The first boy I ever slept with slipped a hand-made Valentine in my mailbox. He was kind of an artist and sang in a band…I think he'd been dating someone I knew, so it was a bit of a surprise, but the card was beautiful…had some Adam and Eve imagery, a slight Goth/Edgar Allen Poe vibe. I knew then and there he 'got' me. It took some thought, some stealth, some insight and some artistic effort. It was Romantic. And it did its job.
I've been to February 14th weddings, parties, gigs-- had theatre dates, candlelit dinners, hotel-room trysts-- baked, cooked, dressed up in sexy lingerie, read poetry and danced. I've been to the Oak Room, the Rainbow Room, the Top of the Beekman and Cafe des Artistes… but most of all, I've philosophized; it's become a sort of 'day of reckoning' for relationships. And now that there are considerably more of these days in the past than the future, I can sift through the red-sand nights and find the ones that stand out.
Maybe my best memory is the striped colored heart I cut out for my baby boy--- just 3 months old, which hung like mistletoe in my tiny studio-apartment kitchen, where he sat in his little plastic basket-chair, watching it with intensity while he made it dance with his tiny feet. Now he is 26 with surely a reservation at some trendy restaurant and a Tiffany-boxed gift for his lovely girlfriend. He knows about hearts-- about women and responsibility-- matching iphones and uber accounts. I doubt he remembers the hand-made paper Valentine which provided entertainment for so many weeks.
The other visual which comes up in my heart-shaped 8-ball tonight is a jazz musician on a bicycle. We'd had a rocky weathery love affair which left both of us a little bruised and battered. Many months later I was on my way home after a sweaty gym workout-- sure it was the 14th, but I wasn't having any of the hype and froth… and there he was, with roses and chocolate dipped strawberries, asking for a second chance. We've gone on with our lives, but that night gave us improvisational healing and closure. Valentine-shaped circle of 5ths.
I've already spoken with several unattached beautiful girlfriends tonight who have stoically joked about their match.com dinner, their anticipation, their disappointing date last night-- about illness, children, our aging parents, our jobs. I've leafed through archived poems and found a few lines which still resonate (Have we not all struggled with buttons,/ slipped an outgrown dream over our heads/to enter someone else’s body/with a rose?). Funny how I vaguely recall the poetry but not necessarily the man who inspired it.
At this point it is maybe a day to show love less discriminately, the way we were forced as children to give a Valentine to every single classmate, however creepy. We can all use this lesson, and it never fails to remind us of the old mathematical adage about the love we make being equal to the love we take. But this is really no longer adequate in our world. Those of us who can, do-- and those of us who can't--well, they sit home and sulk. My advice? Buy yourself a rose, if you really need one.
Besides, hearts for me are bloody things. I grew up with a father who had a display of medals-- several Bronze and Silver Crosses and purple hearts to commemorate not just his heroic deeds but his painful wounds and deep injuries, and this iconography was very vivid in my childhood. Or a symbolic reminder of how he was forever changed into the difficult man who raised me to distrust things like flowers and love and men with guitars who all seemed so enchanting and appealing. And my family? Deep wounds there which could be glossed over but will not be. I see photos everywhere of sisters-- heads together, smiling and waving. My version is rather a composite-- a black and white collage of time-mixing and backward soundtracks, like news clippings of bad deeds which have gone unsolved and unpunished. At some point there were happy moments, but few pearls remain from the broken shells that wash up on my memory-beach. My mother-- a different story. She is exonerated and forgiven for any mistakes; if I had a solid gold heart to spare, it would certainly be hers, whether she recognizes it or not.
Love in the romantic version, as it exists, is probably more honored in its tragic form. The greatest love stories do not end well, and pain is so much the B-side of any relationship, no matter how passionate and fulfilling. We poets and dark souls embrace and inhale the smoke from these fires. This is what remains. No matter how complete we may be, in the arms of our greatest love.. .the dawn comes, we rise and make coffee, we grow familiar and forget to honor our best moments, and we lose things. We lose people-- they move on, they love others, we let them go, we prefer someone else-- whatever. Do we collect hearts? No, but some of us save Valentines and messages. I still have that Adam-and-Eve card, rumpled and folded as it is. I still have the striped baby heart, stained and tattered, loved as maybe no other paper heart I have ever made, and there have been many hundreds.
In my email today was a message from an old love-- a song-- so nostalgic and romantic-- so perfect and musical and sad…. my February 14th closure. How lucky or loved I am, or have been, or was. Tomorrow will be the 15th. Is it not all really the same?