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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Lovely. My personal relationship with V day is a little different. As a hopeless romantic prone to making grand (and small) unwanted romantic gestures, it’s the one day I can get away with doing what I’d like to do every day, but with no fear of judgement or disdain. It’s my big day to write poems or maudlin, soppy, romantic letters to the woman I love. And she has to put up with it.
All those things sound dreamy to me.
…and a happy Any Day to you, G Geisha.
Thank you, dear Jeff. Happy Any Day!
Hi Gunmetal Geisha!
Good to hear from you again – and Happy Valentine’s Day! Great post. Funny you should put the 5 am sentence in – I’m on the east coast and your post appeared in my inbox at 9 am (or 6 your time) and I was thinkin’: “What an act of Love!” Ha!
The packing tape flower is awesome – it even has a silky looking surface in the picture like a real flower. The tinfoil rose was sweet. The part about the arrows was funny – got me to thinking that the military uses depleted uranium tipped weapons to kill tanks: could be a Valentine’s Day public use there for crashing through the armor (amour) of men – depleted uranium cupid arrows (some of us need them). Given the importance of sapphires and female company (and, of course -ine) on this day, I wrote you a little Haiku:
Enshrine feminine eyeshine
Remember, we love you too. Have a great Valentine’s Day!
I love my haiku, Paul, and your gift of -ines. Happy Valentine’s Day, and thank you for always making me happy for posting!
This was so beautifully written and wow some eerie timing on it, Gunmetal. Literally about 90 minutes ago I was walking out of the grocery store. I passed by the floral counter at the front hearing a customer (male) banter with the girl behind the counter as she rang up his huge assortment of flowers. I was able to overhear him say, “Hopefully this will keep me out of trouble!” For reals. I walked to my vehicle thinking, “How sad is that?” Then you wrote about obligation here. Again, I loved this post and Happy V-Day to you and yours! 🙂
Happy Valentine’s Day to you, and kisses to Phoenix — does he get any special doggie treats today?
Yes, he got ME, Gunmeta loll! And what was your special V-Day treat from your beau? 🙂
Happy V Day, GG, I love you. Rd
Big hearts to you, Red. Happy V Day.
I so get the “non-girl unworthy of attention” thing. I was a homely kid. Luckily, I got really tall really young and people were afraid of me. It’s the only thing that prevented them from being mean to my face.
That story is kind of awesome. It makes me want to go and explore your writing. Glad you stopped here.
This was a beautiful post, filled with sincerity and insightful truths about real appreciation. I say this because, until I met my wife eight years ago, I thought I knew what Valentine’s Day was. What I’ve learned since falling in love with her is that I DID know what it was, but I didn’t really know how it felt. Now I do.
That’s quite lovely, Ned, thank you. And I remember how touched I was the first time I came to your blog and saw the many references to your wife. I would say, you really do know how it feels, and I can’t think of too many things more worthwhile.
Argh, I’m sad that I missed this for Valentine’s day. This was wonderful, though. I love how much you rail against so many of the notions that are thrust upon us.
PS- do you find the word “QuarantINE” romantic? 😉
Haha, I DO! It reminds me of a Bette Davis movie — “Jezebel” I think — where everyone’s dying of the plague or leprosy (okay, probably just yellow fever), except the beautiful, selfish main character (Davis), and suddenly she becomes unselfish and carts off with the quarantined masses to care for the man she loves.
Also, there are all those romantic consumption stories — Mimi from La Boheme… Hell, even Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Then we had to go and de-romanticize consumption by calling it “tuberculosis” and basically eradicate it from the planet.
Haha you are absolutely hilarious. That Bette Davis movie sounds like “The Painted Veil” by W. Somerset Maugham (who’s name I may or may not have just misspelled).
I have a bit of a aversion to any holiday that thrusts “love” at us. I despise the grocery stores who set up tents in the parking lot so men can swing by on their commutes home from work and buy limp roses and overpriced cards in a gesture that is so lackluster but probably happily acceptable to whoever sits at home waiting for such. My skepticism is deep set though as one of the most romantic relationships of my life sadly ended in infidelity on Valentine’s day.
But as skeptic as I am, I’m truly a romantic at heart. I love love, and I love to share my love, and I love how you refer to love as more than just couple love. My friends are my soul mates, and my children make my heart dance, and my husband…well, he’s the coolest person on the planet, and there’s nothing better than to *love* these precious people.
And I love that you said you love me, so now I love you, and I really want to try to say “love” as much as possible. I think I have hearts in my eyes now.
I have a vivid image of you with hearts in your eyes, and it’s very pretty. Breakup on Valentine’s Day due to infidelity? Intense, ironic and mortifying. Have you written about it?
Yes, a three part story I called Lovepocalypse. I published the ending on Valentine’s day.