Quiet Desperation

`Smoke made with the fume of sighs'

Column by Craig Marshall Smith

I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes.

When I was a youngster at Burns Park Elementary in Ann Arbor, Mich., each row in my classroom had its own decorated box on Valentine's Day. Since my artistic knacks were showing even then, I always decorated the box for our row.

There was a slot in the top. The box would sit there for a few days before Feb. 14. We dropped in homemade and Hallmark valentines, and sometimes we dropped them in when no one was watching.

I was just beginning to notice that girls were exquisite little assemblies of DNA. Audrey in particular.

Near the end of the day on Feb. 14, the teacher asked us to open the boxes and hand out the valentines.

I always had my share, but some kids didn't. Some girls and boys had more than their share, and some didn't have any, and that bothered me. So in the following years, I created valentines for everyone in the class.

The look on Emily's face made me do it. Emily wasn't very cute, and cute is everything in life. I made sure that Emily received at least one valentine. I spent a little more time on hers than I did on the others, and it paid off.

Even though I didn't sign it, I think she knew who drew it. Her smile was unforgettable.
I am in love every day of the year, and I give Jennifer a little valentine of some kind every time she comes over. You see, love isn't an assignment on one day in February.

"St. Valentine's Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus," according to Wikipedia. "The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire."

Centuries later, Emily came up empty handed, when Feb. 14 developed into a celebration of romantic love. Humbug.

On the day after Christmas, grocery stores pulled all of their Christmas items and replaced them with shelves full of hearts and chocolates. I cringed. Men stand in front of the cards and try to figure out which ghostwriter wrote something that they would say if they were capable of it. It is the bottom rung of romance.

I guess if it's your first year together, it might be OK. After that, buddy, you should let it show all the time.

There are always unexpected consequences. Feb. 14 is the No. 1 day for private detectives, and I think that you can guess why. The wife gets a card, the mistress gets a necklace, and the wife hires a private eye.

If your mailbox is empty on Feb. 14, and you attach some sentiment to it, I'm your man. Maybe I can make a small difference.

Robert Frost said, "Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."

But sometimes there are no takers. What then? Start with this. It always has to start with this. Love yourself. If you don't love yourself, you can't expect someone else to love you. A fortune teller told me that.

Here's another thought. Maybe loving someone isn't necessary, but loving something is. Music, art, the heartbeat at my feet. They all do it for me.

Jennifer and I add up to 113 years, but we are as goofy together as teenagers, and love manages to wipe away the years.

Shakespeare said, "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs."

Happy Valentine's Day from Emily and me.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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