a very catholic valentine’s day

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Driving to work on Valentine’s Day this year, finally free from direct parenting responsibilities, all I saw was people holding flowers and balloons and shit. Every other person walking around had something in their hands that was pink and or red. Shit, coming down South Orange Ave, a truck cut in front of someone to pull around to a guy selling valentine’s day stuff out his car on the corner.

It’s such serious public business. Valentine’s day isn’t about private intimacy. I’d gone the whole morning at home not even remembering that it was V-day. These color coordinated gifts outdoors validate desirability (not a bad thing). It means that at least you’re part of things somehow.

But flowers are such an interesting accessory. Beyond Valentine’s, holding flowers feels so performative. I’m not talking about the one behind an ear, but like a single rose or a bouquet in your hands. It’s clear that either someone is trying to be cute or someone’s house is going to liven right up.

I love flowers and usually have them in my house. But there has been one bouquet that I wanted desperately to hide. A guy who I had already broken up with sent flowers to my job. They came with a very flashy card–the message was flashy. Everyone saw it before I did. Of course I called him right away to be like why did you send this to my job?

It reminded me of that episode in The Office where Andy tries to give Angela a flower in the middle of the workday and she says “Great now what am I supposed to do with this?” If I don’t like you, I don’t want to look at that shit at home or at work.

This Valentine’s Day, obviously I had to work. When I got to the school and everyone has ash on their foreheads for Ash Wednesdays. A lot had ash and flowers. Especially in the early afternoon because people were all getting out of mass.

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, big gangs of people floated in and out of buildings, often equipped with double holiday gear. I wondered what these two kinds of accessories do together. A day to fast and a day to be romantically gluttonous? But if they’re so different, why do the emblems seem so similar? A mark that fades through the day and pack of dying flowers.

I remember my best friend’s mother telling us as kids that if you complain about being hungry on ash Wednesday you’re being fake. That day at lunch I almost said something but stopped myself. That’s my clearest memory of ever practicing Catholicism.

I don’t do ash Wednesday anymore. This year, I sat at the window (the only window in the entire department) looking out like, wow everyone is so over the top.

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