Happy Valentine’s Day one day late. Really. I hope it was a hearts and flowers day for you—especially for you women and you women who are mothers, in the particular sense of putting your own heart, how good you are, how lucky the people around you are to have you—in the center of the frame all day yesterday.
My Valentine’s Day started with breakfast in bed from my daughter, valentines; one each bought and made—by me for my partner and daughter and a huge, mad rush to work. I still don’t have this—get-my-daughter-to-school-and-have-myself-dressed-and-eaten thing quite down. I’m supposed to be sitting at my desk at 9:00 a.m. And not in my old tee-shirt and stretchy pants. But I’m getting there and there hasn’t been much shouting at anyone.
So after the mad rush when it was too late to get down into and then up from the subway and still be on time—I got in a cab. I take taxis more than many do, but certainly not all the time. In my city (all U.S. cities now?) most of the taxi drivers are men who were born outside of the U.S. I have a routine. I talk to almost every taxi driver whose cab I get into and I learn a lot about them and some about their home countries and their families here and abroad and the circumstances under which they came to the U.S.
Yesterday I got into the taxi and the driver was listening to the radio. I thought NPR, he said, Pacifica. We were listening to Story Corps. It was interesting, so I delayed talking to him, other than to say hello and what a beautiful day it was and where I was going. The stories were love stories—Valentines Day stories, I think—and we, taxi driver and I, were listening together. I mean we weren’t just listening at the same time, but it had a particular quality of listening together.
I have the kind of memory where if the next thing that happened hadn’t happened, I could tell you the details of the first two stories we heard. But after the first two stories ended, a third story began. It was the story—short and simple—of a woman, now about 60, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. She said they had met when they were 16 and they married. What she described was that on 9/11—he was up in one of the towers and it had been hit, and he tried to get out but when he knew he had no way of getting out, he went to a phone and he called her. He knew and she knew, that he wasn’t going to make it out, so he called her and they talked until he couldn’t talk any longer. As the woman talked about what it was like to be on the phone with her husband for the last time, and things he said to her, the cab driver—a big, booming, burly African guy, began to weep quite openly. I couldn’t quite cry but I said things to him, the kinds of things you say to someone when you grieve together.
Then the story ended and I asked and he told me about coming from Ethiopia in 1992 because of the war there, and about his wife here and about his two children with his one wife—a daughter 18 years old and a son only 3 ½ , a blessing and a big surprise to him and his wife. And the day was long and that was only the very beginning. But for now, l’ll leave it like this. I am well- loved at home and by others who have been mine and I theirs, a long time. My partner sent beautiful roses to me at the office, creating a bit of a stir in only my second week. But that man and our ride together—and his crying with me—he was my friend and my Valentine.