Only after I hung up the first time we spoke on the phone did it hit me. I had called her the day before and left a message, but in keeping with pride or protocol Tracy waited the conventional twenty-four hours before calling me back.
Soon enough I would realize the timing was more in keeping with a happy combination of providence and happenstance.
Technically speaking, we had spoken on the phone for the first time six months before, when mutual friends put me in touch with her before my departure for travels in China. Tracy had lived there for three years as a teacher, naturally leading Robin and Declan to think she would have some good advice and helpful tips for me.
She most definitely did not. Her advice on China amounted to the recommendation of a book about Tibet, and her distracted air made me wonder if she was more involved in an email on the other end. Later I would learn about the family drama she was steeped in at the time; but suffice it to say that I hardly hung up thinking will you marry me? A book about Tibet? That was helpful was more like it.
But when I walked into Robin and Declan’s birthday party back in New York several months later, and picked her out in the crowd even before we were introduced, it didn’t take long to forgive her subpar travel advice. That’s Tracy? I thought. Whoa!
She was beautiful, alright, but what truly won my heart that night is when I told her the story of a harrowing bus crash in Pakistan during my travels, a belly-up dive off an overpass outside Islamabad from which I had emerged miraculously unscathed.
I had told the story several times in the previous two months since my return, invariably greeted with disbelief and belated concern. But Tracy was the first to throw her head back with a cackle that, in my ears at least, drowned out the music and ambient conversation at the party. Did she just laugh at my near-death experience? I was a little bit in love.
So when Robin and Declan subsequently invited me to a “dinner party,” hours before which I was told by Declan that “the other guests” besides Tracy had canceled, I had to laugh at my being doubly set up. Maybe it wasn’t as funny as my bus crash, but still.
I will never forget a moment at the table during a lull in the conversation, when she and I looked at each other half a second longer than platonic etiquette allows. In that half-second there seemed to be room enough for more than half a lifetime together to come.
A week later, I made the call. She waited the conventional twenty-four hours and called me back. We spoke about this and that; we made plans to meet. We hung up.
And that is when it hit me: Wait a minute; it’s Valentine’s Day.
Several factors had conspired toward blotting out any cognizance of the occasion on my part, among them the fact that A) I was single, and B) I had long held a fairly cynical view of the day. I was more inclined to dodge Cupid’s arrow and fire back with a sawed-off shotgun. Don’t aim your corporate-sponsored affectations at me, you mutant angelic offspring of Hershey’s and Hallmark!
But on February 14, 2002, I was a marked man, and thankfully so.
Twelve years, three children, and perhaps one too many fights but countless more precious memories later, there is greater cause than ever to regard my valentine with no less of a heart-stopping Whoa! than the night we met.
For her physical beauty, yes—she never ceases to catch me by surprise in those unexpected moments when I have to retrieve my jaw from the floor at the sight of her.
But for all her other beauty—her hard-earned faith as an adult whose conversion story peaks on Easter in the state-sponsored Catholic church of communist China, her indefatigable self-sacrifice as mother and wife, her formidable intellect and unfailing sense of humor, her devotion to friends and weakness for cookbooks—this list could take up the rest of my word count if I let it—for all these other facets and so many more, I am wowed, humbled, and eternally grateful.
It was she, who in short order got married, finished law school, took the bar, got pregnant, and put her career on hold for stay-at-home motherhood in her late thirties. She who gave birth to our second child just shy of forty and our third just shy of forty-four, with non-epidural VBACs both times, having pushed for three-and-a-half hours at the first birth until a C-section was required because our first daughter got my big head.
Tracy. T-Bomb. The Lyons (her middle name) of the tribe of Judah. Slugging it out solo on the home front in the wintry nightmare that is New York City at the moment, while I’m away by necessity for a short-term work stint in sunny L.A.
Not long after that call on Valentine’s Day in 2002, when the future was underway, I saw fit to finally look up the saint who seems all but forgotten on the eponymous day. Little did I know then I would soon marry a woman cut from the same cloth as St. Valentine, the roots of whose name mean “worthy, strong, powerful.”
And how worthy, in turn, it makes me feel to this day, knowing what I didn’t know when I left her that first message: pride or protocol aside, she danced in her room for the fact that I had called.
Tonight, on another Valentine’s Day, I will fly to New York on the red-eye to see her and the kids. If I can get home early enough before everyone is awake, I will slip in bed beside her as if I never left.
As if my heart were so full it could bleed into my tired eyes.
Bradford Winters is a screenwriter/producer in television whose work has included such series as Oz, Kings, Boss, and The Americans. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.