Happy Valentine’s Day
Please welcome back guest writer extraordinaire CenterlineAP for a beautiful piece on Valentine’s Day.
Today is my favorite holiday.
I am one of those few people who loves Valentine’s Day. I always have and so has my mother. When I was a child, my mother decorated the house with flowers, balloons and hearts as though it were as important as Christmas or Halloween. Valentine’s Day required cards, treats, small little presents hidden away in keepsake boxes, fresh flowers, Frank Sinatra playing on the record player, and otherwise celebrating the entire notion of love.
One year for Valentines Day my mother gave me the best gift I have ever received: a trip to the pound. Yes, they still had “pounds” back then and I still remember, vividly, arriving at that dismal place. It was all green cinder block and cement floors; animals cried, their noses pressed up against the gate locks, tiny toes and toebeans poking through holes in the cages. I was horrified.
“Why are we here?” I asked.
“Because love requires work,” she replied.
A light went off in my little five year old brain. I’d been asking for a pet for years. We were going to adopt one, but it wasn’t going to be an easy one. First, we did volunteer work. We cleaned poopy floors and walked dogs. Then, she asked to see which animals they intended to put down, and we were led to a small narrow rectangular room in the back that (just like in the movies) had a door that led to the room where they euthanized them. In that room, on the bottom shelf was a small cage bursting with a dozen or so small kittens. Eagerly, I opened the lock to the pen and the cage burst with kittens. They scattered in every direction, and my mother took off after them, but one, weak and small, smothered by the others, crawled out of the cage, onto my lap, and mewed. I promptly knew she was the one who needed me. As we rode home in the car, we thought of names.
She was small, all bones with a dull coat, eyes crusted over, nose nearly sealed shut with boogers and, to complicate matters, she had a serious heart defect; the odds of her surviving were very low. My mother excused me from school for two weeks (my family consistently ignored any concept of absence and we were known to disappear to some part of the world for months at a time). For those two weeks, night and day, she and I sat on the floor with this kitten wrapped in a towel and nursed her to back health. We cleaned pus filled eyes, gently scrubbed ears, wiped that pink nose, kept her warm, hand fed her, gave her medicine, and kept her safe. In the end, the kitten became my inseparable companion of thirteen years despite having a deformed heart that should have cost her her life at the start of it. By the time I married, she finally suffered that long coming heart attack and passed. But she was my Valentine, and every year on this day my gratitude to her and my mother for teaching me as a child what love can be and what it takes, grows.
Love and caring. Compassion and hard work. With loved ones. With lovers. With those in need of it. An entire lifetime of it.
I’ve never been interested in debating its commercialization or this idea that it could only ever belong to lovers. I don’t particularly care that there is no real historical evidence for it connecting it to Valentinus. For me, as it was for my mom, any reason to celebrate love and all varieties of love is a welcome one. I never was one of those girls who got a mystery flower while sitting in class during high school; I didn’t have secret admirers, or bouquets waiting at my doorstep, but once, as a five year old, I brought into my life a sick cat who I knew would be waiting for me on the window sill to come home from school. That was always enough. I’ve loved the holiday the whole of my life and I always will.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends. Here’s to every opportunity to love and love our whole lives that we are presented with. May we embrace and cherish every single one of them.