One night, a few years back, on Valentine’s Day, I was walking happily up the platform of the Metropolitan Avenue Subway Station in Brooklyn, arm interlocked with someone else’s, thinking fuzzy thoughts and stumbling up the stairs toward a bedroom I would be sharing.
I walked past a man, mid-40s, unkempt hair, baggy black work pants, who had a dust pan in one hand and a broom in the other. He was sweeping up all the discarded mementos of the day’s business: tossed aside red envelopes, a small candy heart that says “I’m Yours” and, this being New York City, litter and rat shit too. The fact that someone had to be puttering around the subway on that night, shoveling other people’s reminders about love into the garbage, probably struck me as a little sad at the time. But sympathy is often a much less cumbersome burden than true empathy. Up the stairs I went.
Valentine’s Day’s came and went as did the major players in each year’s drama. I spent one flying across the world to see a girlfriend who had left the States to live abroad for a year. In the dawn of Feb. 15 she took a hazy photo of us on the train leaving the airport. She sent it to Facebook: “Not a half bad Valentine’s Day.”
This year, she’s gone. Down the stairs I came. The solace in this is perhaps in knowing that he who shovels the shit of love today, may one day lay wrapped in its charms once more. We all wear many hats.
The great writer Pete Hamill once wrote:
“All good sports reporters know that the best stories are in the loser’s locker room. Winners are bores—assuming a false modesty or performing a winner’s strut while thanking their mothers, their agents or God. Losers are more like the rest of us. They make mistakes they can’t take back.”
For some reason, that quote reminds me of all my friends getting engaged on Facebook. I love them. They’re wonderful people. I wish them all the happiness in the world. But they’re inundating me with the same information: the blissful couple cuddling under a tree (she bashfully fingers her ring, he rests a hand on her cheek). Even when they’re different in the particulars, they’re the same. They are happy. And I’m happy for them.
But the litany of failures among the scattered lonely people of Earth are much more interesting, if unlikely to be documented quite so openly on social media: infidelity, a missed bus connection, a whimsical heart. Who knows why love gets lost? There are so many roads.