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Valentines and Butterflies

In December, the Christmas cards I say I don’t write, I send just one. The card was to Betty, my former cooperating teacher for the student teaching assignment almost twenty years ago. That would have been the engagement so to title the length of time pre transformation of love affair into marriage, teaching license, happily ever after. The folded paper was full of butterflies. Teaching always brought me butterflies, first nerves and then doubt.

For the spare few others that sent me Christmas cards, I tucked them away in a basket on the washstand turned night table. The idea arrived that I might reply to the handful of cards, but I never did.

The closest I came to holiday joy and giving was the personalized ‘thank you’ to my Current Conversations team. Except custom order meant it was delivered at my door too late for the possible intent, if in fact I had acknowledged somewhere that my heart had changed without knowing it. Somewhere, maybe, late in January became meant for Valentine’s Day.

The reemergence of Valentine’s Day. I started to consider hearts. I found myself in Target on the last weekend in January, staring at a heart shaped box of mini Pixies. The Fannie May store so much a part of my father’s and my grandfather’s Christmas presents had closed the year before. The options to purchase my dad’s favorite chocolate confections were limited, and somewhat excessive. In December I had stood in a similar aisle but hesitated. When I had returned the Christmas candy aisle had been decimated by stocking stuffer purchases. Dad had hoped for a miracle. I had been too late. Yet, in that aisle again in January I remembered another story about hearts and the fact that Fannie May candy had entered into my family because of its role on Valentine’s Day. I swept the heart shaped candy box from the shelf and tucked it under my arm. My eyes flicked to the right at the multi packed cards. I bought two.

Tuesday afternoon I relaxed into my Current Conversations racial equity and social justice team meeting. In the midst of first minutes banter, I offered a piece of my tried to forgotten romance with education. The vignette reached back when I had a heart project and used to use Valentine’s Day as a means to connect and say ‘thank you’ to donors. That weekend I checked my memoir. Into the search feature I wrote, “Valentine’s Day”. The holiday was mentioned eight times, but mostly in the following paragraph.

Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday, especially in Guatemala,” I announced after showing up to work my shift at the library’s Learning Through Play program. I slid my calf out along the carpet to reveal black tights dotted with red and pink hearts. It was Saturday. It was Valentine’s Day. Weekends were where I made up extra outreach hours I couldn’t work during the week due to my position with the literacy nonprofit. “Valentine’s Day is so fun in the classroom,” I had often explained. And that, simply, was why. “In Guatemala, it is celebrated as friendship day,” I clarified. Today was Valentine’s Day and just another day I rushed to work after the gym.

The other ‘results’ were pages later. They encompassed the broken pieces, I sometimes still embraced too tightly in the years since, including this year.

I had no grand coming of age moment as I edged past the date that marked one year home from Guatemala, one year since lugging and balancing two heavy suitcases for the last time. “Dates are as good as fairy tales in that regard,” I supposed. “They fill our heads with unrealistic expectations.” Like Valentine’s Day?

What did this all these flutters mean for moving on?

What did this say about my heart? My old loves? My new flirtations?

I sliced open the two packs of cards with dull skin lacking a thumbnail, and began to write names. The new friends’ names came to mind quickly, and then slowly, past ones. Finally, I paged through the address book that had held a palimpsest of heart project and friendship across its pages. I let myself feel the ache in my stomachache and the creeping smile on my face equally. The week before Valentine’s Day, this week, I mailed the ‘thank you’ gift to my team. I wrote notes about the value of reaching out at nontraditional times. I expressed gratitude for being a part of our shared work, ‘full of heart’. It was a phrase that cradled separate implications for me. I did not have a new heart, but I recognized something returned, finally, in my heart. Butterflies.


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