I was thrilled that my work would send me to Philadelphia again. I had just been there about a month ago. Last time I got to stay by the waterfront, walking distance to Market Street where my go-to cheesesteak place is (Sonny’s) and the Franklin Fountain for ice cream afterwards. Now I would be visiting Central Philly by Reading Terminal Market.
The City of Brotherly Love was a landmark for Beautiful and I. I started my love affair with the city when I brought her here back in college. We were dirt broke, just kids, and a day trip to Philly was like a week in Monte Cristo. It was a big, bright, and beautiful adventure. Waking up early that morning, heading out. First time heading to Philly, we had the GPS, our cell phones, and I even printed out directions from MapQuest (blast from the past much). We were excited and giddy. We had no idea what to expect. No plans, no schedule, just pure exploration. We got into the city around noon and parked at the Visitor’s Center. Went in, checked out some of the exhibits, and played with the toy muskets in the gift shop. It was actually the woman at the Visitor’s Center who gave us the map of the city and recommended Sonny’s. We saw the name ‘Philadelphia Magic Gardens’ and had no idea what to expect so we decided to check it out as well. Taking the bus, wandering, seeing the foundation of Benjamin Franklin’s original dwelling, we were living it up on a nonexistent budget. Lunch at Sonny’s, a brat at Brauhaus Schmitz across the street from the Magic Gardens, and pho at Pho Ha, which is still my staple for best pho in the country. Since then I’ve been to Singapore, Saint Lucia, Cabo, Jamaica, Toronto, etc. No trip has touched my soul more than that first visit to Philly. We took control of our destinies that day. I’ve never again traveled so freely and with so little reservation and expectation.
Traveling with limited resources meant we had to be creative. We split a cheesesteak at Sonny’s, we split a brat at Brauhaus, we had student discounts at the Magic Gardens, and we only sampled the ice cream at the Franklin Fountain. So when we got back together this year and I wanted to take her back to Philly for Valentine’s, I knew I wanted it to be bigger. I wanted to reflect the time that had passed and how much we had grown but at the same time recreate some of the magic of our first visit. This Valentine’s was one of my most ambitious plans yet and also one of my favorites. For a bleeding-heart romantic, I was on top of my game. It could never be anything less than perfect for my Beautiful.
It started on Saturday night, after I finished at work. I rushed home, changed, grabbed my bag, and went to pick Beautiful up. The sun was beginning to set and we had a beautiful backdrop of sky as we went down to Philly. Our first stop would be Pho Ha to warm ourselves up. If you recall, this past February was ridiculously cold. I loved it but she definitely needed some warmth. What Beautiful didn’t know was that I had secretly brought along seven individually wrapped long-stem roses that I would surprise her with along our journey. We had our delicious pho, and while she was in the restroom (I can always count on her tiny bladder) I rushed to the car, took out one of the roses, and in very hurried broken English explained to my waiter that I wanted him to bring out the rose and present it to her when I asked for the check. She had no idea. Afterwards she told me that as the waiter approached with the check and the rose she thought it was sweet that our waiter had a date and was probably on his way out after giving us the bill. When he handed the rose to her instead and the restaurant started clapping I have never seen her face so red with embarrassment. It sounds almost cruel but that alone was so totally worth it. It was adorable and sweet and it went off without a hitch and I loved her. Afterwards we checked in to the Hilton Penn’s Landing (highly recommended, the only waterfront hotel in Philly with a great view and excellent location) where, once again, unbeknownst to her I had already coordinated with the concierge to have another rose presented to her upon check in. That’s two so far. I had her put the room key in and enter first. This way she could see that I had also arranged for the petals of a dozen roses to be scattered across the room. A trail of petals led from the door to the bed where there were more arranged in a giant heart on the bedsheets. The bathroom was also adorned with petals around the sink and the bathtub. We didn’t linger too long in the room (yet) as I wanted to take her to a new attraction very seasonally appropriate, the Waterfront Winterfest right across the street. Firepits, little private mini-cabins, spiked hot chocolate, an ice rink and a giant Christmas tree, we snuggled against a fireplace with hot cocoa and listened to the music from the rink. I stroked her hair and kept her warm in my embrace. After a bit we walked to Market Street