What else was there to do at a retail store where I worked except type love poems to my live-in boyfriend?
It’s red and pink day, that corny heart day, the one we all secretly want to be our rose and pathos day. It’s the day they tell you that you’re not loved unless you receive diamonds. But have you seen how diamonds, colorless and with those sharp cuts, manage to look both calculated and like shattered glass on something so warm as skin? (It’s just that I have a preference for rubies and sapphire, and only when it’s not a greeting card day.)
And if she doesn’t wear heels and clip garters to a doily passing for underwear, well then, mister, you must not be loved either.
What a lot of expectations we set up for ourselves, serving to benefit commerce and fatten tummies that aren’t ours. At least drugstores are prettier in pink than the obnoxious shamrock green of March. But I’m not mad at Valentine’s Day. I’m a fan of love. All kinds of love. The blood-thick love of siblings, the time-sealed love of best friends, the unquestioning love of pets, the incomparable love of parent and child. And naturally, that of lovers, the one love more fiery than the rest. It’s a glorious candle flicker in the dark, though sometimes just as impermanent. Luckily, all the other kinds of love aren’t fleeting at all.
What I wanted to tell you, is that I love you. Because you’re here reading, because you’ve been here before, and because you might come back. You’ve known me for years or you know me only through these words; you’re infuriated by what I say or you nod in agreement. But you are here. And for this reason, I’m here too.
I don’t, however, love fat cardboard babies with stunted wings and sadistic arrows pointing everywhere. The onset of romantic love and its withdrawal in association with a piercing arrow is reminiscent of needle to junky. Not a pretty thought? Neither is an arrow in the ass turning you into a loon. I know this because I’ve been a loon many times.
Oddly, I’ve never had a bad Valentine’s Day. Not for any extraordinary reason other than one, I find many words that end in “-ine” inherently romantic. Balanchine, crystalline, dopamine, clandestine… Two, as previously stated, I don’t find stores decorated for Valentine’s Day offensive like I do for those more primary-color themed “holidays.” And three, I put the full force of my expectations on my own birthday rather than herded holidays. A herded holiday is when the world and media collude to make you feel either obligated towards someone or like shit because no one feels obligated toward you. Obligations make so much money for other people.
Do I love gestures of thoughtfulness? Like a loon. Sentimentality is an extra-bright molecule coursing through my veins. Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was given a flower made of cigarette-box tinfoil by my sultry (can you say that about men?), age-inappropriate, 23-year-old date, and it’s still affixed to my fridge simply because he made it with his own hands. Come to think of it, just this Chinese New Year past, in the midst of caterpillar dragons and the din of bells and chimes, an artist crafty with adhesive for non-adhesive use, cut out a masking-tape flower for me, which still sits in a little vase on my desk.
I first learned of this heart day, this I’m-utterly-alone-and-rejected-unless-someone-takes-pity-on-me day, in the fifth grade. I was an outsider, a little Iranian girl in New York, and I ended up with three or four generic “Will you be my Valentine” cards with some heart candy thrown in. They were distributed to everyone in the class by the most generous among us. It seemed like a bonus, because I didn’t know I was supposed to expect something on heart day. I also didn’t know that if I got nothing, I was supposed to feel like a non-girl, unworthy of attention. I mean, that would be my conditioning from that year forth every February 14th, right?
For each Valentine’s Day that we were together, S. gave me a handmade, ultra-modern glass perfume bottle. I was barely twenty. These fit my idea of poetic, so he did not risk deviating with other items during following years, and I built a decent collection of geometric art glass. In turn, for him I constructed mini-scrapbooks of our picture collages, and rigged envelopes I spent hours designing, so that upon opening, a burst of tiny, hand-cut hearts would spring out and rain on him. Every single heart I made for him, I meant from the…heart.
By the time I was with A., love didn’t need to be summarized into one day. One year, he stayed home on V-Day while I went to the premiere of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. With him napping on the couch, and me alone at the theatre watching famous actresses in red ball gowns tell stories of rape and genital mutilation, A. and I may have taken our V-Day rebellion a tad far. But I wrote him poems year-round, because what else would I do at the retail store where I worked, except type love poems to my live-in boyfriend? It’s like my very blood was made of petals and harp music. I came up with titles like “Without Eyes,” attributing vision to the discovery of my love for him.
And T. and I — well, we mainly hung out on the couch together, endlessly talking. It was our favorite pastime. One Valentine’s, he took me to a fancy vegan restaurant. I asked him to bring along my two girlfriends as a nice gesture because one was unhappily single and the other had a husband out of town. T., generous T., obliged, and what a miserable affair — the girls were so long-faced and self-pitying that T. and I considered the romance of bagging up our food and eating in the car. But we pushed through, and I loved him then as I do now, even though we’re no longer together.
I probably started out whole, but being with each of my great loves allowed me the security to realize it. Years later, I still feel lucky for knowing them, and for learning genuine love doesn’t end even when relationships do.
Other years brought other relationships.
“Darling, I wanted to get you that orchid,” one boyfriend said one Valentine’s Day, “but its stem is crooked, and you know how I am about symmetry.”
“Darling, it’s good you didn’t,” I replied. “You know I’m weird about watering and how it leads to vegetal demise.” He nodded, knowing I admired unthirsty, self-sufficient succulents with their plumps leaves hiding the answer to life.
Although I’m reminded of Morticia Addams cutting the rose heads off stems before putting them in water, it’s safe to say, I’m not unromantic. And I’ve never received a bouquet or paper flower that didn’t bring me joy. I just have an aversion to commerce predicated on people’s insecurities.
But the opportunity to show love by squeezing a man/woman/child, or by digitally transmitting thoughts, or by surprising a relative with faloudeh (Persian dessert), which they last tasted thirty years ago in Iran? I’ll take those each day.
So on this day, whether I’m loving like a loon, a flicker, or with newfound vision, I’m simply thankful.
One of my favorite Valentines took place with one of my best girlfriends in a dim, chintzy lounge, toasting love day with red wine. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere other than where we were, and in that, there is something flawless. That’s love.
My brother calling to tell me how hilarious it was that his GPS just referred to FDR Dr. as FDR doctor instead of drive, is love.
And staying up until 5 a.m. to write this, well, that is love too.
- Love day is any day.
- Right now deserves love.
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