My COVID buddy, my landlord and my hosts

By Shlomit Auciello | Feb 12, 2021

I was one of those kids in elementary school who never got Valentines from everyone in the class.

My mother, who knew not saying something is often as powerful as speaking, was annoyed by parents couldn't come up with the time or money to see that no one's feelings were hurt on a holiday that was supposed to be about declarations of love. She taught me to make cards from four-inch white paper doilies and hearts cut from red construction paper. It wasn't hard to make the 25 or 30 needed.

One friend told me he was expected to choose a specific girl and ask her to be his valentine. From today's perspective, that's a pretty hetero-normative expectation for someone who shouldn't necessarily be thinking about exclusive relationships with members of any specific sex or gender.

Kids that age are just beginning to recognize any community larger than the people at home. Some third and fourth graders have yet to form any genuine friendships. Selecting a sweetheart might be a lot of pressure.

According to history.com, Valentine's Day began as a Pagan holiday, a somewhat carnal agricultural fertility feast honoring Rome's wolf mother, and dedicated to Faunus.

In the third century that holiday, Lupercalia, was renamed in honor of one of three martyred saints named Valentine. Two were put to death for performing illegal weddings after Emperor Claudius, wanting more unattached fodder for his wars, prohibited marriage for young men. Another Valentine may have helped Christians escape Roman prisons, possibly also sending the first love letter sometime before he died.

However it started, the romantic connection built up by poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the late Middle Ages has become, in modern times, another festival of consumption and disappointment. For many people, the cards, candy and over-the-top-gestures create absurd expectations and highlight an absence of affection. I've always found unexpected acts of love so much more touching.

And, to those who appreciate it, chocolate needs no holidays or excuses.

With or without the trappings of romance, an opportunity to express love is always welcome. This year, when simple human contact is held at a distance, the calendar has given me reason for my own expressions of gratitude and affection.

As I may have mentioned before, I am living between houses. There is the house I sold, the house where I rent two rooms and the house where good friends let me use a room while the rooms I rent are being remodeled.

The first house is no longer mine; I haven't been inside it since late last summer. The second one, where I rent two rooms from someone who is more a housemate than a landlord, is under renovation and available to me on weekdays, when I have free use of the kitchen and can hang out with my cat.

I may have outstayed my welcome in the third house several weeks ago; I foolishly told my hosts what the contractor told me, that it would be two or three weeks of inconvenience. That was just after Thanksgiving.

In both cases, the people I'm sharing space with are longtime friends. Such friendships don't come easily and I'm grateful for the effort it takes to accommodate me. The smiles and good humor fill me with warmth. Their affection for me is expressed in unexpected cups of cocoa, great conversation and an interest in hearing about all the different houses I've toured since September. The chocolate I give, milk for some and dark for others, is small thanks for the generosity that feels like love to me.

As for my COVID Buddy, in addition to great conversation and shared mini-road-trips, there's companionship on walks in the woods or around town and knowing someone who is willing to help me drop my car off for repair or move my mattress back to the two rooms, whenever they become available to me again. I don't know if chocolate is the perfect gift for my COVID Buddy.

We have a long history, full of kindness and missteps. I think we've shared all the kinds of love of which we're capable. If this wasn't a time of pandemic and isolation, each of us might be planning some sort of romantic Valentine's Day to share with others. But this is now, and love lasts through such times.

For me, the generosity of friends, the laughter and interesting conversation, an occasional shared meal will be love enough.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992.

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