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Valentines Past

February 14, 2011

I love Valentine’s Day.

There. I’ve said it.

I always have.  I’ve tried to fight this affection for years; I am, after all, a feminist, down with the patriarchy, don’t need men-folk- I have a vibrator, hear me roar.   But now, in the twilight of my years, I’ve accepted my love of everything February 14th.

Let’s deconstruct this: there are two primary reasons why I love Valentine’s Day.  Reason number one has very little to do with the nature of this specific holiday, but more to do with the fact that it is a holiday: its very nature is ritualistic and repetitive.  Reoccurring rituals and the sense of order and the passing of time they produce, have proven historically important across cultures.  I remember being fascinated by an essay Clifford Geertz wrote about the people of Bali.  His claim was that the Balinese interpret time not in a linear fashion such as the modern West does, but rather through a complex calendar consisting of “independent cycles of daynames”.  Instead of today being Monday, February 14, 2011, it might be the 2 in the 7 name cycle, 2 of the 12 name cycle, 1 of the 10 name cycle, and 21 of the 100 name cycle.  Meaning, in short, that time under this system isn’t accrued or tallied: the calendar doesn’t “tell you what time it is; it tells you what kind of time it is.”

In our society, this is what holidays do; they are re-occurring, often fixed events in the year, they serve not as consumption of time (it’s 2011 instead of 2010, yikes, another year added!) but as a marker in our memory of a ‘special’ type of time, thus allowing us to revisit more easily what we were doing in this exact kind of time in past.  Therefore, one reason I love Valentine’s Day so much is simply because I can remember what I was doing, for the last seven years or so at least, on February 14th.  I can see year by year growth; I can more easily access how I felt and thought, compared to where I am now.

Second grade: everyone had to give Valentine’s to everyone in the class. There were a few groans, but most of us were pleased, if simply for something out of the ordinary, and for the opportunity to accrue more candy.  I remember that we all decorated shoe boxes with red and pink construction paper in art class the week before, and that on the big day, kids craned their necks and marvelled and judged Valentines in turn.  The suck up kids gave Valentines to their teachers (you can guess what I did!) and friends who actually liked each other gave homemade Valentines instead of the cheap funny ones you bought at CVS.  After school, once I was home, I shook out the box and examined each Valentine more closely, taking the time to stroke the paper and read the choppy handwriting, and tape the homemade ones to the fridge.  I remember that one kid, who I didn’t even like, gave me a Valentine with Lola bunny on it, from Space Jam.  I think I adored it so much because secretly I wanted to be sassy and confident (and dare I say sexy?) like her.

Junior year of high school:  I approached the paper on the theatre call board with apprehension and nerves.  I noticed that Kyle was already there, and my heart suddenly twitched with a strange wooden squeezing sensation.  “Look and see,” he grinned, his eyes playful.  I peered at the list, and there I was, right at the top, next to the role of Zelda for our production of 45 Seconds from Broadway. “And I’m Andrew, the Englishman,” he intoned with a posh British accent.  He was always so much more talented than I was, and he already had the open ‘A’ sound down to a science.  We laughed and hugged; he let me go slowly.  We walked outside into the sun; it was a surprisingly warm day.  He reached for my hand, and a spasm, this time in my stomach, alerted me to what was going to happen next.  My face was calm though; even then, I somehow instinctively knew how to compartmentalize.

“So… I was going to ask you at the talent show, but that other kid got in the way,” he began, “And I figure with how close we are going to be working together in the show, a cast of only 12…. how’d you like to be my girlfriend?  I promise, I’m lots of fun.”

I smiled at him.  “I’d like that,” I lied, even as I vaguely planned, in the back of my head, how I might break up with him.  I had a crush on someone else, but I mistakenly thought I could learn to love this older, creative, sentimental, sweetly nerdy boy as my first boyfriend.

“And look,” he said with a poorly rendered nonchalance, “It’s Valentine’s Day.”

