, who taught me about charm. (I write about him in When the Plow Cuts too.) And years passed and men passed through my life, until I met Bruce, who was so powerful, we stood under a tree in the moonlight, and I tried the scare him off bit, telling him why he shouldn’t love me, but he didn’t care, and my body rippled with the connection.

This Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s day didn’t go the way we hoped. We caught a warm day, the roads dry, and drove to Woodstock to pick up a mounting block. A friend was able to buy them in bulk and offered a deal, $40 a piece. My step stool isn’t big enough to help me get on Morgen without twisting her saddle and her back, so it was something I was looking for. Although my friend wanted them out of her barn, I wrote often saying, “Weather”. We either had a threat of a storm, a storm, or something else was going on. So Bruce and I thought Valentine’s day would be a good day to pick it up.

We drove over in our Honda Civic, only to find out that the mounting block was way too big to fit into the trunk or the back seat. Bruce didn’t want to tie down the trunk for fear it might come undone and flip into traffic, causing an accident.

We decided to turn around and get the truck and come back because weather this winter, doesn’t guarantee good driving. We couldn’t blame our friend for wanting the clutter out of her barn. But the tension rose between us. It’s a long drive back to the farm and then back again, an hour each way. When Bruce got home he had to gas up the tires. He threw gravel and ice when he turned onto the road, heading to Casey’s.

I withdrew into Facebook and scrolled past my friends praising their husbands for bouquets of flowers, chocolates, thoughtful presents. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, work the weak spot in our marriage like a loose tooth. I love presents. Bruce doesn’t. Giving and receiving gifts are my love language. Doing things for others is Bruce’s.

A farm wife, years ago, told me her husband is the same way. She said she simply buys what she wants, wraps them at Christmas with tags to her from her husband. I’ve been doing that ever since, though I can get a little carried away. This year I bought a microphone that fits on my iPhone so that I can record podcasts. (I am thinking of making a podcast of my novel on here, and working on the sequel.) I also bought books. (I am so hungry to read these days, hungry for words.)

We were so tired from the consistent storms, that we didn’t even buy each other Valentine’s cards. But as I scrolled through my friends’ celebrations of their husband’s gifts, I thought, “But here Bruce is driving another hour to get this stupid mounting block.” He helps with water chores, and fixes windows, and walks the dogs, and does the dishes, and holds me first thing in the morning.

But I was rattled from listening to a Jordan Peterson podcast where he spoke how our resentments are valuable information, that we can confront these with our partner, turn toward conflict, even though it’s hard, and try to talk about what is bothering us. We should let ourselves be dangerous. This sounds wise, standard psychological advice, and while I admire Peterson’s Canadian accent, I’m not sure that opening cans of raw meat is such a good idea. It’s like feeding the lion of resentment and anger until she prowls through the house. I have learned that it’s not always good to go to the angry place, that we don’t have to go there in the first place. It’s too much work to write down and venting to friends just drives them off. Dr. Fred Luskin in Forgive for Love says, “When we finally stop resenting the person we live with, we almost inevitably find that love blossoms in our lives. Happiness will grow in your relationship as forgiveness replaces resentment” (79.)

I have learned when things are awry to imagine the good times, to seat those in my mind, instead of what’s broken. Luskin says, “If you tell a cold and unloving story it can damage your relationship, whereas a loving and forgiving story can help strengthen the love you feel for your partner. The health of your relationship is up to you” (200).

I also believe we should love our spouses as they are. I believe that is where love begins. M. Scott Peck said this in The Road Less Travelled, a book I read on the train to New York city from Albany, sometime during the terrible grief for my parents. He says, “As has been mentioned, couples sooner or later fall out of love, and it it is at the moment when the mating instinct has run its course that the opportunity for genuine love begins” (118).

How we Celebrated

We stopped at the Public House for lunch and sat quietly with each other. Bruce said the fries were excellent. I enjoyed my onion soup and half Rueben sandwich. After, we explored the Train Store and talked to the owner about my Santa Fe engine that I’d gotten as a five year old. He was shocked my parents allowed me to have one as a young girl because many women my age come into his shop wanting their own trains. Their parents wouldn’t let them play with boys’ toys. I was incredulous because trains don’t seem exclusively a boy’s toy. I loved trains as a toddler, maybe because my grandfather worked as a boilermaker for the D and H railroad in Albany, maybe because they were beautiful, a ride to somewhere else. Maybe the romance of the rails grabbed me even then. My imaginary friend was George the engineer. That birthday my parents put our party on a train ride from Altamont to Albany, when passenger trains still ran that route.

Bruce made me an engine and caboose out of wood to replace my brother’s engine and caboose that disappeared in a box, when my parents’ house was sold. Bruce sent flowers when I went back to pack my parents’ papers, a broken table, and attend my brother’s widow’s wedding.

