(I'm posting in-between times this week because I missed last week. I promise to get back on the Wednesday schedule beginning next week.)
Today I'm sharing the first draft of a piece I wrote today in honor of Valentine's Day. It's a little longer than my usual post, but I hope you'll stick around to the end. :)
It's all too easy to think of February 14 as Lovers' Day instead of Day of Love. Maybe my words will inspire you to think of the day when you felt the most loved.
That word circled my mind as I listened to my friend talk about her love affair with a married man.
On a trip they took to the coast, lying in bed in a hotel room overlooking the ocean, he told her he adored her.
“He adored me,” she said, her face pink with love, a small smile unable to be contained. “No one has ever told me they adored me.”
I think now, this week of Valentine’s Day, of the time when I felt most adored.
We sit on a flowered sofa, my great grandparents and I. There is cake; it is my first birthday. My great grandmother stares straight into the camera, a forkful of cake on its way to her mouth. Her head is wrapped in a scarf and the ties hang over her ample bosom. Black socks and shoes angle on the floor over her bare calves. Her glasses reflect the flash of the camera.
My great grandfather and I are the stars of this photograph though. I am leaning into my great grandmother, a smile lighting my face, my hands playing with each other in that way that children have when they’re so excited that even their hands get into the action. My feet are in motion too and there’s a tiny circle around one of them—from the flash? Today with my new-agey spirituality I might say it’s an orb, an energy ball, a symbol of angels or spirits.
My great grandfather leans away from us, pipe in hand, plate with a slice of cake in his lap. Black suit—his Sunday suit?—over a tie-less white shirt, hair thick and silver. He stares down at me with the most delight. He adores me, his first great granddaughter on her first birthday.
Their last name was Brown and that’s the color I associate with them. The brown sugar cookies she used to make, the first thing we’d smell when we walked in their house. The brown walls and floors, worn with many footsteps, a few blackened places still remaining from a fire that caught up in a bedroom. The brown boats my great-grandfather used to make. The print in their kitchen of the little girl holding a brown hen that they always used to say was me.
Of course I don’t remember that day of my first birthday. But in my father’s things we found many jewels, including old negatives. The photographs must have been long sent to relatives or put in albums or cleaned out of drawers because we never found them. At the time I was taking a darkroom class. My own attempts at black and white photography were mediocre so I took the old negatives into the darkened concrete room of the community center to discover the treasures they held. When I put this negative in the light and saw the three of us on the flowered couch I knew that this was no ordinary occasion, not just a birthday, but a moment in time when I was truly loved.
I understand now, looking at the photograph on my desk, the reasons that my friend doesn’t want to give up this feeling of being adored. I feel lonely for the moment captured on the couch, a moment that I cannot remember. I don’t blame her for wanting to hang on to it, this unabashed admiration of her lover. I can’t tell her to let it go.