I almost forgot about Valentine's Day this year, which I suppose is a testament to the function that his holiday has played in my life... or perhaps to a certain curmudgeonly, anti-romantic spirit that I've been nourishing as a defense against any possible relapse into old co-dependent behaviors. The day before Valentine's, my Dad sent me beautiful gerber daises; a bright, shiny "I love you" balloon; and a teddy bear, and my reaction was 100% "Bah, humbug!" ... or more accurately "What the hell does HE want??" Not nice. 3 days prior, the arrival of a red envelope in the mail from my sister-in-law and brother elicited a similar reaction, and went unopened for 4 days before I finally dredged up a certain misanthropic, grudging will to open the envelope and see what this %&@# card was about. Again, not pretty.
On Valentine's Day I went to work determined to ignore the day, to not even allow resentment of the day to build in my heart, but just to let it pass and be as close to Zen about the whole thing as is possible for me. It was a slightly unusual day in that the students I met with seemed to have a disproportionate number of truly heartbreaking and dramatic stories. It was one of those days where I closed my door over and over again for the sake of confidentiality as students poured their hearts out: a Pakistani student who was falsely accused and arrested by the USCIS, a middle-aged Japanese student with a massive abdominal tumor who was returning home for surgery because there is no one here who will take care of her, a Saudi Ph.D. student who has been dismissed from her academic program after years and years of work. I listened and listened and listened all day and unlike days when I am more distracted, I was really in the room with them, feeling what they were going through, even though I was, as per usual, almost always powerless to help.
It was also one of those days when I didn't really break for lunch. I ran down and bought some Chic-fil-a, which never really fills me up. Then later one of the work studies bought french fries and of course I was maddened by the smell and had to run downstairs to buy some... I do love me some fried potatoes. :^) By the end of the day, my body was crying out for something more nutritious.
The Saudi student was eating an apple. As she talked, the smell filled the office, and although I was listening to her, I found myself examining the apple... the juice of it on her fingers, the shiny deep red skin. The smell of it even seemed nourishing, tempting. She held her composure very well until I told her that she seemed very together but I knew this must be terribly difficult for her, and then she began to cry. I gave her tissues and left her alone for a little while since she was clearly embarrassed and angry that she had showed so much emotion. When I came back I told her she was welcome to sit there a bit, finish her apple, compose herself. She gratefully accepted, not eager to parade back through the lobby with nose and eyes runny, clutching a half-eaten apple. Somehow the focus on the mundane helped us both recover. I told her that that was one good-looking apple and it smelled fantastic, and she said it was one of the best apples she'd ever eaten. It was a really simple --even mildly silly-- exchange, but it normalized things. (Image from http://www.fabnetrevenue.com/2007/10/08/blogging-week-end-accomplishments/)
On the way home, I started to feel nauseous, the day's greasy food churning in my tummy. Folks got on the train with roses, balloons, various markers of the day I had tried to ignore. Between the churning tummy, the emotions of the day, and the sudden reminder of my singleness, I started to feel sorry for myself. I was reading the Artist's Way in preparation for the evening meeting of my group and realized I hadn't done an Artist's Date in a long looong time. I also couldn't think of what I'd want to do, and slumped a little further into self-pity at my boring, pitiful life.
At the top of the elevator at Clarendon metro, I suddenly remembered the apple. I was going to be late to meet Lisa, but my desire for an apple was strong... partially a physical need for nutrients, and partially a soul-need for an act simply for myself...impulsive, sudden, simple... reacting to my own desire in the instinctive way you reach for a crying baby. I feel sick, an apple will help. Plus, I just really really want an apple. Ok. Off I go.
I headed to Whole Foods, a store for people who make at least 20k more than I do. I never go there because I don't want to have to take out a loan for groceries. Plus, I feel awkward there around people whom I always assume are too snotty to go to the Giant, where I normally go, clutching my coupons and smiling and chatting with the cashiers that I know. The parking lot of Whole Foods is always jam packed with harried looking people, so I expected a crowd. However, I didn't know that they sold roses and that evidently every man within a 3 mile radius had forgotten to buy Valentine's Day flowers for his beloved.
The place was a madhouse, and I suddenly felt myself a woman on a mission. I wanted an apple. So I dodged men of all ages and shapes and sizes and colors, clutching flowers with wild looks in their eyes, some also clutching bottles of wine, chocolates, little bears and cards and balloons. Nobody in the whole place appeared happy. I had to get through the flower section on my way to produce, and I wove through people like a motorcyclist in Beltway traffic, focused on my goal. I passed the first pile of apples I saw.... they weren't right, with flat, waxy surfaces and some exotic name I'd never heard of.
Then I saw them: perfect, deep red, shiny red delicious apples. I honed in like a sniper on my target, swooped in and grabbed two of the most beautiful ones from the top. One for me, one for Lisa... maybe two for me. I was crazy with apple-lust. The sign said "organic" in typically obnoxious Whole Food style but I didn't care. I had my prey, and I made a beeline for the checkout. All the checkout lines wound around like crazy frantic vines through the front area. I picked what appeared to be the shortest one, dodging wild-eyed people carrying lilies, roses, tulips, smacking into each other and clamoring to be first in line.
Standing in line, my blue wool cap pulled low near my eyes, it suddenly hit me. I was HAPPY. I had come in to get an apple. That was it, and now I had it, and I was happy. I chatted with people in line, the guy in front of me with two bunches of gorgeous purple flowers, the woman behind me with an orchid she'd bought for a friend. I saw a student that I knew behind me in line and we chatted for a bit. He's Indian, raised in Zambia, with a stunning Russian girlfriend. He had some gorgous multi-colored roses. The line was long and so we all chatted for a little while. Finally, the guy in front of me checked out and said "enjoy your apple, you earned it!" I paid an ungodly $2.40 for two apples and left, smiling at the people behind me in line, who had returned to expressions of stress and strain. On the way out, a guy walked in front of me with two fantastically beautiful bunches of multi-colored roses and I thought "Good job, dude. She'll like those!" and I was really, honestly thinking only that.
Walking home, I thought of all the Valentine's Days past... ones where I had roses and ones where I didn't. I thought of all the expectations and the disappointment that I'd felt whether or not I had anybody. The dinners I ate with sullenness because it wasn't exactly what I wanted or the guy wasn't exactly who I wanted, the flowers that weren't enough, or the guy who wasn't. Years where I was single, crying in my room in self-pity, calling my Mom or another single friend or just writing depressing journal entries about the last guy who broke my heart. I could not remember a single time when I felt happier than I did at that moment. I started eating my apple as soon as I left the Whole Foods lot... two quick swipes on my jacket and then devoured the thing, juice running down my hand as I wove through stopped cars on Wilson Boulevard, smiling at people in their cars. I chomped on it as I saw the guy from Whole Foods walk into a house that I've passed so many times, calling out greetings to his kids. I didn't feel the slightest twinge of jealousy. In fact, I felt gratitude. He had want he wanted, and I had what I wanted, and I gave what I wanted to MYSELF. I was filled, and fulfilled, and not bitter or lonely or frustrated or upset or jealous or any of those things I'd been on Valentine's Days past. All I wanted was an apple, and I'd gotten it. I'd shown the tiniest bit of regard for myself, and fulfilled my own simple need. Todo estuvo bueno.