It's Valentine's Day, and so we think of love and roses and smoldering I don't know what.
I was single for Valentine's Day for most of my life, and as such, felt inadequate and unloved. And then the rare times that I was Valentined, it was easy to relax and not be so uptight about what we did, because hey, I had someone who ostensibly loved me!
But the fact is, and we actually know this but it doesn't sell cards and chocolates, love is so much broader and deeper than the kind of love that takes you out for dinner on Valentine's Day.
In January of 1990, I met my friend Leigh. We were both in the same Italian History class in the same college in Rome. She'd just started college and was living with her parents. I was escaping UNC and having a once-in-a-lifetime glorious experience.
We started chatting on the bus ride home together. How can I not remember the bus number? I rode it all the time. Anyway, she'd get off at Guido d'Arrezzo. I stayed on until Termini; I rented a room on a residential floor of a nearby church.
It was one of the best times of my life.
We immediately became fast friends. I will either meet you and like you fine but we will be surface people. Or we will sit down and have a heart and mind meld and then I will basically never let you go.
We became the latter. I loved her and I loved her parents. I loved her boyfriend. I dated but didn't have a steady boyfriend, and the three of us did lots of stuff together. He and I stayed friends after they broke up. So did her mother and I.
She'as the first person I can remember telling me I was smart. One evening I'd gone over to their apartment to write a paper, as Leigh's mom had a computer. And Leigh said, "You go ahead and start. I'm not done with my outline."
I said, "Outline? You make an outline?"
And she said, "How do you start if you don't know where you're going to end up?"
And I said, "How do you know where you're going to end up if you haven't started?"
We have very different brains. We process so differently. But and some point, she said "You know, Lisa, you're really smart."
Smart? I'm smart.
(If you meet her she will also tell you how our friend Kassie and I convinced her to accompany us to Tunisia for spring break. We somehow gave her the impression that we knew what we were doing, and we so very completely did not. It's a humiliating story and she tells it whenever she meets one of my friends.)
So we were dearest friends. And then I left Rome and eventually she went off to UVa, and I went off to Peace Corps. And when I returned to DC for grad school, she had this new boyfriend, Stephen.
Stephen didn't like me. I don't know if it was personal, or if Leigh and I were just too close to be threatening. But I was never, ever allowed to talk to Leigh alone. He had to be there.
Maude and I would eventually call him Icky Stephen. Behind his back, I mean. Not to his face.
And then one day, one day Leigh just stopped returning my calls. She'd call back in the middle of the day, when there was no chance I'd be there. Eventually, she stopped calling at all.
I'd never been dumped by a friend before. Well, that once in 6th grade, but even though my dad never forgave her, we reconciled in a couple weeks.
But this was dumped dumped. No explanation, no return. It was so much more hurtful than a boyfriend, because it was a dear friend. Someone who really knew me and loved me unreservedly despite all my flaws. Someone I was totally myself with. Someone I didn't keep anything from.
(This tells you a little about my romantic love relationships, too, I realize.)
I was flawed and she was flawed and we are all sorting things out as we go along, you know? But I didn't have any perspective then.
Eventually I let her go, because what are you going to do? But I didn't forget about her, because your heart people, well, they don't just go away.
And then years later--really just a couple years ago--I saw her on Facebook! We'd both stayed in touch with Marco. I agonized, because what if she really didn't want to be friends and it hurt all over again? Eventually, I sent a friend request.
She responded immediately. "Give me your number!"
She called and said, "My mom said that the first thing I have to tell you is that you were right about Stephen!"
And it was just like always.
So I was right. It didn't make me happy, because in the end, it caused her a lot of pain.
But here we are, so very many years later. When we talked the first time I said, "My God! I'm older than your mom was when we met!"We are more than twice as old as we were, riding those buses in Rome, trying to remember Italian historical facts and only recollecting that Vittorio Emmanuele II used to feel up the chambermaids. Or was it Mussolini?
Anyway we are still dear, dear friends.
Months ago I decided Jordan and I would visit her for the Valentine's Day opening of her flower shop out in her town in western Maryland. And then Leigh came and stayed and Betty asked if she could go, too. And then India asked if we'd take her. And then then Nick said he wanted to join.
As it turned out, hotel rooms are booked. Because Saturday is Valentine's Day! I was like, "People go to hotels for Valentine's Day?!?" Apparently they do.
So Jordan and Betty and I are going, because Nick's back has been hurting, and he can't sleep on an air mattress. He and India are going to have some good time together.
Love is in so many places in our lives. Sometimes it seems so obvious, but it's false. Sometimes it's subtle, and takes us a while to figure it out. And sometimes we have to grow into understanding it.
And sometimes we have to take a deep breath, wipe off the oatmeal, and say yes, yes you can have some juice and pleasedearlordplease stop whining, and just embrace the love, no matter what.
Valentine's Day is a made-up day that causes way too many people anxiety. But something that shoves the love in your face can also be a nice reminder that love endures.
Nothing matters more in this life than the people we love and the people who love us.
I believe this with all my heart.