Feb 14, 2022

Valentine’s Way (When Change is in The Air)

A brief reminiscence and renaissance

By Ed Goldman

One of the best if deceptively simplest movie titles I’ve ever come across is “Things Change.” 

Written by the inspired pairing of David Mamet and Shel Silverstein, and directed by Mamet, the film is a mishmash of genres: bromance, mob comedy, fish-out-of-water tale. But it really works. 

Edgy Cartoon

…But is it heart? (1994 sculpture by Edgy) 

And that title:  How obvious. 

How true.

Two years ago, I wrote here about the reappearance in my life of Kim Hyland, who’d been my girlfriend from sophomore year in high school to the first half of our sophomore year in college. Though we broke up, we remained improbable friends for more than a half century. 

And when she faced major surgery in September of 2019 to try to forestall the spread of her disease, she told me in an email that on her bucket list was the hope that before the operation I’d fly down to Long Beach from Sacramento and take her to Disneyland. It’s where we’d gone on a number of dates in our youth due to its being just 20 minutes from her home—and, of course, the allegedly “happiest place on earth.” 

What she most wanted to do was see the nightly electric parade, which was soon to be discontinued, followed by dinner at Blue Bayou, the restaurant within the building that houses the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Done and done.

Then, about six weeks after that surgery, she contacted me again and spelled out her life. The man she’d lived with for 20+ years (and who was 20+ years her senior), who had been in a skilled nursing home for months, was near death from Alzheimer’s disease, which he’d been suffering from for a couple of years. Kim had been his caregiver until she received her own horrifying health news.   

A retired elementary schoolteacher, she had time during her convalescence to contemplate what she wanted to do with what time she had remaining. Even though the surgeons ended up buying her more than two more years, they were far from optimistic about the odds of her long-term survival. And they told her. 

So we resumed our relationship, though this time around it was more about two friends with affectionate rapport rather than star-crossed teenagers in a freighted romance. The column that I wrote about this unexpected turn in my life, “Valentines Stay,” remained my most-read and most commented on for several months.

Kim visited me for the last time in March of 2020. Then COVID 1.0 hit hard and, with tragic predictability, her cancer roared back. By then, we realized that despite the decades that had separated us, we were still pretty mismatched as a couple. So we wrote to each other and spoke almost nightly. Until we simply didn’t. She had a large circle of friends, two grown kids and an especially caring niece who swooped in to care for her. That and her unshakable Christian faith gratified her. When she did text me, up to a few days before she passed, she had zero self-pity—and was even funny.

By then my own life had undergone a top-to-bottom metamorphosis: I had fallen head-over-heels in love with someone I’d known peripherally (but was smitten by) for more than two decades. A week before she died, Kim was still trying to tease her name out of me—but it really was just teasing. 

While Valentine’s Day lacks the gravitas of a celebration such as Christmas, I’ve realized over the years— often painfully and personally—that it’s a heartbreaking time to be alone. 

I feel extremely fortunate to not be alone this year and on this day. And I’d like to suggest to those of you who are alone that sometimes, when we least expect it, the stars can align in a night sky filled with drear and dread. 

After all, things change.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).