This is not a valentine.
This is not a candy heart, not a glossy card with bad poetry in a swirling font inside and a picture of a meadow somewhere pasted across the front.
This is knowing the sound of your breath, waking as your inhale changes pitch almost imperceptibly in what I know is the inevitable lead up to one of those rattling snores you make in the night. This is my arm on your shoulder, pushing you over and also holding you close. Go away and stop snoring and also don’t ever leave me and I love you and let me hold you while I drift back off to sleep.
This is no single rose, wrapped up on itself, a blushing secret waiting to be revealed.
This is being seen, being known from hair to pinky toe, being laid bare in so many ways it seems you need a new word for exposed. This is being seen when you ache to hide, being inescapably known. This is having every freckle memorized, and every scar, too. This is having every tantrum witnessed, every careless word heard. This is opening your trembling petals to the light, exposing the sticky pollen of your brokenness and trusting that the arcing silhouette of your fragile form can seem a miracle even in the wake of your unraveling.
This is your dirty jeans on the floor by the bed and my shoes scattered like patent leather land mines across the living room rug. This is fixing your mess everyday, and you fixing mine. This is washing your sweat out of the pillows. This is you wiping my footprints off the tile.
This is a tangle of our things. Our clothes hanging in our closet. Our toothbrushes standing sentry over the sink together, leaning towards each other, almost touching. This is a home that keeps trying to crumble out from under us, threadbare carpet, patched drywall, paint baked pastel by the sun and drifting like dingy turquoise confetti down onto the driveway.
This is no valentine, no candy heart with one happy word painted on its face.
This is the real flesh and blood thing, an ugly tangle of muscle and blood that squeezes out a steady beat. This is a heart that doggedly pounds out love for you every moment of every day, that never twitches and flutters like the wings of a frightened bird, even when it wants to. This is the unbroken thump of the heart in my chest that stays here, beside you, listening to the unbroken thump of your heart even when the nearness is almost unbearable. Even when the sting of angry words is still caustic between us, a poison we both drink together. Even then, the ungainly muscles in our chests keep the time of our togetherness, singing their percussive song to each other through these hulls of bone and flesh.
This is no swirly heart necklace from the jewelry store in the mall. No shiny diamond earrings in a felt covered box.
This is an anchor, rusty and discolored from use. This is the tangled chain that binds us, a tinny makeshift thing whose links have been forged by weary hands choosing to make peace, make progress, make love, make do every day for the thousands of days we’ve spent together.
This is holding on to each other, clutching each other’s hair or shirt or whatever our desperate hands can hold as we rock each other's bodies with the staccato rhythm of our own sobs. This is watching each other lose a dream, lose a child, lose hope, lose sight. This is hurting worse for you than for me, though the burden is ours, always ours, not just yours or mine.
This is no valentine, no chocolate wrapped in red foil with cupid smiling out from the wrapper. This is no valentine. This is the love of everyday, that tireless champion, the plain truth of indescribable beauty. This is the weight of your leg draped across mine, pressing my thigh into the fabric of our second hand couch as we watch television together. This is knowing how your favorite t-shirt will feel against me before I even get my arms around you.
This is that stunted dance we do in the kitchen when we’re bumping around each other to get to the sink or the stove. This is knowing not to wash my hands in the kitchen sink after dinner because you’ll have the water scalding from washing the pans.
The way you look in the snow, with your hat pulled down over your brunette curls, tall and smiling, your puffy coat full of air that I will squeeze out when you pull me into a hug.
This is seeing your eyes on our son’s face. This is hearing your voice come out of his mouth.
This is loving you even when I can’t stand to be in the same room with you. This is not leaving when we lash out at each other. This is wanting you to comfort me even when you’re the one who hurt me.
This is every un-glossy day we’ve spent together, every filthy, exhausting, perfect moment of all of it. This is not a valentine. This is love.
Photo credit: Kiss from flickr creative commons.