Freshman year of university: It had been a great day:  I had received several Valentines (including a secret admirer card that I wasn’t to discover the originator of until two years later) and I had watched a performance of the Vagina Monologues for the first time. As a result (I had an impassioned vagina, one that had needs and a voice!) I felt strong, fierce and young, in college and free.  As I entered my dorm, stomping my booted feet in the foyer to drive out the bone-numbing chill, I passed my friend, who gave me an admonishing look.  “On Valentine’s Day, you went to see the Vagina Monologues instead of doing something with your boyfriend?  That’s cold, Luca.”

Was it?  I hadn’t thought about it.  I had assumed when Galen had asked me what I was doing tonight, it had been okay that I made plans without him.  But I was new to the whole being a conscientious girlfriend thing, maybe I had made a faux pas… I decided to find him.  He was in his dorm room, reading for his psychology class.  I interrupted him with a kiss and apologized for upsetting him, if I upset him, to have made plans to get back to my feminist roots instead of a candlelight dinner with him.  He assured me that he missed me, but that he would live.  And he told me he had a present for me.  I had been afraid of this; I had only made him a card.  He presented me with a dozen paper roses.  He had spent all weekend on them apparently, even writing things he loved about me on the stems.  I was strangely touched.  I felt guilty.  I didn’t deserve this boy’s affection.  Who was I to receive such an out pouring of grace and love?  I had only made a card….

His face fell.  “You don’t like them.”

I tried to babble and assure them that I loved them, that I was blown away by them, but for a future English major, I was weirdly inarticulate.  So I started to kiss him again, hoping he’d understand.  That night, as he turned out the light and we snuggled into bed, he told me, “I was going to buy you a dozen red roses from the florist, but I worried that might make you uncomfortable.”

Junior year of university:  I decided to go on an adventure, so I put on a pretty dress, threw a book and a notepad into my purse and bought six gourmet chocolates from a chocolatierie down the street.   The little old lady, with her white poof of hair, looking a bit like a teacup poodle, wrapped them in a gold box with her shaky hands.  I thanked her and went out into the day with a sense of mischief, and childlike joy.  It felt like an Alice in Wonderland kind of day, like anything was possible, like I would make friends where ever I went.  I wandered for an hour, wishing everyone I passed a merry Valentine’s day, enjoying the warmth of the Cape Town sun and the climate of a place not in the throes of a nasty winter.  Finally I sat down in Company Gardens and opened my box.  There I lay on the grass and dreamed, watched the clouds go by and slowly savoured my treat.

A man came by and asked if he could join me.  Of course, I assured him, and I gave him a chocolate.  We chatted for almost two hours, him and I, about a range of topics from cultural constructions of beauty, whether Zuma would be worse thing to happen to South Africa since apartheid, and finally landed on the thorny issue of romance.  It’s lonely, he confessed.  Valentine’s Day, which they did celebrate in South Africa, only made it worse.   He hadn’t had a girlfriend in years, and more than the sex, he missed the companionship.  I told him, completely truthfully in my mind, that I was very happy being single at the moment, thank you very much.  He was highly suspicious of this, and couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to be single; in his world view, you were only single if you had no choice.  We finished the chocolates in contemplative silence.  We shook hands and went our separate ways.  I felt awed in a sort of mundane way: here I was half way across the world from home, and people still got moody about Valentine’s Day…..

I love you guys!

A Heart from Me to You.

Have you figured out the second reason I love Valentine’s Day yet?  It is not only a ritual through which memories can be tethered for comparison.  It is an entire day devoted to celebrating love.  And you can choose to be sad, or moody, or angry that you are single, can rue those who receive flowers, or hate the expectation that Valentine’s Day builds for your significant other, but the fact remains, that at its core, it is just about showing love.  I think showing love and affection are wonderful things, whether to a spouse, lover, friend, family member, pet or stranger.

So, here’s your Valentine’s Day mission, should you choose to accept it: tell someone you admire that you do so.  Thank someone important in your life for being there for you.  Call your mom and let her know those 12 hours in labor were not in vain.  And perhaps, if you want, think about yourself on Valentine’s Days past, and marvel about how much you have grown.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 6:04 PM

    O Luca! This makes me so happy! You make me so happy! Happy, happy Valentine’s Day 🙂 .

    ❤ ❤ ❤

  2. February 14, 2013 12:03 PM

    2011 was the twilight of your years? What does that make 2013?

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