As a kid, being in love was gross and candy was awesome.
Which is why I loved Valentine’s Day. There was so much free candy and very little thought given to all that yucky love business.
But now that I’m older, love seems a lot less gross and candy a lot more harmful to my calorie count.
Which is really a bummer since I’m single and have access to a lot of candy.
This week, as Valentine’s Day approached, I tried to keep my head up. I tried to tell myself this was a fake holiday designed to sell cards. I tried to convince myself that I was going to make it about love in general (for my friends, for my family, for my apartment that has wood floors) but I just wasn’t feeling it.
I was alone and it was a little sad.
Pass the candy.
By last night I had become officially bitter. After waiting on countless couples at the restaurant (who were beating the Valentine’s Day rush by dining out the night before) I was done. A girl can only gush about what a “cute couple you are” so many times before she wants to drown herself in a sea of chocolate-covered sea salt caramels.
Luckily I had those waiting at home.
As I left work, I remembered I had planned to make cookies to give to a few people for Valentine’s Day. Baking always makes me feel better and in a last desperate attempt to salvage this bunk holiday I turned into the nearest grocery store to get a few ingredients.
I pushed past people buying last minute boxed candy and teddy bears, becoming increasingly annoyed.
Stupid day. Stupid hearts. Stupid candy. STUPID LOVE!
I grabbed my milk and Crisco and headed for check out.
I glanced at the person ahead of me in line. He was buying one thing.
A 2-liter bottle of Vodka.
Apparently I wasn’t the only person feeling lonely.
The man behind me was also purchasing one thing: A vase of roses with a stuffed bear hanging on it.
I felt my heart lurch but tried to cover it with much more comfortable bitter thoughts.
He’s clearly not really in love because he’s buying last minute. Who would want a teddy bear anyway? He is just feeding into the scam that is this stupid holiday.
But the roses were nice. In fact, they were beautiful. I had to swallow an urge not to stick out my nose and smell them.
The man caught my eye and smiled. I smiled and turned away, focusing back on my Crisco and my disillusion. I paid and walked to my car thinking I too should have bought a giant bottle of vodka.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
It was the man who had bought the teddy bear. He was waving to me vigorously from the sidewalk.
Had I forgotten something? Had he come to shove the stupid gift in my face one more time? I stopped in the middle of the street and he ran up to my car.
Everything my mother had ever told me about strange men approaching my car ran through my head.
This is how a mugging begins. He is going to wield a knife and I’m going to be on the news as the dumb girl who stopped for America’s Most Wanted Felon.
I opened my window just a hair.
I am so sorry to bother you.
He spoke with a slight Eastern European accent.
It’s okay. Did I forget something?
No, no. I just…well. I am driving my motorcycle and so I can’t take this with me.
He pulled out a heart shaped helium balloon, the shiny kind that you can see yourself in.
I just wanted to give it to you…as a gift to say Happy Valentine’s Day.
I was surprised as I reached out to take the balloon. There was nothing sinister in the way he said it. Nothing overtly sexual or romantic. It was just…nice.
I rolled down my window a little more and he smiled and handed it to me.
I hope you have a very happy day tomorrow.
He ran back across the street and after a few shocked moments, I drove away with my shiny balloon.
After awhile, I started to smile. Grin actually. As my heart-shaped balloon bounced beside me I wondered what had possessed him to do such a thing.
Had he noticed that I was feeling lonely? Was there something in the way I looked at his roses that was a bit too full of longing?
The more I thought of it the more I smiled.
As I climbed my apartment steps, I it occurred to me that he hadn’t had the balloon when he was standing in line. Which meant that he bought it after I left. And furthermore, he obviously knew that he drove a motorcycle so why buy the balloon in the first place?
The more I mulled it over the more I realized - he had specifically purchased the balloon for me.
Maybe he thought I needed cheering up. Maybe he thought I needed to be reminded that this holiday can be about small, simple acts of love.
Whatever the reason, his little bit of kindness had warmed my heart.
That night, as I happily cut out cupid-shaped cookies, I smiled knowing that there are lots of versions of love alive in this city.
There is the kind of love that makes you spend your whole life with someone.
And then there’s the kind of love that makes you give a lonely stranger a red, shiny, heart-shaped balloon.
This year, I’m celebrating that kind of love.