Wednesday, February 12, 2014

my funny valentine

Ben and I had our first Valentine's day in February 2005.  We had been dating for a few months and mostly lived in his college dorm room.  I remember sitting in class and hearing people talk about the different restaurants that they were going to that night, but that wasn't really the kind of thing Ben and I would do.  Our dates were to Daka (the cafeteria on campus) or the riots that accompanied sports events.  I think we had both, in our cool, college, alternative way, sort of shrugged off Valentine's day, but in the end, I convinced him to take me out.  We went to Barnes and Noble.

When we got there, it was predictably half-full.  We wandered around and browsed.  We were still really young, super interested in each other, content to be kind of broke and kind of different and I was probably wearing one of his sweatshirts and this particular night might have fallen into the phase where I kept my money and ID in one of his old wallets with pictures of The Smashing Pumpkins taped inside.  I was so desperately into Ben.  After we had checked out the different sections we liked (fiction, fantasy art, children's books, comics, magazines), we took out the cafe-owned chess board with the pieces in a metal tea tin and Ben taught me how to play chess.  

I used to be even MORE prone to reading kids books and bursting into tears, and I did on this night when I read Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers for the first time.  It's a simple, sweet story about a boy and a lonely penguin who become friends.  To this day, an Early Childhood degree and 1000s of picture books later, it is still my favorite of all.  I've read it to every class I've ever had.  It was kind of the beginning of the "off beat" picture book, a genre that probably has a better name somewhere but I can recognize it in a second- hipsterish illustrations, geared more towards adults than children, ridiculously excellent design, almost never available in paperback.  It's huge now.  This was the first time I saw it and it made my heart beat faster.  Ben bought me that book, and I still have it.  It says "Miss Kauffman" inside because it predates our marriage.

When I got home that night, I e-mailed the address on the dust jacket of the book to tell Oliver Jeffers about our date and how his book had made such a fan out of me.  It's exactly the kind of thing that I would hem and haw abouot now, but 19 year old me couldn't imagine a thing Oliver Jeffers would rather be doing than hearing about my evening and the way his book made me feel.

Here is my e-mail:

Last night for Valentines Day my fiancee and I went to a bookstore,
where he taught me to play chess, and then when were browsing the
children's books, and I found your story.  We have a particular
affinity for penguins.  We read it to each other and I admit I cried
because I thought it was so pretty.  He bought me the book, and it was
the best Valentines Day present of my life. So, thank you.

He instantly responded:

I'm very glad to hear that. I hope you beat him at chess after it all.

I love you, Ben.  I love you, Oliver Jeffers.  I love you, books (my very first and most fervent friend).  I love you, 19-year-old Ashlie.  All of you, I hope you have someone to be weird with.  Happy Valentine's Day.

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