Valentinian Diaries, as the Earth Once Circles the Sun
Valentines Day, 2017.
I'm eating tacos on my favorite street in Los Angeles, with no foreseeable plans for the evening except to discover this city in a new way, and maybe a little more of me in the process. I almost talked myself out of this nine times in the cab over--"this is out of your way, you should have just stayed home, you should have gotten something done." But just because I'm not dating someone doesn't mean it's not important to mark time.
I'm hungrier than I think. Maybe I'll just follow my stomach. I'm already a little in love with the man in line ahead of me, mostly because his sweater looks soft, and it's inside-out. Strange the imagined intimacy of reaching out and pressing a finger to the undone embroideries of the tag and whispering, "Here. Look. You're inside out." But his tacos are ready, so I suppose I won't ever know the response to such whispering.
I'm taking in the cold night air laced with a little nicotine, the busker with a ponytail who knew I needed strains of "Hallelujah" before I did, before anything else...all this I am grateful for on Valentines Day 2017. And I'm thinking how grateful I am that love and gratitude are one in some way.
This much of the world and sometimes I really wish I could leave the rectangle that owns me behind, but it's the heroin of connected and killing me with a gentle buzz, with ears attuned, that quickens my heartbeat.
Remember how good this air feels in your lungs, dear girl, when you're inside suffocating. This, the same part of you that craves motion--that needs it to live.
I'll take lonely in a cool bar playing the Wanderer over lonely at home any night of the week. Better the Nick from Gatsby, taking notes, than Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven.
I like pretending this is home, because why can't it be?
I like to watch the parade of pairs, even with chills through my bones.
I like the nervousness of so many carried brown packages, deep breaths, rehearsals.
In a red dress and red lipstick, I hide in plain sight.
Come and find me...or don't.
Valentines Day, 2018.
I remember the end of that story that night.
The narrator who found so much magic in solo wanderings for one hour eventually required the company of friends who were dear to the soul, but who also outpaced her in drinking, leading her to end the night at the counter of her favorite diner, drunkenly exposing her soul to her favorite waitress, not for the first or last time, until she folded herself into an Uber and vomited out the window. Hearts be damned--sometimes our stomachs have the last word after all.
And I remember how that story continued.
In March, that narrator will sit in the same diner with the very man whose mystery and distance she had bemoaned to that waitress. He will tell her the story of the child he had unexpectedly, and how his entire life changed because of this child. This will bring he and the narrator into a new level of closeness, and she will find herself trusting him with more. Within a few hours, she will lose her virginity to this man. This decision will touch every quadrant of her life, but she won't regret it. It just becomes a part of her story.
In July, after she's left this relationship reluctantly because all the other quadrants of life were getting so loud that she couldn't hear her heart anymore, she will come back to this diner to catch up with a friend, which in practice translates to unloading all of the upheaval and loss and confusion in the hopes that the more she verbally processes, the less it will hurt. It will not really work out that way. She will float to this already-overloaded friend the idea that maybe she wants to give this relationship another try. This friend will vehemently caution her against this, and advise her to move on. The narrator will ignore this advice.
But she will wonder what path she's taking, and she will walk a little longer to get to her car, and on her way she will pass a mural of Bukowski. She has never looked up to see this sign, and now she will sees that it says:
"What matters most is how well you walk through the fire."
This will cut her deep in the context of the advice she knows she's going to ignore. She wonders, was this just fire she was refusing to navigate?
In October, after she has gone back to him and believed his promises of a fresh start down the road, after a deeply disappointing phone call, the narrator will celebrate her birthday on her favorite street in Los Angeles anyway, finding a different brand of tipsy carousing that feels celebratory of all the good people and things her life already contains.
She will return to the counter where so much has ended and begun and talk into the wee small hours of the morning with a work friend who she used to Puritanically, rigidly disagree with, speaking with great authority on things she had not yet known. She will come clean, and she will be happy and relieved to find that her audience could not be more gracious. And the only thing that will tear her away from this common plane of humanity at three in the morning is her flight to New York in three hours.
Her twenty-seventh year will be okay, she knows somewhere deep in her bones.
In November, the narrator will face the loudest silence of her life, eclipsing this optimism with confusion and heartbreak. The narrator will sit at the diner counter with her brother, listening to him desperately try to bring her back from the brink of despair. But she will not be ready to come back. There's deeper down the rabbit hole to go. More fire.
Then December. Christmas Eve, and the narrator will bustle through shops on the same favorite street, making last minute gift purchases, cheeks ruddy with excitement because of an entirely different man, her pocket buzzing with an ever-continuing conversation bonding them tighter and tighter over ten miraculous days that brought her out of darkness. She will know she is going to see him that night, and what was a very cold season will suddenly feel like she's living in someone's snow globe. The narrator will become aware that she is no longer the observer--she is now the one being kissed under mistletoe, by someone worthy of these Christmas card affections.
In January 2018, in a new year, the narrator will decide to take this new man to her favorite street in Los Angeles, to her favorite diner. They will sit down at the same counter, and within a few moments, the snow globe will shatter.
He will tell her the news of the unexpected child he will have, the news he discovered on Christmas. The narrator will cry, and sit in shock, and be at a loss to understand anything about the world anymore. She will walk him all over her favorite street for as long as she can, filling the air with words that she will barely be able to remember later. She will walk him by the Bukowski mural on purpose, because without being able to explain why, she finds comfort there. And she needs all the strength available right now.
She will say goodbye to him in the same parking lot where she has received dozens of good-night kisses, but there is no kiss tonight. She will regret this fact with everything in her in the weeks to come, while also knowing that it could never have been any other way.
And now, tonight.
February. Valentines once more.
The narrator returns to her favorite street in Los Angeles, determined that it will stay that way. She arrives at her favorite bar with a book she loves, now finding these solo pilgrimages less of a struggle, more of a cherished pastime. She finds that though she ends this night alone, she feels not overjoyed, not despairing, but some human mix of all feeling. She feels confident to leave when she wants, she doesn't drink much.
She decides, in this moment, to return to the diner that she has not frequented since he left her. This will be closure she needs. But the counter is busy and the diner is pumping with trap music and there is no atmosphere at all. And the narrator almost laughs--this closure was never contained here. She is already holding it. It is already in the shift she can feel inside, though much is still unsettled. So she takes a sandwich to go, the poetic now pedestrian.
And she walks on the cold favorite street, into the same parking lot that threatened to always carry a Pavlovian response of heartbreak, but it won't. Because she doesn't need to walk by the mural again to find her own antidote.
And every Valentines Day going forward, alone or entwined, she will know this truth: she can walk through fire.