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Friday, February 11, 2011

Signs of Love

With the Holiday of Romance just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot about what constitutes the romantic.

Remember back in elementary school, where the litmus test of a good Valentine's Day was if the brown paper bag hanging on the back of your chair was pleasantly full? Back in those cruel days, not everyone's mother made them address a card to every kid in the class--so it was perfectly possible to have many more or far fewer cards than your classmates. The really really good cards came with a candy heart tucked into the envelope, and--if your own three hours of deep deliberation over who should get which card was any indication--those tiny bright pink stamped letters meant something. Sure, maybe Matt K. had tucked a candy heart into every Valentine he addressed, and maybe his mother (like yours) made him designate a card for each kid in the class, but surely the fact that the candy heart you received said "YOU'RE GREAT" meant he liked you. And not just liked you the way that he liked sandwiches, but liked you liked you. [Those sighs you hear in the background are the expression of the deep longings of the ten-year-old heart.]

And then at some point, paper bags taped on the backs of chairs were totally for babies.

And that year, Matt K. gave Kristen an actual Hallmark card. AND a flower. A real, live, long-stemmed carnation. [Those whooshing sounds you hear in the background are the wildfire-quick spreadings of twelve-year-old gossip.]

[That silence you hear is middle school. During which time no one knows anything about how to behave, in love or otherwise.]

In high school, Valentine's Day was saved from utter humiliation only by a circle of girlfriends who, thank goodness, understood the unspoken rule that it was deeply important to order Beta Club carnations to send to each other, so that by second period, all of you would be wearing multiple corsages. You were bedecked and therefore beloved. And if no boy had written any message on a Beta Club order form and chosen you a red flower, well, no one else was any the wiser. [If you listen carefully, you will hear the quiet ache of unrequited love beating beneath those giggles.]

Somewhere along the way, your notions of romance evolved (not coincidentally, the boys you liked evolved too, if "evolved" means "grew up a little"). They began to include long walks in snowstorms, stories read aloud to each other over the phone, mix-tapes, home-made chocolate cakes, large envelopes full of small papers covered in poetry.

And then, the epitome of romance: the unsigned Valentine. Tucked under your dorm-room door, this English tradition amazed you with its profundity. What could be more romantic than a small, home-made card containing a typed poem and a message of love and clever clues as to the identity of the sender? How about TWO such cards? Both unsigned. Both expressing admiration and a crush. Both leaving you to speculate about who among your circle was thus half-declaring himself? [That sparkle you hear is a young heart filling with the wonder of potential delight.]

As an adult, the love has been less tinged with mystery. It has been more deeply felt, no doubt--declared in an over-sized, wonderfully home-made Valentine of proposal; in sushi-dinner traditions; in cards expressing love and given on no particular date but just because it seemed a good day to say so. It has been more stable, less agonizing. More journey, less quest. [That hum you hear is the warmth of contentment.]

It cannot be denied that there was something perversely appealing in the mystery. That the uncertainty, while filled with ache, also carried the excitement of anticipation...the mystery of not knowing whether he liked you liked you or not...the mystery of wondering whether anyone, ever, would kiss you--especially if he would...the mystery of whether this one was the one.

The romance of the uncharted waters, like the unsigned Valentine, carried a wealth of potential.

[That crack you hear is the realization that potential does not always materialize.]

[That smile you hear is the realization that you do not ever have to be fifteen again.]

[That tearing you hear is the opening of a hand-made, crayon-lettered Valentine addressed to "Mama."]

[That deep breath you hear is the realization that signs of love, thankfully, abound in your life. And you do not ever have to be fifteen again.]


Mrs F with 4 said...

The sharp intake of breath you heard, faintly, far away in the north-east, was me. I haven't said it in a while, but your writing astounds me; just prickles my eyes; forces me to read it again, more slowly, in awe of your talent.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

"If you listen carefully, you will hear the quiet ache of unrequited love beating beneath those giggles"

This captures that time perfectly. I love it.

Fawn said...

It's all perfect. Exquisitely perfect. *sigh* Thank you.

Marie: said...

I always loved the messages on the little heart candies... why can't they taste as sweet as they look?


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