to pick up some cheesesteaks (we were big on the midnight snack thing). In case you didn’t already expect it, I of course had planned this part of the itinerary as well so another rose was waiting there for her. Three, not counting the petals in the room. We went back, I opened a bottle of champagne I had chilling in the fridge, and we feasted on cheesesteaks and chocolate strawberries that I had brought from home. We toasted to our love, laughed, and exchanged gifts. She gave me romantic scratcher cards, playing on my love of gambling and assorted amorous activities. I had bought her a book, Totto-Chan the Little Girl at the Window, about a young girl who goes to a very unique school, and I was going to read her a chapter each night on the phone or in person. That night we had incredible, passionate, loving sex on a bed of roses. I held her against me and we made ourselves inseparable. I fell asleep inside her with her clinging to my arms, her head buried in my chest.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Franklin Fountain. Warm apple cider and apple pie with ice cream. I told her to ask for the ‘Beautiful special’ and it came with another rose. I had woken up an hour before her and ran to every spot we were going to hit that day. After breakfast we went shopping for chocolates and candies at Shaw’s Candies. Another ‘Beautiful special’, another rose. Took a picture in front of the LOVE statue in Philly. It was freezing that day and her cheeks were so red. Nearby was Reading Terminal Market where we walked, browsed, perused wares, and had our lunch. No need for a big plan here, there’s a florist in the market so I simply purchased a rose on the spot for her. We were able to catch a few wedding ceremonies being performed inside as well. If you haven’t been, you absolutely have to check this space out. There are so many different vendors all with their own style and specialty. We visited the Magic Gardens, just like in college, and when Beautiful got her ticket, there was a rose that came along with it too. So if you don’t know, the Magic Gardens is a giant indoor outdoor mural project started by a local Philly artist using bits of recycled materials. Glass bottles, broken tiles, bike wheels, all of these are valid mediums for what has become a living artwork, slowly growing and spreading beyond the borders of the artist’s work space, which is a modest indoor studio and an outdoor exhibit. We ended the night at the same place we went to so long ago when we could only afford one brat for the two of us, a romantic Valentine’s dinner at Brauhaus Schmitz, a wonderfully authentic and lively German restaurant and bierhaus with an excellent array of cured meats, sausages, and of course, beer. And you know a rose came for her when the bill came for me.
I loved planning that weekend. One night and one day in Philly and we were able to do so much, share so much between us and our love. I believed I had truly made her happy that weekend. And I thought it would last.
How do I express to her how I am not just haunted by the ghosts of our past when I visit this city. How do I tell her that the city I had turned into her giant living Valentine was now just a cold, dead grave marker. Someone else now stands happily in front of the LOVE statue. I have to create new memories in this city because the old ones I have I cannot even enjoy or relish anymore. It is not that she left, it is the nature and the way in which she left that has robbed me of even the pleasure of our memories. When she left she took everything with her, and what she left behind has been so tainted I no longer want it. I thought I was enough. Or at least more than what she had. I am not even missed. I am left because she misses someone else. Someone else she left. She is forgetful and will be racing to create new memories. So as bitter as they are in my mouth, I have to protect these. I have to save all these images and reminders, because I worked so hard to create something beautiful for someone who did not want me or my creations. To lose these forever would hurt me still more. So I hold on to and cling to these painful memories because no one else will and because I truly believe it is worth remembering. Maybe all those people who I involved in my crazy Valentine’s plan will remember bits and pieces. I wonder if they ever stop and talk to their coworkers or friends and wonder what happened to the couple with the guy who ran across the city with roses. He is still running. He still believes in roses. He just has no destination anymore. I still love Philly. And when I am in the city I feel the city loves me too. I have only respect and care and affection for it. But my memories there are right now stained.
I never did get to finish reading the book to Beautiful. And I have no desire to find out the ending on my own. So it stands, unfinished, unappreciated, buried among the rest of my books in my library.
Man: 25 Loneliness: 10