Today, I will celebrate my thirteenth Valentine’s Day with the same person I spent my first Valentine’s Day with. I was eighteen and a complete introvert. I wasn’t in the ‘popular’ group in school, I kept very much to myself, and the only makeup I had was a stick of concealer I’d bought when I was sixteen (in fact, I think I may still have it somewhere). As I smeared it on my face in anticipation of my first ever Valentine’s date, I remember thinking that it would probably be my last, and crying silently in front of the mirror.
Why? Because I had done the unthinkable.
I had fallen in love. This made me feel extremely vulnerable.
I now know that it’s not a bad thing to fall in love with someone, but that wasn’t part of my original plan. When I was sixteen, I had no intention in getting involved in a long term relationship. My dream was, and still is, to become a writer, only I had envisioned a grottier existence with yellowing paperwork and a couple of cats thrown in for good measure. (Think crazy cat lady from The Simpsons). This is what I was working towards. A relationship would be nice, but probably unlikely, given that I was the biggest nerd/introvert in the world, ever. And believe it or not, the words ‘disability’ and ‘sexy’ are not together in the thesaurus.
The story of how JP and I met is embarrassingly cliché, in the disability world at least. I met my husband in a place called Clochan House. For those of you who don’t know where that is, it’s an uber-cool holiday centre with swimming pools, in the centre of Tullamore. (It is not, er, an extension of Tullamore hospital). When I walked in, there he was, quite simply the most handsome thing I had ever seen. He had the widest blue eyes and the gentlest features. And he was approachable, chatty and good-humoured. I knew then, that even if we did not get together, that my life would never be the same.
It took nearly two years for me to gather the courage to ask him out. We were on a group holiday in another, more aesthetically pleasing respite centre. Having never asked someone out before, I poured my heart out to him like a gobshite. It was something like you’d see in a Disney movie if, after the princess declared her love for her prince, her beloved said ‘okay, let’s give that a go and see what happens’. Sooo romantic. I never wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as much as I did that day. But I’m still glad that I didn’t say something like ‘I want to get off with you’ as one friend suggested (though I’m pretty sure that’s what he heard).
The months that followed were awkward. On our fourth date to the cinema, my mum dropped me off. I had hoped she would stay in the car and do her embarrassing wave and then it’d be over, but no. Instead she walked up to JP outside the cinema, no hellos, no ‘I’m Sarah’s mum’, and said, ‘If you ever touch one hair on my daughter’s head I will hunt you down like a dog and kill you’ and walked off. JP had been holding my hand and he quickly withdrew it. Then we sat in the cinema, side by side, not touching or talking. We didn’t have a date again until before Christmas 2002. This was October. We didn’t even talk over the phone at this stage; all communication was via text. One Saturday, the toe-rag had the balls to come over from Laois to Tullamore after cancelling yet another date, and he later confessed by text! ‘I’m sorry, I’m nervous’, he said. My reaction did nothing to calm these nerves!
After Christmas 2002, the casual relationship turned serious very quickly. It was the year of my Leaving Cert, and from the outside it may seem like the worst time for a teenager to be in a super-serious relationship, but for me, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was studying relentlessly, killing myself physically and emotionally, and were it not for JP coming down every weekend, I would have ended up in a hospital. We made each other laugh, we liked the same music, we would talk long into the night/morning (sometimes these were like Ross/Rachel style conversations, the ‘where are we?’ conversations). He told me in these early days that he could see us getting married. The closeted cat-lady in me was looking for the nearest exit. In the strangest of twists, he’s the loving, dedicated partner while I’m the commitaphobe.
JP and I did a lot of growing up together. We went out a lot, as young ones do, especially when in the company of mutual friends. My favourite memory is our first holiday alone together to Blackpool, where we stayed in a B and B around the corner from the beach. Of course we totally underestimated how much money we’d need (plus the bank robbed us for each ATM transaction), meaning that we had £10 by the Monday of our holiday. And we weren’t going home till the Wednesday. To my disappointment, I found kicking the wall beside the ATM didn’t help.
So, let me tell you about my husband. JP is quite possibly the most generous guy I’ve ever met, not just financially but in terms in thoughtfulness too. I remember for our first Christmas together, he got me a white gold chain, a beanie teddy and a couple of CDs. I had got him a digital alarm clock. I don’t think he was impressed.
JP is (well, was) a serious Garth Brooks fan. ‘Unanswered Prayers’ is his favourite song. He always wanted to see GB live in Dublin. I’m sure the irony that this particular song is his favourite did not escape him in July 2014.
JP is anal about two things. Firstly, the ‘Coffee-sugar-tea’ containers must be in that order and facing out. Secondly, the dining chairs must be pushed in neatly when not in use. Sometimes, I deliberately leave them out or swap the containers around to mess with his head.
Working sometimes late hours means that JP sometime ends up watching crap on telly to unwind, such as ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘Road Wars’. Well, that’s his excuse for watching them anyway.
JP is the romantic one in the relationship, and I’m the one who laughs at any clichéd attempts at romance.
I am very thankful that John Paul Fitzgerald came into my life and I know how lucky I am to have someone to share all of life’s adventures with. While I’m particularly grateful that he has given us our beautiful daughter, I will always love him for who he is and will always admire him for his blunt honesty and his dedication to me, our marriage and our family.
Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. Sorry about the embarrassing blog but I couldn’t fit all of this into a card XXXXXX