Pete has made certain he’ll be home for Valentine’s Day. There will be a romantic dinner planned; there’ll be a surprise gift and a mushy card.
All his usual reticence about matters of the heart disappears on the day of the valentine; the dam bursts and an explosion of sentiment floods our landscape. When it recedes, he is left feeling slightly embarrassed at his own excesses. I am left feeling too fattened on chocolate and the extravagant dinner to dare to don the Victoria’s Secret garments which are the surprise gift.
They are mysterious bits of lace and satin, always red and black, colours which are purely dreadful with my white hair and vampire-pale skin. Luckily for both of us, I have never succeeded in getting myself into any of the Heart Day gift items; I believe the sight would finish off the celebration of love – not in a good way.
We have talked about this propensity of his since the day he filled my car with balloons while I was at a lunch meeting with my agent, on Valentine’s Day. The balloons, each inked with cute messages, were overwhelming in sheer number; Gary and I were forced to puncture several of them in order to make room for ourselves in the vehicle, an undertaking which caused amusement on the part of the passersby, who smiled at our dilemma. Gary was being goodnatured about the scene, even enjoying the attention – until the balloons wearing the Victoria’s Secret items showed up.
The passersby stopped passing by and soon we had a crowd who quickly moved from small smiles to huge grins and even some remarks and ribald laughter.
Gary left abruptly, flagging a taxi to deliver him back to his office and giving me the briefest of goodbyes. He is a Christian man, the kind who does not find public showings of sexy underwear funny, though rumour has it he is not at all adverse to dressing himself up in lacy bits, in a private setting.
It all came up for discussion again on our second Valentine’s Day as a couple; you’ll remember that one, Uma, as we were visiting you at the time and you played a significant part in what ensued.
I still feel my face turn red when I remember our third Valentine’s Day. Those fireworks Pete set off Ã‰ I was glad we left the country soon afterwards.
But it seems nothing will quench Pete’s passion for this particular occasion, and so in our (very) separate ways, we prepare for another Valentine’s Day. This’ll be our fifth one and there has been no sign of a slackening of his devotion to the day, or a quieter expression of it.
I have nothing against love, just the public expression of a private feeling. The whole Valentine’s day shtick has bothered me since I was a child, those red hearts everywhere, any significance lost in the overwhelming number and variety of their messages, their destinations.
My mother would cut out our school sandwiches in a heart shape, and she and my father, always too obviously fond for my comfort, made even more of a display of affection on that day. The two of them wanted to see our valentines when we got home from school. My brothers would lie and cheat, adding to their pile of cards by any means available in an effort to outdo one another. My sisters would bring home a more than respectable number without lying or cheating, being pretty and popular girls.
I would usually have just enough cards to reassure my parents that I was indeed a child of their romantic union, though there was that moment of doubt when I would join the boys in throwing our cards into the garbage after the enumeration, leaving my sisters to sit at the kitchen table with Mom to go over the details of who and how many.
This year I decided I would try to get down with the whole idea and think thoughts of love – maybe even write a poem for Pete. I would buy him a red flannel shirt and some red wool socks, combining practicality with romance. I would make a heart-shaped cake, decorating it with heart-shaped cinnamon candies. I would light candles.
The day draws nigh and I find myself no closer to the proper frame of mind but I am thinking of love. The love I am preoccupied with is not the sentimental kind of Valentine’s Day, but more visceral.
I am thinking of the love that saw Obama elected President of the United States; the deeply moving evidence of the love our species is happiest with – the love of feeling good for righteous reasons, the glow we get when we know we are feeling and doing the right thing, in a universal sense.
It’s mixed up with hope and faith, this feeling, and there is not much we are capable of that gives us quite the same energy, the same high. It’s about feeling part of something bigger than our lonely selves and getting together to make something happen for the benefit of everyone.
It happens everywhere and all the time in small ways. I saw it the other day when I found myself in conversation with a woman here who works constantly for change in this community. Like many others living and working in Watson Lake, she works quietly, behind the scenes. Most people would be unaware of the passion, the unstoppable intent she brings to her efforts of behalf of everyone here. She is one of the many unsung heroes of small town life.
The more I learn about the efforts of the Kaska to change and improve the lives of themselves and their children and their children’s children, those individuals working tirelessly and selflessly to put in place programs and plans for the betterment of their people, the more I come again to the subject of love.
The education of the kids here, the schools, have been under fire since I moved here, and from what I can learn, quite justifiably. What is not talked about enough is the dedication of the teachers. It is not their fault that the government has not seen fit to make a plan, or lend support in the way of a structure that would bring the educators together.
The teachers cannot demand parents have their children assessed, the results of which could be instrumental in bringing appropriate help and training into the schools for kids who are in real need. I have not yet heard anyone speak to the commitment, the incredible efforts made on the part of teachers who, five days a week, enter these schools with an unquenchable optimism and hope that something good will happen that day for even one child. That’s love.
I am going to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I am going to celebrate the love of a good man, the love of my family and my extended family. I am going to reach further this year to celebrate the many, many acts of love I have witnessed and heard of here in this little northern town, those small everyday events of kindness and compassion.
I am going to celebrate our innate ability to recognize and respond to the people who bring us together in a common purpose for a common good.
This is the love that will change our world.
Love love love
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.