The other day I was in line at the grocery store after purchasing some milk, dog treats, cereal, and a Valentine’s Day card for my husband. I watched as the cashier scanned each item and put it in the bag. When she got to the card, she stopped, opened it, read it, and smiled.
She asked how long I’d been married. I told her 2 1/2 years. She wished me 42 more years of marriage with that same smile on her face. When I asked her if she was married, she told me she had been married, for 44 years, but sadly her husband passed away from cancer two years ago. I offered my condolences and she thanked me, saying it was a shame that he died because she actually still loved him (she said that part with a wink and an exclamation mark) and he still greatly loved her. I could feel my chest begin to hurt for her as I imagined the pain she must be going through. How do you go from seeing someone everyday for 44 years to suddenly spending holidays and birthdays alone in an empty bed?
After we shared what I felt like was a genuine moment, she asked me what I had planned for my wife on Valentine’s Day. I smiled, and politely corrected her, letting her know my wife is actually a husband (hence me buying a husband card). She looked somewhat surprised, though looking back I’m not sure if she didn’t NOT know I was gay the whole time and was trying to find out in a roundabout way? She said, “Oh, well what are you doing for him then?” I could HEAR the italics on her voice, but it wasn’t said in a tone of judgement, rather one of curiosity.
I told her that I honestly didn’t have anything planned this year, as time slipped away from me and we have been too busy. I felt shame actually saying the words out loud, as I believe you should always try to celebrate love whenever you can, but I was honest with her nonetheless. She thought for a split second and said, with quite a bit of delight, “I think you should surprise him!”
I’m not sure what I thought her reaction would be during our whole conversation. Maybe I, myself, was being judegemntal thinking she would say something snarky? After only knowing her for 2 minutes, I had learned that she was married to the same man for 44 years and lived in the south, in the heart of the Bible Belt. I think I just assumed she would naturally not be okay with me buying a card for my husband after I corrected her with the right pronoun, but if she wasn’t okay with it, I would never know. She was kind, thoughtful, and sincere in her well wishes to me and my husband. Maybe we did share a moment after all.
I didn’t get her name, which I now regret, but I know I won’t forget her kindness to me and how I felt at ease talking with her. She told me to surprise my husband this year, but looking back, I think I’m the one left feeling the most surprised of all.