February 14, 2000: A chubby little girl with big eyes and bigger feet has spent hours planning and executing the design for her Valentine’s Day shoebox. It is decorated with puffy stickers (her favorite), doodles and zigzags, and white glue covered in glitter. She has just learned the term crosshatch from her mother, and has put maybe an excessive amount on the top of her box. This morning, though, she wakes up with a throat that feels like it’s been scratched raw. Her dad stays home from work and drives her to the doctor, who says strep.
The little girl does not know that she will be sick for almost every Valentine’s, Christmas, and Halloween party for the next five years. Children get sick a lot, but rarely with such impeccable timing.
February 13, 2004: A somewhat bigger, but still quite little, girl is staring across the room at the first boy she has ever had a crush on. He sidles regretfully up to the box on her desk and drops a Valentine from two fingers into the top. Over a decade later, the girl will idly remember this moment as she is doing biology homework. She thinks the Valentine may have been sports themed. She vaguely remembers that the boy had blond hair and a snubbed nose but, beyond that, can remember nothing.
February 14, 2008: This past year, a new Linkin Park album has come out, and the girl listens to it on repeat. She is at her mother’s house for the weekend and lies on her stomach with the cat curled up in the small of her back: And now you’re gone, and I was wrong/I never knew what it was like/To be alone… She wears black eyeliner, with no eyeshadow, and has one pink wristband from Hot Topic which she treasures more than life itself. She fills notebooks with terrible poetry. She has no idea, not yet, how loved she truly is.
February 14, 2011: A young woman (she’s 17) is visiting the university to which she has been accepted and will soon attend. She misses her family and her boyfriend. Her hosts have set up a cot for her to sleep on, and as she curls up, she glimpses a single rose on the nightstand. She wonders if anyone will ever give her a rose. (Someone does, eventually.)
February 14, 2013, probably: The lights are out in the common room. On the couch, the young woman is dead asleep. Her legs and big feet stick out from under the blanket. They hurt terribly. It is cold.
February 2, 2015: It’s February again. The month of my birthday, my 22nd this year, and the month of Valentine’s Day, on which I never, ever have a date. It’s become something of an inside joke I have with myself, a running streak I’d sort of regret breaking. But I really like Valentine’s Day, for some perverse reason. I spend so much time falling in love with people and places and songs and tastes that it’s nice to have one day, one day a year, when I fall in love with myself.