Everyone has a personal love story; yes, everyone. Think of the most lonely and miserable person you know – they probably have a love story.
Whether your love story/stories fall into the four Greek philosophies of love: philos (brotherly/friendly), eros (erotic/passionate), storge (familial/biological), or agape (true, deep, unyielding love with zero conditions), we have all experienced love in our lives and that is truly a blessing, even if that love is no longer around anymore. “It is better to have loved and lost….” right?
At this time of year, stores clear their Christmas/New Years’ inventory to make way for red/white/pink stuffed animals, candies, and cards for Saint Valentine’s Day. Today, Valentine’s Day, as we know it, is nothing like its bloody origins. Thankfully, England’s own Chaucer (14th century) and Shakespeare (16th century) made it less depressing in their respective times, romanticizing its origin, and this eventually paved the way for 1913’s Hallmark company to mass-produce greeting cards in America.
In the glitz, glamor, and hearts of the day, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of the four types of love and focus only on the eros portion. Many celebrate an “anti-Valentine’s Day” with funeral-esque black garb and décor. Some gather with romantically unattached friends to defy societal norms and curse the holiday (and Hallmark) because they lack a romantic partner with whom to share the day. More’s the pity, really, because these people seem to lose sight of the three other types of love they might very well have in abundance, but to each their own.
Now that we’re all caught up on the history and significance of the day and the four types of love, it’s time for my personal love story, which happens to encompass all four of the types of love.
When I was 24 years old in 2009, I was in a long-distance relationship for a few months with a man, Sam, I met on match.com. I was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia with the Navy and he was a former Marine living in our home state of Kentucky. Sam bought me a plane ticket to help stave off my homesickness and to allow him an opportunity to take me on a Valentine’s Day date horseback riding at his uncle’s farm and meet his parents.
On February 14th, 2009, I got on his uncle’s horse, Cheyenne. If you’ve ever been to Kentucky, you know most kids grow up around/on horses. I loved horseback riding but I unfortunately hadn’t ridden in a decade or more. The prevailing theory is the extreme wind freaked out the normally passive horse and she started bucking, eventually rearing up onto her hind legs before all hell broke loose.
Picture this: I’m on her back, holding on for dear life because horseback riding is a perishable skill and she’s trying like mad to get me off of her. Horses are not meant to be on their hind legs and she lost her balance, flipped backwards onto her back, crushing me underneath in the process. The pommel of the western-style saddle slammed into my stomach, causing blunt force damage. For those concerned, Cheyenne was uninjured.
I remember acutely the sensation of falling backwards, the impact (like the wind being knocked out of you times a million), and the release as she got up and mercifully didn’t drag me with her. After that, it’s a little hazy. I was cold (in shock) and threw up my Cracker Barrell lunch I’d had with Sam and his mother beforehand. His uncle yelled for Sam across the pasture and it was a flurry of activity after that with his mother, his aunt, and his uncle figuring out next steps.
I must have passed out because the next thing I know, Sam is over me, brushing my hair out of my face. I was in and out of consciousness and after the initial impact, I felt no pain. Other than the cold, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Every time I drifted off, I woke up to Sam’s face, who looked relieved each time. Next thing I know, there are paramedics strapping me to a board and then to a stretcher. What seems like a mere second later and I’m being loaded into a small bay of a helicopter. They start asking me questions, trying to keep me awake as the helicopter lifts into the air. At that moment, I dryly remark “Man, it would suck if this thing crashed.” Then, blackness.
Three weeks to a month later, I slowly wake up clearly for the first time in the surgical ICU (SICU) of University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. I could go through the minutiae of my recovery but that’s for another time (or a book?).
What had happened on the farm was this: I had internal bleeding and I had stopped breathing more than a few times (three, to be precise). Each time, Sam gave me the “kiss of life” and brought me back. Best Valentine’s Day gift ever, huh? He learned these skills in the Marines, thank God. Had he not remembered/performed them, I would have died right there. To this day, he and I are both obsessed with people learning first aid/CPR skills.
And despite the long uphill road of recovery, the surgeries, the rehabilitation, learning to walk again, learning how to live with my newfound disabilities after losing 2/3rds of my colon and part of my small intestine (no spinal injuries, by some miracle)…despite all of this, Sam was there every step of the way. Oh, I tried to get rid of him a number of times because I didn’t want to be a burden, but this stubborn ass stuck around. When informed he was the reason I was even alive to get to the hospital to begin with, I tried to thank him. To this day, he still doesn’t feel comfortable with gratitude from me or anyone for his heroism – to him it was something that anyone with the skills to do it should do. “It was just icing on the cake that I also love you,” he explained. Today, he is my husband of almost 11 years and we have two beautiful children and three crazy dogs.
Even with the drama and excitement of our courtship, our first Valentine’s Day together, and our marriage, it isn’t the only love story I have to tell from this experience. God, above all, was instrumental in my recovery; what was supposed to be over a year of recovery and rehabilitation was just 6-7 months. Family (especially my parents, sister, brother-in-law, uncles/aunts), friends, Sam’s family/friends and the medical team at UK Chandler Medical Center are also all amazing examples of love, support, and care. Each person I could thank a million times and never feel like I showed them the gratitude due them.
Valentine’s Day, for myself and those close to me, is a day of celebration that love won. The love of God and my support system were all present and accounted for that day and felt every day in the 12 years since.
While it’s normal and human to get wrapped up in the “window dressing” of one day of the shortest month (both corporeal and intangible), I urge each of you reading this rather long missive to not only focus on the eros love in your life but also the stronger, more substantial ties that bind: God, family, friends. These are the loves that sustain us every single day and cannot be summed up in one three-dollar card or even this article.