February is the month of fraying things, a friendship worn thin, tempers taut from winter spent indoors, the last month too that 3 years ago I saw my husband alive. Also the month of Valentine’s Day, but I have never been a traditionalist, don’t think roses and prepackaged chocolates are necessarily romantic, have never cared for celebrating love when I was expected to, think flowers say I love you just as well when they are sent in January or mid-April or some other month entirely, and so I send them out sometimes to other people, buy a few bouquets a year. Not in February.
Not in February, when we feature Cupid as some chubby, innocuous infant, and seem to forget that he is also always armed, with arrows, with bow, wonder why we grow up to see love as a kind of wounding. We say our heart aches for them; call it heartache when they leave, call it breathlessness when we are captivated by them as if it is ever truly one’s desire to be unable to breathe.
I wanted to celebrate love when it was unexpected, when it was every day, when it was ordinary. I wanted to tell a man I loved him through the coffee I made in the morning or through remembering to buy his favorite soda or through post its on a counter. I wanted to tell a man I loved him by remembering to text him just to say hello, or to see how he’s doing, even though I don’t like texting, even though it’s hard for me. I wanted to tell a man I loved him enough to love him every day, not just on Valentine’s.
The last flowers I received that year 3 years ago that weren’t because of someone’s death don’t come for Valentine’s. By then, he’s elsewhere, deep in his depression, scaring me. They don’t come for our anniversary months earlier. Not too for my birthday, ten days before that. I don’t remember when they come, except that maybe I buy them myself. Except that maybe I buy them in a grocery store then as I do now, except that maybe I buy them to say it’s okay to love myself too. I don’t know when they come, but it’s not February.
Not February, that month of fraying things, when I think of my husband and the garden in which he vanished. Not February, in the middle of cold winter, when I think of all the pots my hands tended during summers in that same garden, the line of heavy irises and disorderly tulips, the unkempt rose and weeds that kept growing, despite our best efforts to get them to stop. How different the first garden from the one in the new home, where this past summer I could grow nothing but tomatoes, bright red. Where, when they split in the sun on the concrete they reminded me of Februaries and of Cupids, the way we grow up with the idea of love as a kind of wound, when they split red in the sun they reminded me of breaking hearts.
Reminded me of my own, the leavings and silences that damaged it. Reminded me of the way I learn to love myself now, even in pieces, even in months of frayed things. Reminded me that someday, if I give another man my heart, it won’t be because he’s wounded it, won’t be because he’s learned to make it ache.
Only that, like flowers given in other months, he’s learned to love me every day. Not just in February.