No one has ever been able to explain to me my heart's strange fidelities. It's almost shocking how predictable I am--how liable to yearn for the same person for years, actual years, on end. This pattern is more than twenty years old: I'm at nearly a quarter-century of landing myself on islands where I know I will remain alone, and then casting out meticulously, lovingly crafted missives to the one person (at any given time) whom I imagine might someday be enticed to join in on that solitude.
Rather than even try to imagine how I got myself into this state, I'll tell another story about snow days. This one is also a Valentine's story.
Later in fourth grade--as in, a couple of months after the winter party / tobogganing / kidney failure week about which I wrote yesterday--a heavy snowstorm set in over southern Indiana. "The weather is always worst around Valentine's day," my mother said as we watched the snow fall; my Polish great-grandmother, font of so much of my family's wisdom, had told my mother this in her youth. The next morning, school was cancelled. It would go on to be cancelled for a whole week.
This situation gave me all the time I could want to craft handmade valentines for everyone in my class.
Before the snow set in, my mother had brought home a pile of hot pink paper. It was better than construction paper: better raw materials, better texture, heavier stock. She had a pile of paper doilies that she didn't need anymore. I turned our round game table--the same table my brother is now trying to figure out where to put in his new home in Tennessee--into my valentine laboratory, cutting hot pink heart after hot pink heart. I cut only the very edges off of the paper doilies. I glued these edges to the edges of all the hot pink hearts. This process took me days and days. My brother would join me sometimes, watching the Nickelodeon shows he loved in the early afternoons, or watching "You Can't Do That on Television" and "Out of Control" with me while I took a break from my meticulousness. I suspect that sometimes he was just pursuing his favorite pastimes while I worked, running his Hot Wheels cars around on the other side of the table, or under it. We probably built Lincoln Logs cabins sometimes. I know that my mother quilted in the other room, or pieced new tops in the family room with us, most of this time.
The snow days piled up just as the snow had. We came to assume that we would not be back in school the next day. It's possible that the school corporation even called off the whole week at some point, rather than leave everyone in suspense. The problem for that school corporation--as for so many rural corporations--stemmed from the twinned facts that the county didn't have much snow removal equipment (or know-how about how to use it) but did have an inordinately large number of gravel and/or hilly and/or remote backroads, from which students could not be gotten by means of school bus if the weather were rough. For this same reason, two school-age children were able to stop by my house twenty minutes ago to ask whether I want my walk shoveled. School buses are not making their ways around our Knox County farm roads today. The weather is always worst around Valentine's day, see.
At some point in my valentine-making extravaganza, I decided to craft a particularly lovely heart for the neighbor with whom I had gone tobogganing two months earlier. Need I say that we had barely talked since then? Need I say that I had continued being hopeful that I would find the small gesture that would make him realize how fond I was of him and in turn how fond he was of me? Need I say how strange it is, even to me, to think back on the fact that I was doing all of this before I even turned nine? For I know I'm not projecting all of this emotion back onto my eight-year-old self. I can remember clearly the secrecy and shyness with which I worked on this person's card. I can remember trying out message after message, hoping to get the secret admirer schtick right. (What I don't remember is grasping how transparent my "secrecy" would be. But surely I must have known. Surely no secret admirer ever really wants to remain secret; it's the greatest open secret gig in the world, being the anonymous epistler.) Because she sews, and particularly because she had made my dolls exquisite clothes, my mother had troves of lace and lovely edgings; I chose a cloth lace that nearly matched the paper doily-edges I had been using for everyone else's more-pedestrian valentines. I glued it carefully to the edges of the larger, more voluptuously cut heart I had made for this person. When it was all finished, I tried to put it somewhere casual in the orange-and-brown shirtbox in which I was storing all of my valentines, awaiting the day we'd finally go back to school. But I was, of course, in no way casual about giving him the valentine.
I have no memory of what I wrote to him. I also, blissfully, have no memory of how I responded when he didn't acknowledge the card. It's possible that he didn't even give me a valentine.
Somehow, over the years, my feeling for this person faded, though it was by no means an immediate fading. I do imagine that the obscene and excruciatingly embarrassing song he sang on the school bus, on the day in fifth grade when we had our first girls-only/boys-only lessons in reproductive health and hygiene, probably helped cool whatever small ardor I had continued broadcasting in his direction, though I suspect that there really wasn't much left by that point.
Now, the morals of stories--the argument of the narrative arc or the lyric progression or the martialed evidence--are not my strong suit. An advisor of mine in graduate school once tried to explain this to me by means of a very convoluted version of the "can't see the forest for the trees" adage--only he got so wrapped up in elaborating on how wonderful I made the trees look that he himself couldn't really get to his main point. And so it is that I find myself not sure what to do with this story I've just told you--what to do with it for you, I mean.
I have some choices: I could play it for sympathy, ask you to feel bad for me and my possibly doomed heart once more. But I've made that request of you lots of times, and you've always obliged me with reassurance.
I could reach from it to some sort of understanding of the continuing strangeness of my affective life, and yet I haven't been feeling much as though I would want to do anything about that strangeness just yet, even if I did understand why I've nearly always been this way. What would it mean to leave behind one of my ways of being? I can't help but feel as though it would be much like trying to grow my hair long again. I used to do this every couple of years, and it would get longer and longer, but then it would just start getting bigger and bigger but not longer and longer anymore. The last time I cut it short, nearly seven years ago, I swore that I would never wear it long again: that's a kind of romance for which I'm just not equipped.
I'm sure I have other options, but I'm tiring myself by even listing them. So instead, I think I'll take this moment just to bow out of my narrative altogether and go start my Valentine's day. The sun is out here, and I can see how last night's freezing rain made snow mesas out of the accumulation on most surfaces in my backyard. The weather is meant to be excruciatingly cold again now, and while our winter storm warning has expired, we're now under a blowing/drifting snow advisory. I will, I think, have ashed goat cheese on toasted Italian boule for lunch, after I read some Tolstoy. I will sing myself a valentine through the whole day. One of its verses will be about you. I hope you know who you are, every one of you, and what gratitude I'll scatter through your lines.
Happy Valentine's Day, especially if your weather is worst today.
(And a postscript: if your weather is worst, in any physical or metaphorical sense of the term, laugh yourself silly here. But be forewarned: you might laugh so hard that you lose part, if not all, of your ass. Be careful.)