February Op-ed for the Bridge River Lillooet News
Valentine’s Day is difficult for those who’ve lost—or are losing—someone they love. And it’s harder when that person is far away, like my close relative who’s recently been diagnosed with a life-shortening disease.
For now we are connecting through technology, which is a blessing except for the texts I was receiving. The first time she punctuated a text with a black heart my own heart squeezed in empathy and sorrow: she’s grieving the loss of her future, the black heart must signal the bleakness and dread she’s feeling.
Afraid she was giving up hope, I texted back loving and supportive messages loaded with colourful hearts. Red, purple, blue, gold, green and of course the many pink ones. I’d stack them together like a sentence until they looked like a chain of candy. I hoped the dose of colour would lift her spirits, however briefly. And maybe they would nudge her toward replacing the black one.
But not so. They kept coming. Within a couple of weeks I developed a Pavlovian response. Seeing one would literally make me feel nauseous. But I censored myself from saying anything. How much time does she have left? How could I object to anything she was choosing to do?
Finally I texted a mutual friend and asked if she was also receiving black hearts. No, she wasn’t, just the coloured ones. That made me feel worse. Did she have unspoken grievances, had I failed her too many times over these many years? I needed to ask but didn’t; she was dealing with so much, my insecurity was irrelevant and selfish. Then I thought, maybe she only sends me the black heart because she believes I’m strong enough to handle her darker feelings.
Which is accurate, usually I am that strong person. But that isn’t so right now. I just had to say something. That night I got little sleep as I tossed and turned and wrestled with the decision. In the morning she sent another text and there were no words, just one black heart.
So I sent the text. Is there a reason that I’m receiving the black hearts, I asked, they are like little black darts and I’m worried enough already. I waited for her reply. The minutes that passed were very long and very silent.
Her text was stitched with exclamation marks. She was so sorry I’d been feeling bad! She would never ever do that to me! The hearts were supposed to be gold, red, or purple!!
Some of my worry lifted. Then I cast around for the right explanation and soon realized that the problem had to be with my cell phone, which has been doing strange things for a while and at six-plus-years old is dinosaur technology compared to her brand new iPhone. My cell sends out colourful hearts just fine, but incoming hearts that should be full of colour and love were all defaulted to black. And that’s already further into the symbolic than I ever wanted to go.