Why I Recommend MacDonald’s for Valentine’s Day

I didn’t sleep well last night. Between watching a horror series on Netflix (honestly! What was I thinking?) and checking the mainstream news media – equally as horrifying – I had dreams of Gods and Monsters. Waking up bleary, without even any redeeming memory from my dreams, I feel ripped off and at loose ends. Then I realized what day it is: February 14th, Valentine’s Day

No Sugar Tonight

There will be no chocolates, no flowers, no declarations of love for me this year. Valentine’s Day has often been a terrible day for me, actually, my romantic expectations far too great for my ex-husband’s energy and imagination. Once, though, he got me an oversized card and it made me laugh. I still have it, along with the cards and drawings my kids made me when they were young.

One Memorable Valentine’s Day

Once, when my ex and I had not been close for years, he took me to a hot springs overnight, without our son, who was about five years old. It was around Valentine’s Day so an excuse for this sort of thing. We were the kind of couple who rarely talked about anything important. Day to day, we were organized, efficient, and co-ordinated but as night came and I lay in bed after the day was done, I would often think about all the things I should have said, topics I should have brought up, feelings I should have admitted to. Somehow, it was easier not to.

What I had been thinking was that I wanted out of our marriage. I felt lifeless, hopeless, useless. He didn’t seem to care about the “me of me” at all and I felt like I had “forced” him into the relationship by having our son. I was miserable and I remember not being very keen on this overnight excursion.

We spent the day in the hot springs, exploring the area before going to the restaurant at the top of the hotel for dinner. As usual, we didn’t talk about anything important during our meal at all. Just the usual details of the upcoming week.

After Dinner, Something Extraordinary Happened

While sitting at the table, gazing out the window down on the courtyard below, finishing up a glass of wine, I saw a little girl. She was about three years old and running about as her Mother laughed and chased her. Suddenly, like a flash of lightening through my body, I felt a longing grip my heart as I watched that little girl dancing in the light of the lamps below me. I wanted a little girl my own little girl. Just for a moment I saw clearly, without the hurt and self-righteous anger clouding my mind.

I don’t remember if we both watched her or if we spoke about it. He is lost to me now so I cannot ask him for his memories. But what I know is that in that moment, I had decided to have another baby.

Crazy Little Thing Called Grief

Before getting into the relationship that would endure for 32 years, I was a silly 15 year old with a mad crush on an outrageous Aquarian named John. He was nearly as silly as I was and I remember being shocked when I realized he was the same age as the serious man I started to see a year later. They were polar opposites and I chose the man who would become my husband because he was so responsible and mature.

A year after my relationship ended, John contacted me as he’d recently been separated as well. We began almost exactly where we left off. Nearly crazy with grief and loss, I threw out everything that my marriage had represented. It was irreverence and light-heartedness I wanted now.

I Think You’re Freaky

Being a homemaker for most of my marriage, I did the grocery shopping, cooked wholesome food from scratch, and saved leftovers. This is a hard thing to shake after so many years and I fell into the habit of doing the same thing, once I moved in with John. Except that I was an absolute mess and could no longer reliably carry out these things.

One night I lost track of time as I’d gone down a musical rabbit hole instead of preparing dinner. Specifically, I had Die Antwoord cranked, was dancing around the living room to I Think You’re Freaky, and singing at the top of my lungs. Suddenly John appeared at the top of the stairs, home from work. I stopped instantly, realizing with horror that I didn’t have a single thing planned for dinner. Here I was, slacking off in the loudest, most insane way ever.

John stopped. He stared at me for a second, then, in one movement, dropped his jacket and his lunchbox and began the wildest dance I’d ever seen. I threw my head back and laughed. And we danced, crazy together. For about a year and a half.

Maybe Too Freaky

Now, the opposite of responsible and practical is not pretty, when reality intrudes. A year into our relationship, John had quit his job for very spurious reasons and had no alternative lined up. He was constantly angry and getting into fights with random strangers like cab drivers and people trying to find a parking place.

