First of all, I give you a gift… With the movie being released today, I think if you’ve never read this, you really, really should:
You’re welcome in advance.
While I do have a Valentine this year, my opinion of this made-for-Hallmark holiday hasn’t really changed much over the years. I remember handing out little cards throughout grade school, maybe putting a little thought into the one I’d give to my actual friends, or the crush-of-the day, but for the most part, trying to make sure I wasn’t giving any hopeful messages to that weird kid who seemed just a little creepy, and realizing after looking at the assortment of valentines I received that most of the class must have thought I was that weird kid who seemed just a little creepy. I had a crush on the same kid for many years, but he wasn’t in my class, and I’m pretty sure he was gay.
One of my favorite, stand-out-in-my-memory Valentine’s Days was when I was in college. I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, and neither was my friend, Amy. We did what we did nearly every night… We got together to hang out and “shoot the shit” as some of my friends referred to the art of spending time conversing with one another.
On a whim, we wandered into a convenience store on the edge of campus, one that has long since been torn down. My ex-fling, with whom I was still on friendly terms, was working there. (Surprise!) Or maybe one of his friends was working there… I honestly don’t remember, except that it was funny that we knew the clerk. (He was from Iran. Once you’d met one Iranian in Tallahassee, you met them all. They were a good bunch of people, by the way.)
Amy was buying cigarettes (Marlboro Light 100s in the box, if I remember correctly…) and I bought a sugar rush… I bought a bag of marshmallows. I also bought a box of safety candles. Because we loved fire, Amy and I… So the plan was to light the candles somewhere, just because.
Amy and I had a favorite place. It was a little foot bridge that spanned a ditch, out behind some worn-out looking fraternity houses, leading onto the field where the Marching Chiefs practice. We would often sit on the bridge at all hours, talking about everything and nothing. Or we would sing, or make up parodies of songs. When the pesky fraternity boys would wander and want to cross the bridge, we declared ourselves the bridge trolls, and gave them a hard time crossing if they weren’t nice.
I probably don’t remember as many conversations as I’ve forgotten, so many of them subtly changing me the way any good conversation can. What I do remember was that on that night, I was really happy. I enjoyed being with a good friend, having an intellectually stimulating conversation, and that instead of being a rare treat, I was in a place where it was actually quite common.
One of our conversations stands out in my mind, out of so many great conversations. Amy and I were both unattached, both struggling with so many things, from the pressures of college, grades, and a workload that was suddenly so different from that in high school, to the awkward task of navigating through the beer commercial world of parties as two square pegs. We both had struggles with weight and body image, though looking back now? I realize I was actually pretty physically healthy, but my brain didn’t accept that idea at the time. Amy and I very often joked about being miserable, though I think in reality neither of us was, we were just frustrated.
“You realize,” she said to me, “that some day we will look back on this time as one of the best times in our lives, despite all the misery we feel now?”
“I’m perfectly happy being miserable now,” I responded, or something to that effect.
And I was. Yes, I was heartbroken over some piss-poor relationship that hadn’t worked out. (I’m not talking about my Iranian friend… I was the one who broke that off by just sort of wandering away, because he was a good person, but I wasn’t in the right place in my life…) I had just changed majors because I had realized that majoring in music made me hate the very thought of it. I had changed, no less, to Russian language after only taking it for one semester, because I thought it would be useful to learn. On some level, I knew that I really wanted to major in English, with an emphasis on creative writing, but my pragmatic brain warned me that doing so would most likely mean remaining in school long after the scholarship money dried up…
It was a time when I had no real sense of purpose, when I wandered in and out of places not really feeling like I had a “home base,” though of course I had family not too far away. But if feeling like an occupational gypsy is a little unnerving, it can also lead to many a wonderful place. It was a time of exploration and growth.
Amy and I had fallen out of touch for many years. She’s one of those friends that we flit in and out of each other’s lives, but when we touch base, it is wonderful and enlightening.
Valentine’s Day celebrates the patron saint of love, bee keeping, plague, epilepsy, and travel. I know, because I read that on the internet, which is always right…
I like to think of it as also a day to celebrate friendship. Happy Valentine’s Day!