When you are as handsome as I am, you have to be careful on Valentine’s Day. I learned early as a teenager, that I should dress down and carry a big stick to beat the women back. What can I say? My fabulousness aside, I do have an odd fondness for today, which I shouldn’t have as I am pretty much against the whole Hallmark thing. The reason of course is nostalgia and the truth about me is far from the Mr. Fabulous I like to joke about.
They say nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but I think it keeps getting better. My little affection for this day, dates back to childhood. My Mam used to make sure I got a card when I was pint-sized. Back then I went to an all-boys school and the only girls I interacted with, were the girls from our road that we played Queenie-I-O with and they didn’t count. The net result was that my Mam was my secret Valentine. She thought us lots of little rhymes, roses are red etc. and even a few less romantic ones like;
She sat upon a moonlit bridge, her legs were all a quiver, she let a cough, her legs fell off, and went floating down the river.
Importantly she encouraged me to make up my own; perhaps the early spark to ignite my writing juices. I was brutal but I tried. By the time we reached the ripe old age of twelve, left to our own devices and devoid of any real female peer interaction, us boys were making up all sorts of shite in poetic terms and in relation to lies about all the girls that fancied them.
“How many d’you get?” It was a trap of course. There was no right answer, for the asker inevitable got more, or so he would say. If you went too high you’d be called out as a liar or worse still, you’d have your bluff called and be asked to produce the evidence. We’d spend the week before, making up rude Valentine poems, always trying to out-do each other with cheekiness. I tried to be intellectual with the old; Roses are red violets are blue, some poems rhyme but this one doesn’t. That went down like a lead balloon. They were all awful to be fair. The harder we tried to be funny the worse they got. Roses are red, your Da’s on the Dole, if he catches me sniffin’, I’ll get a kick in the hole. You can see the influence of the classics can’t you?
But then we started actually fancying girls and that got tricky. We were boys not quite, but men not for some time, and in our confusion we got rejected, neglected and dejected in our droves. There’s nothing like a knock-back to dent a young lad’s confidence. I struggled to find sufficient testicular fortitude (the balls) to give a girl a Valentine’s card for quite some time. When I was thirteen, I did fancy a girl and I was genuinely afraid to talk to her, so I bought her a card in the hope of opening up a dialogue. I hid it in case my older brother would take the proverbial and snook it out when alone, to repeatedly add little verses and hearts, X’s and drawings. It was a work of heartfelt art by the time I finished with it.
I remember it had a big red heart on the front and the envelope was red too, it was the pinnacle of romantic gestures I thought. In hindsight it is a bit sad I know, but they were very different times. On Valentine’s Day, I tucked it into my school bag between the pages of my geography book. I didn’t have geography that day so I knew I couldn’t possibly pull it out by accident in class. That mortification would have been too much to get over.
I knew that after school if I headed down towards the California Hills as we called the fields at the end of our road back then, I’d have a good chance of seeing her, and then I could give her the card that I had spent so much time on. It was an act of foolishness from a boy with a bit of a crush and very little sense.
That was a very long day I can tell you. The desire to take the card out to look at it again and maybe even to add to it, was almost overwhelming. That however would have been impossible. The notion that one of the lads would see me with the card was too risky. The potential for humiliation was enormous. The other problem of course was that the girl in question was the sister of one of the boys in my class. If I was caught, there would be a class-wide investigation if not interrogation, and while I feared no one in normal circumstances, this involved delicate sensitivities and under pressure I knew I would crack.
By the time I got to the California Hills, I was already embarrassed. Quite literally. I was blushing as I walked. My mouth was dry and I began to sweat. Much of what happened next is a blank but from what little memory I can access, I can tell you that I waited at the corner near the edge of the field for what felt like hours, most likely ten minutes in reality. I took the card out, almost but not quite, afraid that someone would see me with a big red envelope in my hand, standing like a loser on the corner on Valentine’s Day like some pathetic, stood-up saddo.
Of course I wasn’t stood-up because I didn’t actually have a date – wait – now I do sound like a saddo? I was standing there with some higher aspirations, trying to remember what seemed good about this idea when it first formulated in what was fast becoming obvious, was a smaller brain than I had previously given myself credit for.
Then I saw her. She sort of came out of nowhere. My plan had made sense after all. Now I remembered, she came home from school this way, that’s why I was standing there. She was with her friend who I vaguely recall may have been called Ursula and she had a permanent look on her face that said “Don’t you talk to me.”
I reached into my satchel and touched the card with my fingertips and my face exploded in a visual cacophony of crimson, screaming to the world “Look at me.” I felt quite sick and she was only a few feet away. It was easy in my head when I had planned it, but of course I had planned nothing, not really. She had her head down. I knew she had noticed me before and as she approached she lowered her head in a demonstration of shyness or coyness perhaps, her long dark hair falling about her face, making it even harder to make a connection.
I almost stepped forward away from the wall. As I watched her and tried to make eye contact, she flicked her eyes up and looked at me. My blushes were too much and I didn’t want her to see my embarrassment so I (very coolly) reached up and tried to cover my face by slowly running my fingers through my long hair, letting it fall across my red cheeks as I dropped my chin. I must have looked like an idiot.
And then she was gone. I didn’t follow her with my eyes, but rather stared out across the piece of Dublin wasteland with a much more exotic name than it deserved and accepted defeat. I was a coward, a fool, a sad little boy who I just knew would never have the courage to talk to a pretty girl that I liked, let alone hand her a card filled with loved-up words of romance and forget-me-nots.
I honestly don’t remember what I did with that card. But I do remember the apparent significance of the day at the time. Maybe that’s why it is more than a Hallmark day for me now. I have fond memories of my Mam and of my own innocence before the world became real. It reminds me of my childhood and of a different time, so forgive me if I’m a fool that still considers today a little special.
I am very fortunate to have survived the trauma of those teenage years without too much distress. We all go through those horrors and think that minor moments are the end of the world when we are learning how to be adults. Now I am lucky, fortunate indeed to actually have a very special reason to enjoy Valentine’s Day, for I have found the love I imagined all those years ago and more. It took me longer than expected but she was worth the wait. Happy Valentine’s day to anyone with a hint of romance in them… and even to those that don’t…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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