I’ve always hated this day. In or out of relationships, Valentine’s Day has always felt like affection through social contrition, not because it’s a genuine expression of love or care or kindness. You know. Sort of like liking someone’s LinkedIn post. I know it’s cliché to hate on today, how it’s saturated with corporate commercialism — at least with Christmas, you get pretty lights and sweet toys, but allow me to live, laugh, love and direct your attention to my complete series of Friends on Blu-ray to remind you that I am, in fact, a basic bitch.
Today is such a weird day, and it’s almost like ostracism is built-in. I remember as a kindergartner getting the boxed set of Super Friends Valentine cards, which were just cheap perforated pages with different DC Comics characters on them. I’d tear them off and organize them by superhero hierarchy and who would ultimately receive them. I didn’t know what a rubric was, but I certainly had a chart in my head. It went a little like this:
- Batman: we are best friends and you are cool
- Superman: see above
- Robin: you’re awesome, but you’re clearly riding my coattails
- Aquaman: I acknowledge your existence
- Supergirl: I like you and you’re cute
- Wonder Woman: we should get married, you are cute, and I like-you like you
- Lex Luthor, Joker, or any other bad guy: I probably don’t like you but here’s a Valentine because everyone gets one
- Penguin: I’m commenting on your appearance without saying it aloud (reminding me that I have always been a butthole)
- Catwoman: too dangerous to give anyone
My teachers got a LOT of Wonder Woman Valentines.
Look, I have a thing for teachers.
It probably wasn’t until later that I really lost my enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day. It was probably around the same time that I aged out of giving those tear-away cards to friends. Puberty hit. And then my family got HBO. I watched George Carlin specials. I became a preteen edgelord, and I saw that Valentine’s was just way too corporate for me, man. Fight the system.
It was also probably around this time that I started to feel seasonal depression for the first time. I remember feeling it very young. Probably not too long after I experienced my own traumatic familial loss when I was 11. The following winter, I remember feeling absolutely miserable, especially after watching Walter Payton’s last game and hold his head in his hands on the Soldier Field sideline, and late January turned into the cold, wet, slushy slog of early February. Valentines Day, to me, has always had an undeniable undercurrent of ineffable sadness.
I had to get out and run errands today in the gray. Along the way to pick up my online order from Wendy’s, a man stood at the intersection of a very brisk 2 lane divided highway. He wore ball cap and a sienna colored winter coat with the hood pulled over his head, gloves holding a sign in 40-degree weather; the sign read “Please help. Homeless. Hungry. I need food. I promise I am a good person.”
I turned off of the road and into the Wendy’s drive-thru to get my order. I asked the nonplussed attendant to add a combo meal to my order. After I got both orders of food (and since I was lucky enough to have cash on me — a true rarity), I tucked a $10 into the folds of the burger wrapper.
Today is a very busy day for me playing catch-up from my trip to Houston. And it added more time to make the loops around to make sure that I got in the correct lane when I doubled back to give the guy his food. It was probably stupid to stop at the green light (don’t worry, Mom, I turned on my flashers), but he wasn’t paying attention, and he didn’t hear me at first. He seemed shocked when I called out to him to give him his combo meal bag. He had turned his back before I gave him the soda (“Hey buddy! Don’t forget your drink!”), so it took even longer at a very busy intersection.
Yes. I know. Stupid.
He didn’t say anything — maybe out of embarrassment, maybe surprise, maybe he’s just quiet or cold — but he smiled when I gave him the drink. It was a smile of worn teeth and hollowed spaces that I had seen a number of times as a substance abuse counseling intern a lifetime ago. I say this without any judgment — everyone has a story and all of that — but just to help you see the scene through my eyes.
We all have that friend who argues against giving to folks in situations like him (maybe you are that friend). “They’re just going to spend it on drugs,” they say. I don’t know. Maybe he is. When I’ve given to these folks in the past and I drive away, I never ever look in the rearview mirror to see their reaction or what they’re doing. Because that part doesn’t matter. That part’s out of my hands.
However, this time, I was forced to re-see the area, as the layout of the highway required me to loop back so I could get back to my errands. And that meant going right past the intersection where this guy had just been. It only took me maybe two, three minutes for the detour, no big deal. But I was surprised when I had to drive past that intersection and the guy had disappeared.
I scanned the highway, the median, and although it took a few moments, my eyes did find him — walking away from his spot, already eating the cheeseburger, hopefully finding some place warmer to enjoy it.
I’m writing this down for me. I don’t know if I’m going to share it on Facebook. Maybe I’ll put it on Medium. I don’t know. There’s a part of me that doesn’t does not want to share it because I know of the “you’re such a good guy“ responses I’m going to get. Yes, I love being told that (or any praise for that matter — look, it’s why I paint stuff) , but let me also remind you of my inherent ability to shame people with Penguin Valentines cards. But my need for praise is not why I’d share it publicly.
I’d share it today because it’s Valentine’s Day. This stupid, predatory, cynical holiday. I’m too old for paper meta-messaged Super Friends-themed cards to give to my friends. And as I’ve gotten older, the meaning and absence of meaning of this holiday has changed.
But maybe I can make it about something else. Maybe I can make it about not forcing love or commercialized affection to people who should be feeling it already.
But maybe it’s about acknowledging how truly important it is to just love people where they are. Everybody has a story, after all.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
I hope you feel loved where you are.