Neal’s plane from Toronto was delayed several hours. I hadn’t checked the flights before leaving the house so I was at McCarran Airport two hours ahead of schedule. It was rare that I had nothing to do with raising two teenagers and a demanding job. I meandered through the stores looking at stuff that visitors bought last minute to commemorate their trip to Sin City.
As I picked up Las Vegas shot glasses, flipped through racks of cheesy T-shirts and caught up on celebrity gossip in the magazine section, I thought about luck.
Many previous V-days were spent with a man I’d been with off and on for several years. Our relationship was far from perfect—some might say even toxic—but I was worn down and tired of hoping for something better. He loved my daughters and me and I wanted to have a partner.
BUT there’s nothing that illuminates a bad pairing more than meeting the Yin to one’s Yang.
Earlier that day a ridiculously large box of tulips was delivered to my office.
My favorite flower, and there were dozens in that package direct from Holland. There was also a note:
We’re so lucky to have found each other. Some of the women you work with won’t receive flowers today. Please share these with them. I love you forever, Neal.
Waiting just outside of Security I saw him approaching before he saw me. No matter how many times I watched him head my way I still couldn’t believe he was with me.
He always carried on his bag—not trusting baggage handlers in what he called “cowboy country.” By then it was almost midnight and we decided to drive until we got tired. We’d booked a room for the weekend in our destination, but we weren’t going to make it there that night.
By Barstow we were bushed. A bedraggled motel was the best we could do and Neal chastised me for walking barefoot from the shower to the bed as he brushed his teeth—wearing only his loafers.
Waiting for me on the pillow was a card and my favorite holiday sweets. Neal was a Godiva Chocolates sort of guy but that box would be for some other chick. I’m vintage and get an unnaturally large kick out of these.
Come on. If my candy’s saying:
Or the best:
It can’t be wrong.
The next morning we grabbed a McMuffin, and hit the road. A couple of hours later we’d arrived. I’ve been to lots of romantic spots but there’s something about Laguna Beach that’s especially magical. This was not a new experience—I’d been there multiple times since I was a child–I’d also visited with other men. The difference that weekend was that Neal and I were so in love. We could be anywhere and immersed in each other, but given that setting that exuded eroticism and it was almost overwhelming. It wasn’t that we did anything different than I’d done previously but it was the ocean, the way it looked, the salty scent and feel on the skin, the relaxed beach town vibe that encouraged the tactile.
We stayed at the Surf and Sand Resort and slept that Saturday night with the door to our balcony open.
The sound of the waves crashing caused me to fall into a deep sleep that would’ve lasted until morning had Neal not awakened me. Always a light and sporadic sleeper I would often find the space next to me empty but on that night he was there, his mouth next to my ear, repeating my name.
He took my hand and led me to the balcony overlooking the surf. He wanted to share the view of the deserted beach and the water lit up by the moon. We were alone.
The next morning we took a walk on that beach and I asked him to go barefoot. He protested, reminding me how much he disliked sand between his toes–so unclean, and all that. But he finally acquiesced and grimaced a little for effect.
I knew the truth.
Neal was so beautiful in (almost) every way but he had the most heinous feet. Large, wide caveman-like monstrosities with a big toe that was startling in it’s girth. The first time I saw those tootsies I winced and then insisted he put them in my lap for closer inspection. After a few minutes of silent observation while running my hands over every part I nodded and said:
“Yep, those are without a doubt the ugliest feet I’ve ever seen.”
After he died, when I needed to smile I’d simply put my hand into his shoe to feel the deep impression left in the lining by that toe. I’d remember my merciless teasing and his laughter that always followed.
So Neal took off his shoes, we walked on the beach barefoot and then asked a stranger to take a photo.
The drive back to Las Vegas (and to the airport for his departure) was a quiet but comfortable one. We were both smoothed out–mellowed by the experience. Neal told me that for the first time, in as long as he could remember, he slept for the entire flight back to Toronto.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ll be lucky again.” Bette Davis
Happy Valentine’s Day Melani.
Maureen P. Tocchio says
Melani, Happy Valentine’s, I truly hope it is one fantastic day for you. I love your love story, know what, at least you’ve experienced this and it seems like you both shared lots of fun along the way. I envy you. Please continue to write, your style is amazing.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Maureen! Thank you so much for your lovely comment.
Matthew Mooney says
All I can say is wow… and Happy Valentines Day. Make the best of today.