It was also a year into our relationship before he admitted he was addicted to OxyContin. It’s not always about me! I didn’t have a full understanding of what this addiction meant. It did explain many of the strange and disheartening behaviours I’d witnessed.

In our relationship, it meant that he no longer spent any time on “us” at all and the only one to greet me at the door when I came home was his dog, who I grew to love. He spent his days on the computer playing racing games, headphones on. I used to listen to him chatting to others and swearing when he messed up and they beat him. The dog and I would go for a walk around the neighbourhood, my mood serious and sad once more.

Valentine’s Relationship Death Blow

During one of our conversations, John and I had talked about MacDonald’s. I had only been there a handful of times in 20 years. John was a regular. I said that my favourite things were a fish burger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake.

You know the moment that it hits you that your romantic relationship is completely and irrevocably dead? Turns out I am collecting those moments.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to go all out and make a homemade red velvet cake for John. It took me two days as I had to bake beets for it. I didn’t want to use artificial dye. I spent time thinking about what John might like as a gift – nothing too extravagant – and went out, bought a card, and found something I knew he’d like. At this point, I was pretty sure he would not be doing much for me and I didn’t want to seem too pathetic. There is always that little hope in me that I’ll be surprised – that I’ll get some Andrew McCarthy-like declaration of love on days like this.

Instead, he took me to MacDonald’s.

Not Just Any MacDonald’s

It was supposed to be a sort of joke but, sitting in those plastic chairs, dirty tile underfoot, and with nothing to talk about, and no card or gift forthcoming, it didn’t quite come off.

I had been a bit nervous to be seen at Mickey D’s on Valentines but told myself that it was unlikely I’d see anyone I knew there. Most couples would be going slightly more upscale on a day like this. Besides, John was taking me to the nearest MacDonald’s, easily the shabbiest and grungiest of them all. I mean, if you were going to go with your partner to MacDonald’s on Valentine’s Day, wouldn’t you at least choose the newest one?  

Since it had been years since I had set foot in a MacDonald’s, I was surprised to discover that there is no longer such thing as a “milk” shake but only a “shake.” It has the same consistency as Elmer’s glue and much of the flavour, too, with added sugar. (Having eaten my share of Elmer’s glue in elementary school, I can speak with authority on this.) The fries were spindlier at half the size and twice as salty as I remembered. I had to roll each one in a napkin before I could eat it. I did enjoy the fish burger, though – the last one I’d ever have, as it turns out.

But Just Then, Claudio Came In

Claudio, as clumsy as his name, had been an awkward teenager that I had known briefly in the 80s. He had been a young soccer coach with a rival team to my Dad’s, thirty five years before. The funny thing was that he used to come to our house, at all hours, asking for my Dad with the flimsiest of excuses. My brothers teased me mercilessly about these visits, where Claudio would ostensibly be talking to Dad at the door but craning his neck around to catch a glimpse of a 15 year old me.

I saw him come through the door of MacDonald’s and ducked my head quickly, hoping he wouldn’t see me. “No way he’ll recognize me, anyway,” I thought. But of course he did, and he smiled and said, “Hi.”

Here I was, on Valentine’s Day, in the shittiest MacDonald’s in town, and sitting with a dishevelled and vacant man. I was 50 years old, no ring on my finger.

Humility is a Funny Thing

Now, I have eaten plenty of crow. Been forced to walk back more than one opinion, on more than one occasion. Had recently had my ego blasted by the realization that I was neither as important nor as essential as I thought I was in the grand scheme.

But there is nothing – almost nothing – as painful as choking down a slice of humble pie in front of someone who you had once perceived as inferior, when you are now at a point oh so much lower.

Claudio was gracious and kind, as he always was, I realized. I wondered in that moment – have I ever been right about anything in my entire life?

MacDonald’s on Valentine’s Day, I found out, will cure even the most hopeless romantic.


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