It’s a thing that confounds English speakers, what exactly je t’aime means. It’s I love you, of course. But it’s not “I like you”, as so many people hope, and blunder into. That’s je t’aime bien, which seems like I love you well, but is really the more prosaic, less comitted, I like you. I remember a French friend who told me “he said he loves me, he said je t’aime” and I was obliged to ask whether he’d said it in English or French, knowing that his French wasn’t up to accomodating the difference between je t’aime and je t’aime bien. As I’d suspected, he meant that he liked her, but she thought that he loved her. Thus are international incidents born, and disappointment, and heart ache.
Shel and I though, we love each other, and we like each other. Most of the time, and those other times, well, we’ve learned to live through them. Tomorrow will be our 18th Valentine’s day together. It seems unimaginable. So many times we’ve thought he was dying. A couple of times we’ve thought we were giving up on the whole thing, this togetherness thing, this for better or worse thing. It’s been better, and it’s been worse. And that’s the real life part of it all, we just hang on and stick it out and here we are 18 years later, not wanting to be anywhere else. Wherever we are, that’s home, because home is being together, whether in France or America, at the end of the day our pillows are side by side. In France our pillowcases are ironed, in America they’re not. In America Beppo and Zazou sleep on our bed, in France they often don’t. In France we don’t always understand every word people say to us, in America we don’t always understand every word we say to each other.
What I want is an ironed pillowcase with Beppo sleeping right beside it. To always be together in perfect harmony, perfect understanding. A fusion of our two lives, the best of each world. I want us to love and like each other all the time, in every language, with and without cats by our sides.
Tomorrow we’re going away for a little Valentine’s Day excursion, to Lake Quinault, on the Olympic Peninsula. Shel’s craving a Northwest lodge feeling, checkers by the fire, heavy wooden beams overhead. I’m craving a mossy rain forest, even if it is raining. And yes, a glass or two of wine by that huge fire, a car trip where we’re side by side for hours, just the two of us.
In a couple of days I’ll show you the Olympic Peninsula. I don’t think I’ll be showing you the love, I’m selfish that way. But sitting in front of that fire, under those huge fir beams, safe and warm, away from the dripping moss and the bugling elk, I’ll be thinking of love, yours, mine, ours. I hope you’ll be doing the same.