Thank you, Matthew!
Laura L says
Ditto – what Noel said. Happy is the key word. Along with luck.
Thank you, Laura! I agree.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Melani! I was in the trenches with you this year…and maybe, just maybe, I may have found my “Cool Cat” amidst all of the “Call Me’s”. Cross your fingers! (PS….I mean, seriously…tulips to share with all of the women who didn’t get flowers? *melt* Obviously I never met him…but even I might love him a little after reading that…)
Congratulations, Donna! My fingers are crossed–toes, too. Please keep me updated on this exciting news. The ladies I worked with were all in love with Neal. You should’ve seen the office that day. There were tulips in every sort of container–plastic cups, coffee cans, water bottles. It was as if The Netherlands exploded in that space. You would’ve love him, that’s for sure.
For those of us who still have our significant others, this is a good reminder of how lucky we are. At least for today, I will not focus on his annoying traits (his half-tucked-shirt, his awkward social manners, his endless soliloquies about American history, etc., etc.), but be mindful of the lucky yin that tugs at my yang. Thank you- sometimes we need to remember what’s really worth noticing. And remembering.
Autocorrect changed the spelling of your name. I swear.
Love your comment, Susan. “American history soliloquies,” fantastic! Happy to provide the reminding.
My Yin is taking me to the place we had our first date ( an 11 hour lunch!). He has Barney Rubble feet too! We often remark about how lucky we are after a lifetime of difficult relationships. I often think of your beautiful story, and it makes me appreciate and hug a little tighter. Thanks for sharing…and you are right, Laguna is for Lovers!
Definitely hug a little tighter, Kristine. Thanks for your comment, my friend.
Annette Terkaly says
Melani, so glad you are still writing! I love reading all your posts. What a beautiful story…the part about Neal telling you to share your flowers brought tears to my eyes. How lucky you were to have experienced that kind of love!
I know, Annette. He was something. Thanks for reading and the kind comment!
Your story is so beautiful and it made me into tears by reading it. There is so much love and emotion expressed in your writing. Thank you for sharing it with us. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thank you, Larisa. Happy Valentine’s Day to you!
Hi Melani…swear to God…if I see another tv advertisement for diamonds and the smug actors and actresses that fawn over each other I am going to hurl this glass of wine at the screen…but that would be a waste of good wine. No Valentines for Dana but frankly sometimes it is empowering to be jaded and cynical…can’t touch this!
Hi Dana! Don’t waste that wine, for God’s sake! I might just pour myself a glass right now. It’s almost 4pm and besides, who’s the boss? Me!
Thanks for sharing on this lonely Valentines day. I too loved the part about the tulip for the ladies who received none! What a lucky girl you are having shared time with such a special man.
Jenny, he was special and did things like that all the time. He was so incredibly thoughtful–and hilarious, too. Thanks for the comment!
You are so right…wine must not be wasted. Thank God yesterday is over…I cranked up Adele last night and had my own little celebration…she rocks and empowers! Hey if you are ever anywhere near Tulsa, OK let me know…I would love to have a glass or three with you!!!
I’m a huge Adele fan, Dana. I will absolutely look you up if I get to Tulsa. You do the same if you’re ever in NYC!
Jennifer Clement says
That was just beautiful Mel……
BTW..Betty Davis was from Lowell MA (my hometown!)
Thanks, Jennifer. Lowell, MA, a fine place to be from!
I first came across your “1 year of online dating at 50” blog 2 hours ago and have not moved from my computer since. I have been completely immersed in every post and am enamored with your style, wit and humor! Normally I wouldn’t mind “wasting” 2 hours, however my boss might not be so thrilled. Oops. Every time my phone rang at my desk I looked at it with disgust, as if the person on the other end should KNOW I’m BUSY. The fact that I’m busy with non work related material is irrelevant! This Valentine’s story is beautiful. I wish you much success in all areas of life and love.
Thank you, Carl! Good to hear that the blog held your interest. I promise not to tell your boss.
Wow!! I found your blog last night and just finished this morning. What a moving journey. Thanks for sharing it with us. I do have one question (if it is not too personal. What was the sign Neal gave you after he passed? I have no doubt he is watching over you.
Wow, Christine! You read it all in one day? Fantastic and thank you so much! I’m saving the sign from Neal for the memoir I am hoping to publish this year. It’s pretty amazing and my daughter was present to witness the sign. If she’d not been there I would’ve thought I was crazy.