I love Valentine’s Day. Love, love, love it. Despite trying, I have never been able to muster up the bitterness towards it that is so vociferously displayed by the majority of my single friends. I think my love for it comes from the practices employed in elementary school. I don’t remember being excessively teased in elementary school, but as my class’s token weirdo I often felt excluded. My clothes were always too big or too small and I was never the first person who owned them. I wore a chain around my neck that carried about ten religious medals depicting various saints and that was constantly in a violent tangle with the rope of the scapular that I also wore so that when I fell down dead, as I was sure I would, I would be spared the eternal pain of the flames of hell (being a Catholic as a child, you live in a state of constant mortal terror and depend heavily on your religion’s magic– yes, magic– to save you). I openly played pretend on the playground right through the 6th grade, which more often than not saw me come off the field with something bleeding, which I would wipe on my clothes, which were torn, which I would fix with staples and rubber bands (in these games, being the tallest, I was usually cast as a monster, villain, ninja, or animal; this inevitably led to wrestling). I hummed “Love Shack” in the cafeteria. I daydreamed heavily to the point that I often would miss the lunch bell, the recess bell, and entire class periods, snapping from my reveries in darkened classrooms or in silent ones with the teacher and all my giggling classmates staring at me. All of these fantasies featured me flying, me saving people with feats of enormous strength and/or swords, or me having sex. I was athletic but lacked the coordination to be good at sports. My hair was beaver dam of straw. I was too tall. My nose was too big. My hands were gigantic. I was painfully quiet and shy, for which I compensated by being too loud at the wrong times. But I knew I was weird, and that knowledge mercifully graced me with the ability to defuse most of the situations in which a classmate attempted to put me down. My natural defense was to purposefully act and be even weirder, extravagantly weird, so that making fun of me became redundant. Still, I was excluded by default. One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong. Except for on Valentine’s Day.
For Valentine’s Day in elementary school, everyone makes a mailbox out of a paper bag. Sometimes you get lucky and have a teacher who passes out tissue boxes instead. This appealed immensely to my preternatural love of papercrafting. What is the purpose of a paper doily if not to receive a red construction paper heart, lovingly applied with an elmer’s glue stick and liberally dusted with glitter? We were supplied with luxurious mountains of stickers, decadent piles of scrap paper, tempera paints (can you smell it?), finger paints, bins full of beckoning mounds of cold metal: scissors, hole punches, rulers, and brads. The entire school day was devoted to festooning the classroom with love. We made garlands, we painted on the windows. We affixed our mailboxes, beautifully adorned with unashamed excess and labeled with our names, to our desks. Then we passed out our valentines. And this is the beauty of it: every child in the classroom gave a valentine to every other child in the classroom. In retrospect, this was of course mandated and enforced by the the teachers and parents. We were sent home with a list of the names of all our classmates, and we dutifully tore our boxed grocery store valentines on the perforated lines and filled one out for each name on the list. The distribution of love was standardized, equally portioned, and rigidly enforced, and for this I am as grateful now as I was then. Twenty-eight children with twenty-nine valentines apiece (one from the teacher). Some with conversation hearts or hershey’s kisses attached, some signed with a brief sentence, some with a personal note, some with an apathetically scribbled name, but all of them present. All of them saying, “You might be weird and I might not like you, but we are all of the same people and today I am obliged to love you.”
My first real valentine came from my best friend in 8th grade, Chris Myers. I opened my locker and found a dozen red roses and a card featuring Opus from the Bloom County comic strip, in which he professed that he loved me. He was my first boyfriend. My second boyfriend moved to Seattle, and for Valentine’s Day he mailed me an engagement ring. I was 14 years old. I accepted. My third boyfriend was in college. He decorated the entrance to my dorm building with a gigantic paper heart that said he loved me in a hundred different ways; chocolate and roses waited for me in my bed. My fourth boyfriend is possibly the worst person I have ever met in my life. For Valentine’s Day he handed me a bouquet of carnations and baby’s breath that was weighed down by a mushy core of rot and mold and didn’t call me for a week. I was enchanted– “He remembered! He got me flowers!” My fifth boyfriend, the most dependable person who has ever been in my life and an amazing friend, unfailingly lavished me with enormous quantities of flowers, gifts, candy, notes, attention, and vacations not just on Valentine’s Day, all of the time, but especially on Valentine’s Day, for six years. My current boyfriend has never given me flowers, and every time I look at him I can feel all the cells in my body melt, swim, and reform, and I feel weak from the simple and overwhelming gratitude that he’s mine and I’m his.
I’ve also been alone on Valentine’s Day. But whether I’m alone or with someone, whether I’m given gorgeous bouquets, clods of mold, or nothing at all, whether I’m spending it with my best friend or the man who makes me go weak and numb and hot and alive at the same time, I love it mostly because of the ephemera. I love the day regardless of whether I’m loved, because the day itself is love. The day wears all the colors of love and gives us a chance to celebrate something in the midst of this winter wasteland. It’s not about being part of a couple, it’s about red and white and pink. Construction paper hearts, doilies, garlands, flowers. It’s wanting things to be pretty when they’re not and having the courage to hand a remote acquaintance a note that demands, “BE MINE.”
And what better place to go for Valentine’s Day in Providence than Queen of Hearts and Modern Love? We don’t care if you’re lonely or loved. We are all of the same people, and we love you. Get down here and get pretty.