Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Adventures of a Greeting Card

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about buying a greeting card for his girlfriend. On the front was a soft-focus picture of a man and a woman having a picnic in a field of daisies. Inside, Seinfeld wrote, "Here's another couple having a more meaningful relationship than us."

It was 1999, the worst year of my life. (May Fate not mistake my matter-of-factness for certitude - it was the worst year of my life so far.) My army career had taken a turn for the worse and I found myself in love with a serial philanderer. And I could see no way out.

On the very few occasions when convention - like Valentine's Day - gave me a pretext to express the depths of my feelings for her. I used the most deceptively simple way to express it - in a greeting card.

I have no difficulty putting into words what I feel, especially when the feeling is oceanic. But, as in Rilke's definition of Great Love, my feelings so completely overshot their mark (a quite common and stupid woman) that the only way she could possibly grasp something of what I felt was by couching it in the impersonal, non-specific platitudes of a greeting card.

It fell on a Sunday that year, so neither of us was working. We went out together in the evening to either Bennigan's or Chili's or Old Chicago - some suitably horrible eatery that eliminated all chances of intimacy. We sat down in a booth, just the two of us. The food was a pretext, but after the forgettable meal, I pulled out a card in its envelope and, smiling, held it out to her across the table.

She tried to smile, nearly cracking her cheeks as she did so, opened the envelope and took out the card. As usual, the only pretense at something personal were the few words I inscribed before an after the printed message that was probably shared on that day by tens of thousands of people: "Dear So-and-so" (I withhold her name out of sheer spite.) and "Love, Danny."

Thus ambushed by my inconvenient sentiments, she moved her eyes down the card, like it was tombstone. She put it down at her elbow, said Thanks, held out her fingers across the table to me and told me she had to go.

I asked for the check, put enough cash on top of it, and we stood up and left. Several blocks down the street, she asked me if I had remembered to pick up the card. I hadn't - it was hers. I was driving, but I knew it was useless to turn around. She had places to go. . . .

The waiter collected the card, with the check. It probably waited at the cashier's until closing time for someone to claim it. However much she didn't want it, I didn't have the heart to take it back.

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