How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day?

Beauty for Hoar Frost

The other morning the air was just right to make hoar frost. I was reminded of these verses: “He give snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow” (Ps. 147: 16 – 18). Here are some of the things we saw.

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  • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    What a beautiful, powerful, authentic, and in some ways, raw post. I love your writing, and I love your heart, Katie. though Michael gave me roses and a card, he is like Bruce in many ways, in that he no longer buys specific presents I might enjoy (rarely anyway). And yet, if I would like something, I’ve but to ask (and yes, I ask within reason). I love surprises. I love flowery words. He doesn’t do love language and surprises much. But when I went to Iona and was scared to death to go, he started penning a haiku a day for me, each in a lovely card. Most were really amusing or encouraging, but lo and behold, some were extremely poetic. Ah… maybe Michael can do that in small does; I’ve more than enough words for both of us!! But I think you are wise not to go to an angry place. You have God for that. your husband has so many wonderful qualities that many women would die for, frankly. In the end, that kind of tenderness, provision, and stability count for sooooo much more than a bouquet. And good grief: A train, hand-carved! Now *that* is really special!! Whoot!! Whoot!! (or whatever train whistles sound like). BTW, we watched the new Orient Express recently, and didn’t like it much, so went back and watched the one from the 70s w/ a smashing all-star cast. We really enjoyed it.

    • katiewilda says:

      Oh Lynn thank you so very much for your kind words. Bruce is like that as far as if I like something, he’ll say go ahead. I bought an expensive handcrafted belt at the local cobbler’s that is very comfortable and beautiful and feels like it’s from him. How wonderful that Michael gave you those haiku every day in a lovely card. How very kind. You were very brave to go to Iona. I’m glad you went. Bruce has been a wonderful blessing to me. God has been good. Love, Katie

  • Mark says:

    She comes to me
    between dreams and waking
    and she kisses me
    life and breath intermingling
    giving and taking
    love making me

    We didn’t kiss on Valentine’s Day. We were both too tired and also lacked the necessary desire; Karen from caring not only for our two grandchildren but also for our sick daughter who is a single mother without anyone else to care for her, me from a job that insatiably consumes me.

    “I didn’t buy you a card,” she said during the brief time we saw one another when I came home for a quick lunch. Once upon a time, the “quick lunch” might have been something else. “I didn’t buy you one either,” I said, suddenly remembering that I had not. This was a first for us in 39 years. It was only noon, and the stores were still open, brimming with cards, flowers, and chocolates. But neither of us cared enough to make the extra effort. Karen returned to our daughter’s house to do some more laundry, clean the place some more, go get our grandchildren from school, help them with their homework, wait for their father to come pick them up around 5:30 or six. I returned to my labors on behalf of other people’s children and other children’s parents.

    Funny we’d neglected our Valentine’s Day, because I’m the romantic one and Karen is so constant. I don’t need Karen’s cards, but I always love them anyway. She always spends time to find one that says just what she feels for me. My joy is delighting her with a beautiful card that’s blank inside and in which I write something of my heart for her that she treasures. But not this year, we didn’t.

    The day after, Karen just barely made it to the first Women’s Retreat she’d been able to attend in twenty years. (Twenty years! How the hell did time fly by so fast?) Karen needed this time with her sisters who are closer to her than the ones she never had. They prayed for her and over her and for our family as I took our sick daughter that night to the emergency room for what turned out to be gall bladder surgery by Sunday morning.

    Gall, bile, bitterness . . . ugly words indeed but also part of our lives as sometimes are flowers, cards, and passionate kisses.

    • katiewilda says:

      What a beautiful, vulnerable post. How is your daughter doing? I’m so glad she got help with her surgery. I hear you on gall, bile, bitterness being part of our lives too. But your daughter had hers taken out. This is a good reminder to keep you in our regular prayers. Your lives sound rich but also exhausting. I hope you both can find ways to be renewed as you walk this road.
      Thank you so much for sharing with us. Sending a hug and wishes for all good things.

  • Wilma C. Guzman says:

    I have passed on this quote at weddings: Red Green, a Canadian TV actor was asked by George Strombolopoulos, a talk show host what accounted for his 35+ years successful marriage. He said: “Every man likes to see his wife happy, but in the end every wife has to find her own happiness.” Sometimes that means buying our own gifts and what makes us feel good, accepting and appreciating the variety of other good things we get from our significant other. It also means realizing how much our other interests i.e. a Writing Group, Book Clubs, friendships meet our social needs and not expecting it all to be met by one person.

    • katiewilda says:

      Your comment is very wise. We are definitely responsible for our own happiness. There’s a saying that the guys who renovated our house said, “If my wife is happy, everyone is happy.” You are so right that our needs aren’t met by just one person. Wise words.