It’s February. You can almost tell without looking at a calendar. Without missing a beat, the muted gray-blue skies of January are punctured with the pinks and reds that flood out the front doors of every CVS, Rite-Aid, and Stop and Shop. Without fail, each of the advertisements I pass on the sidewalk on my way to work has been taken over by a local jeweler advertising the shiniest diamond necklaces and rings, and each TV spot features some woman opening a square box by candlelight and gasping like it told her some crass office gossip.
If you can’t tell, I don’t love it—and I know I’m not alone. Valentine’s Day, though well-intentioned, has a history of growing overblown. But not long ago, I hated the holiday. Not I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, and not I just don’t like the material aspects of the holiday, but real hate.
I hated a lot of things back then. Or, at least, I thought I did; in actuality, I was deeply confused. For years—starting in middle school, winding up through college, and even into my grad school days—I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to operate in my own skin. Some combination of depression and depersonalization—coupled with questions about my beliefs, my religion, my brain, my sexuality, my energy, my enthusiasm, my friends (or, sometimes, my lack of friends), my sense of humor, my body, my, well, everything—had left me somewhere dark. I didn’t feel accepted, and I didn’t accept myself. I felt somehow broken, like I had been two different people, one controlling the other like an avatar in an MMORPG, but now the batteries were dying and all my movements were lagging. I was lost.
Along the way, though, I found you.
I found you in a lot of different people: friends, acquaintances, poets I stumbled upon online, characters in novels, mothers, grandmothers, aunts. And for a long time, I didn’t know what I had found. Sometimes you were someone who had been where I was. Other times, you’d been somewhere worse. Regardless, you didn’t think twice about the scars on my body, my physical misgivings, my confusion, my bad taste in fashion. You laughed with me at the goofiest jokes. You asked for my opinion, and would willingly give me yours as well. You didn’t hide your brilliance; instead, you shared it with me, all the while respecting my insights and convincing me I had something to add to almost any conversation. You danced with me, even when there was no music playing. When I cried, you didn’t shy away from my sadness. You helped me learn that so much of what I was doing was holding myself to unfair (or nonexistent, in some cases) standards of what a person should look like, or do, or be. You taught me that I was valid. I mattered. And I knew you mattered, too.
Most importantly, my friend, my confidant, when I told you that I loved you as my own sister, or aunt, or mother, or whomever, you smiled. You reciprocated. You didn’t scorn me for loving too much, or too eagerly. My heart had found a home in yours. I cannot thank you enough for that.
Like many of my friends and loved ones, I’m still very confused in some ways. But the picture is much less dire than it was a few years back. Today, I am comfortable with the fact that I’m not perfect. I’m still growing, and I hope to continue to grow for a lifetime. But I owe so much of that comfort in the face of ambiguity to you—the ladies in my life who reached out to me. Today, I’m surrounded by so much love that it makes me dizzy in the best way. When I think about how far I’ve come in such a short time, when I look back at my life and where I’ve been, I get vertigo—like life is a skyscraper and I’m standing on top, looking down on the city as the sun rises.
To the women who helped me find myself, I just wanted to take this season of love—manufactured or otherwise—to say another thank you. Another I love you. Tomorrow, when I wake up and I’m getting ready for work, I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll take comfort in the fact that, thanks to you, I know myself. And I’m so excited to see where our journey together brings us next.
All my love,