It was probably the most memorable Valentine’s Day in my life and, thinking back now after all those years, I feel quite embarrassed by my behaviour that day. In hindsight one always knows just what should have been said or done, but that doesn’t change things once they have occurred.
Valentine’s Day that year just happened to fall on a Saturday and I had a full agenda which included taking my 4 year old twins to a birthday party in the afternoon. The morning was taken up with grocery shopping as well as choosing a gift for the birthday boy. In fact, as I was taking two children to the party, it was only right that I purchased two gifts for the child. I left my two terrors at home with their father, and headed for the local shopping mall. It was a battle to find a parking spot, but finally I succeeded and made my way, first of all to the supermarket.
It took me ages to get all the items on my shopping list and then it was a case of packing them in the boot of my car before aiming for the toy shop. I had a good idea of what I was going to buy for Chad, who was having the party. He loved Lego, so I had already decided to buy two smallish, but very acceptable Lego models for him. I was, and still am, always on a budget so I felt that these toys would fit the bill very well indeed and wouldn’t make me look mean.
I found the items I was looking for and looked around to see where I could pay. I froze. In front of me and staring straight at me was a face I had hoped never to see again. I felt my cheeks burn in embarrassment and didn’t know which way to turn. “Fancy seeing you here, Shelley!” I looked at the man who I had believed would be my husband one day and mumbled, “Hi John”. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as I had a flashback of our last meeting, 8 years before.
Before I could recover, my ex-lover decided to start a conversation with me. “What are you doing in a toy shop, Shelley? You, who always swore that you couldn’t stand children and wanted nothing to do with them. Perhaps you are shopping on behalf of your sister?” I was mortified. John knew just how maternal my sister, Lily, had always been and obviously assumed that she had the brood of children that she had always wanted. I didn’t know what to say to him, and then blurted out, “No, they are for my twins to take to a party this afternoon”.
The look of shock which I got from John is one which I will never forget. We had dated for years and he was longing to settle down and start a family, but I had other plans in those days. My job as a journalist with a large newspaper was taking off in a big way, and children were certainly not part of my long term plan at all. I will never forget the day he gave me the ultimatum. If I refused to get engaged and to set a date for our wedding, with the proviso that we would think of having children within two years of the wedding, then he was calling an end to our relationship. I had been shattered, but not enough to change my mind about putting my career first.
How foolish can one be when it comes to losing perspective. If only one could see into the future then the decisions one made would be quite different. John was devastated by our breakup, but that didn’t stop him finding a gorgeous blonde architect and getting married within a year of leaving me. I saw the wedding photo in the social section of the newspaper where I worked, and felt very sad at my loss. It was a wake-up call and forced me to look at my life, especially as my job suddenly was no longer as appealing as it had seemed when I had lost John.
I managed to pull myself together and forced myself to ask him about his life. He told me that he and his wife were in the process of moving overseas as he had a very good job offer and his wife would have no problem getting a good position as well. They had been unable to have children, sadly, due to his wife having had an infertility problem, but they enjoyed a comfortable life doing a great deal of travelling, a lot of scuba diving as well as hiking.
He asked me who I had married, and was surprised to hear that it was an ex -colleague at the newspaper where I had worked– a man quite a lot older than me, who had been married previously but had no children. The paper had retrenched many of the staff members before closing down totally, so we were forced to pull in our belts. Martin had taken a job with a lower salary and I was writing some part-time articles for a women’s magazine, which didn’t pay too generously but we were happy.
I didn’t take up John’s offer to join him for a cup of coffee as I was already later than I had hoped and needed to get home to prepare the twins for the birthday party. I really felt very uncomfortable seeing John again and remembering the way I had treated him. Would things have been more exciting if I had made a different decision at the time, and he had not become the one I always referred as “The One That Got Away”? I would never know and it was better not to dwell on what might have been. I was sad that he had never been able to have the pleasure of being a father, and this in itself made me feel very guilty.
I wished him all the best for the future, and never did find out why he was in the toyshop. I knew he had always been very generous with his friend’s children and maybe he was buying for nephews and nieces. I have since regretted not even bothering to find out. His parting comment was to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day! What a way to make me feel even worse than before.
I paid for the Lego and was relieved when I arrived at my car and was able to try my best to focus on getting home safely and with time to spare.