A Very AARP Valentine’s Day

Maybe it was discovering that just about every musical and movie reference I knew was lost on anyone under 30. Perhaps it was passing the half-century mark and seeing that not only had some of my dreams gone missing, some even remained unpacked. Maybe it was the arrival of my complimentary copy of AARP Magazine and knowing I could now get discounts at movie theaters and select restaurants such as Olive Garden and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (I saw The One and I, slumped in a booth in Denny’s, gumming our Grand Slamwiches on Valentine’s Day when we’re in our 80’s.)

Whatever the cause, late last year I began having what life coaches—and Cosmo Magazine—are fond of labeling a midlife crisis.

The One handled his crisis a few years earlier by buying a 2005 Mustang (white with red interior, which he coveted ever since he bought the Matchbox version back in the ’70s). Driving around metaphorically created distance from whatever was haunting him.

I didn’t have the money to buy back two decades of my life, so my “situation” followed me around in lockstep. This wasn’t a sitcom kind of crisis, where after 22 1/2 minutes the salve of comedy makes everything better. Try as I might, my humor failed me. Even I couldn’t joke my way out of this one.

So I did what I always do when I’m confused. I started making lists. As you know, I’m fond of them. They clarify and comfort. I struggled through “What makes me happy?” and “What legacy will I leave behind?” Yet I had a significantly easier time with “What am I depressed about?”, “Where did I fail?”, and “What didn’t I accomplish?” That damn half-empty glass again.

As I mulled over these lists—something I suggest you never attempt with a bottle of wine by your side and Edith Piaf on your iPod—I began to understand what I was really trying to do. And that was come to terms with the fact that one day I will [clears throat here] cease to exist. Will no longer be. The world of David Leite—the good, the bad, the self-centered—will be gone. What will I have left behind? Will I be missed? Will I even matter?

Then I had that inevitable, horrible thought—the one that’s so easy to keep at bay in your 20s, 30s, even 40s. What if The One goes first? A part of me would also cease to exist, would also no longer be. The part that is me around him—and only him. The part that no one sees, the part that has been cobbled together and burnished by spending the past 6,702 days with him.

What I did then surprised me. I wrote a kind of list I’d never written before. I wanted something that would remind me, in thick ink lest my eyesight started going, of what I would’ve missed out on had he not answered my personal ad in New York Magazine all those years ago. (Yes, that’s right, folks, he was my mail-order partner long before online dating became commonplace—or even chic.) Here it is, my inside-out Valentine’s Day wish to him.

What If I’d Never Met The One…?

1. I would still covet milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate.

2. I would never have whispered intimacies to him on Paris’s Pont Neuf at night.

3. I would still be wearing shoes that were way too tight for me. (The One was a shoe salesman decades ago.)

4. I wouldn’t have the pleasure of gazing at views north to the Upper West Side, east over Central Park, and south to the Chrysler Building every single day from our apartment, because it was The One who convinced me the place was a great investment. And it is. (After shoes, he started selling real estate.)

5. I would never, ever, ever deign to use endearments such as “tateleh,” “lovie,” “mon cher,” “poppie,” or the amalgam “pussycake” with anyone. Nor would I allow anyone to call me “Dave,” as if I were a gas station attendant.

6. I wouldn’t have a home in Connecticut. (Full confession: It’s The One’s, as he paid for it entirely. He also insisted that I keep my half of the profit from the sale of our first home to use as seed money for my career.)

7. I wouldn’t have had an escort to the James Beard Awards, where all he did three years in a row, bless his heart, was act like a human Xanax and talk me down from a panic attack for two hours straight.

8. I wouldn’t have had the chance to fall irrevocably head over heels for the kids, the cats, which he rescued through a bulletin board at work. And who have made me supremely happy.

9. I wouldn’t have someone constantly, incessantly making fun of my singing. (Come to think of it, I really wouldn’t miss that.)

10. I would have never discovered Martha’s Vineyard. Well, at least not the private and stunning Hancock Beach.

11. I wouldn’t have ever come to appreciate Jackson Pollock, whom The One teases that he’s the reincarnation of. (Honestly, I’m not so sure he’s kidding…)

12. I wouldn’t have Our Song, which, to be fair, in my typical Type-A fashion, I thrust upon him. He accepted graciously.

13. I wouldn’t have visited a very funky yoga retreat on Paradise Island—and later escaped from it in the of middle of the night to a nearby Marriott—because, well, I’m just not that type.

14. I wouldn’t have spent two incredible summers in East Hampton, just 40 feet from the water, watching the empty wine bottles and clam shells pile up.

15. I wouldn’t be intimately familiar with the entire oeuvre of Kenny G.

16. I wouldn’t have this website. After all, it was he who kept me afloat for three years in my 40s, which I unaffectionately call My Decade of Debt.

17. I wouldn’t treasure the fact that when he was nine years old and rode through the underwater Baltimore Harbor Tunnel for the first time, he was devastated he couldn’t see fish.

18. I wouldn’t have had the example of someone who started with nothing and built a life for himself exactly where, when, and how he wanted.

19. I would have never stumbled onto my love of baking, all because one Sunday he made a cake and let me lick the bowl. Boom! I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen on Brownell Street in 1965.

20. I wouldn’t be me—with this fabulous constellation of qualities—because there would have been no The One with whom to fight, laugh, cry, scream, insult, make up, learn, travel, complain, control, joke, love, and, ultimately grow old with. Denny’s, Bubba Gump, cheap movies, and all.

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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    1. James, coming from you–that is a huge compliment. Thank you. I hope you and Paula had a great day.

  1. That is the most beautiful post. I read your blog every week (and enjoy my attempts to recreate some of the fine foods you share with us….) but that was so kind. I hope you gave that list to him in lieu of a card. It was so heartfelt. Hope you had a lovely Valentines Day (just not at Dennys!)

    1. Kathy, I appreciate your comment. He got the list and a card. (Two card, in fact.) And I hope your attempts at cooking some of the recipes on the site have been successful…?!

  2. This is just lovely.

    I was well on my way to being all puddly, and then you offered a little relief with No. 13. Thanks for that. (I’ve been known to say that my idea of camping is a three-star hotel.)

    I’m so glad you have The One, David. And that The One has you. They’re beautiful to behold, these glimpses into your life that you share.

    1. Beth, merci. It was kind of hard to balance the humor and sad stuff (had to write and rewrite and rewrite it). I’m happy hear it worked for you!