You’re going to think I have a cold, dark heart.
I was about to tell you about how silly I think Valentine’s Day is for a variety of reasons, when Josephine walked over and handed me a heart-shaped Rice Crispie Treat saying, “I made this just for you, Mama, because I love you.”
And then I opened my email to a Happy Valentine’s message from some of my best girlfriends, detailing the truly lovely celebrations they are having with their partners and families today, and wishing abundant love on me.
It’s not like I think love is bad–who thinks that? And it’s not that I think we shouldn’t celebrate the important relationships (romantic or otherwise) in our lives or eat fabulous meals and decadent desserts filled with molten chocolate, or even that we shouldn’t put words to paper once in a while and let people know what they mean to us. I’m a writer, after all. I love words. What’s more delicious than a love letter scrawled in a sweetheart’s hand?
And yet, I admit that I have been a big grump about this “Hallmark holiday” (as I’ve heard it called and probably you have too), for most of my adult life. Part of the reason is philosophical: we ought, all of us, celebrate love every day. Why designate just one day out of the year? I am not saying I do this, by the way. I am as guilty as anyone of taking my relationship–my marriage–for granted sometimes. Often, even. (Hi, Sweetie!) So maybe I should get off my soapbox on this one point.
Fine, but my aversion to this holiday also has to do with the time I spent in my twenties working for Zales the Diamond Store in the Danbury Fair Mall. I worked there through all of the major gift-giving holidays: Mother’s Day, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. And on the eve of each of these days, men (always men, only men) would straggle predictably in to the store just before we closed looking dazed and vaguely terrified, and hand me their credit cards or sweaty wads of cash and say, “I just need to get something. It doesn’t matter. You pick it out.”
I always felt sad for these guys and also angry at the seeming ubiquitous sentiment that gifts need to be sparkly, extravagant, and expensive in order to be considered adequate expressions of love and care.
And guilty as hell when I took their $129 for the heart pendant with diamond flecks set against white gold so they look bigger and brighter than they really are.
(It’s 9:15 pm on Valentine’s Day and Zales.com wants you to know that even though you missed their Valentine’s delivery cutoff, “There’s Still Time!” “To Save 60% off our entire stock of merchandise that has been marked up at least 300% but never mind that! Take these ruby stud earrings starting at $79! No? How about an e-gift card? It doesn’t matter what, just buy something!”)
Don’t even get me started on the diamond industry in particular. What was it the DeBeers empire wanted us to believe? That diamond engagement rings ought to cost a man two months salary. Revolting and irresponsible and nothing, to my mind, to do with love.
Please don’t misunderstand: I really love jewelry. Artisan-crafted pieces of wearable art? My grandmother’s plain gold wedding ring? The green jade earrings Paul bought me that match my eyes? The opal ring my dad gave me for my 21st birthday–the last gift from him I got? Love it all deeply. “A woman without jewelry is like a night without stars”–I read that in a jewelry display case once and swooned, I am like the night sky! (how’s that for romance?)
I don’t know. Even as I write this, I can hear a voice in my head chastising me for being such a party pooper. But it’s no good either to pretend some other sentiment. Valentine’s Day is so low on my radar that I forgot to have my kids write Valentines for their classmates. And I do feel bad about that. I’m not prepared to foist my curmudgeonly ways on them. They love everyone. Let’s enjoy that while it lasts.
(I did, however, get my kids Valentines: SpongeBob and, in 3 year old parlance, Kitty Hello chocolate hearts. I’m not that big a grump.)
My parents were married on Valentine’s Day in 1969. My whole childhood I regarded this fact with romantic awe. That’s how much they loved each other. As if the fact of the date were proof enough.
I don’t remember how old I was when I found out that really it was a matter of pragmatics. My father’s new job at IBM was about to begin, and that day just happened to fall on a weekend that made it convenient for him.
But that’s not the whole picture, either. Let me remain flexible in my judgments, and remember the Valentine’s Days of my childhood, when there would always be a vase of roses in the center of the table for my mom, and two single bud vases on either side for me and Catherine. There would be perfume, maybe, or chocolate for each of us. There would be a small card signed simply, “Love Dad.” I looked forward to this every year and feel no ambivalence about it now, here, in memory. It was was a wholly good thing.
One year, though, he was traveling for V-Day, and had been delayed and missed connections before finally making it home, bedraggled and broken. No roses that year, but I have an image in my head of him standing in our kitchen (I can’t remember what house this would have been), wearing a rumpled trench coat and a look of utter exhaustion. He reached into his pockets and pulled out two smooshed chocolate-marshmallow hearts wrapped in gold and red foil. “Love Dad.”
He’d not forgotten us. This moved me as a child and it still moves me now. It must have felt imperative to him to complete the ritual regardless. He must have bought them at the airport convenience shop on his long way home to us. I imagine him placing them on the counter, next to a pack of cigarettes and some Starlight mints.
Maybe he nodded at the clerk and said something like, “For my girls,” before slipping them into his coat and boarding the next plane home.
I love you for sentimental reasons.
I hope you do believe me.
I’ve given you my heart.
While we’re on the subject, I don’t get Saint Patrick’s Day, either. (Sorry, Mom!)
I love you all. Really, I do. I love the way you slobber on your baby, and that you photograph your food. I love that you once made me homemade lasagna and played Barbara Streisand records. I love that you can’t sing a note. I love the way you two bicker in front of me sometimes, I love that we are that comfortable. I love your faith and the way you can calm me just by your presence. I love your vintage fashion sense and your vegan meals. I love your assemblages and your anxieties. I love your hipster jeans, even though I razz you about them. I love your mind and how you play with words. I love that you tease me. I love that you cut your hair boy-short and I love your single-mindedness. I love your pink birthday cake and the way you wrap presents–so shiny, so gorgeous.
I love your silly head and your “stand dance” and I love your crazy blond curls. I love your love for everyone. I love love love your coffee more than anyone’s in the world. I love your honesty and your sense of adventure. I love your art. I love that you surprised us with brie and crusty bread and that you’re chilling me a beer as I type. I love you so much that I’ll share my beloved dark chocolate, and because I love you,
I made a heart-shaped steak just for you.