Why Valentine’s Day Passed Without Comment and How the Universe Got Even

No Telling

We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered. – Tom Stoppard

And it still might have passed without a word from me, except that two things happened willy-nilly that made me shed a little residual love-bitterness.

The first one was a Facebook request. Please keep in mind that I only joined Facebook a few years ago to make class groups for all my students. I quickly found that while they never check their email, they live and die by Facebook. It’s a teaching strategy and it works. Since then, Generation Jones – the check-writing parents of all these students – invaded Facebook and hijacked collegiate sovereignty from their kids. Suddenly, all of these people I haven’t thought about since high school started popping up and asking me to “be their friend.” I’m not comfortable with mixing my professional and private life on Facebook, so I’m a pretty lousy “friend.” My students don’t need to read any “remember the time we…” on my wall, for instance.

But back to the request. I logged on the other day and there is a request from John, the first boy I ever kissed and meant it. Seventh grade. Behind the lockers. I don’t need to recreate this moment for you because we all have this flutter-heart moment at least once. It’s pure and young and lives forever in an unsullied place no matter how cynical we become. John and I were beautiful and then he moved away. All that sneaky practice-kissing and playing at love without the pain of junior high infidelity or break-up dramatics. He simply moved away and left all this delicious longing. Most of the boys after that weren’t so kind. Neither was I.

I checked his profile and John is everything he should be, I guess. Married, father of four, a Republican. He’s an insurance adjuster and his favorite book is the Bible. A textbook-perfect Southern treasure of a man. Not for me, necessarily, but for the type of woman who is now Mrs. John.

The second thing actually happened over a month ago, but I filed it away quickly because it was too much to think about at the time. John and Facebook made me think about it finally and for good.

At UCA, we have a composition celebration of first-year writing students called AfterWords. It’s an opportunity for freshman comp students to share their writing with each other and compete for cash money prizes. The whole process wraps up with a day or two of public readings and is quite a good idea.

One afternoon during the celebration while students were taking turns reading their crafted narratives behind a podium, a sweet young thing stepped up and broke all our hearts by reading a very personal and gut-wrenching account of her reckless, wayward father and the day he died. The poor child had a difficult time getting through the reading and I didn’t blame her one bit. It was clear, however, that her pain and anger required voicing. I wept with her as she bravely read.

At one point in the narrative she and her sister stand in front of his headstone, and she reads her dead father’s name as if to conjure or damn him or both. Jay _______.

And I froze.

What are the odds that a sweet boyfriend I loved 33 years ago would later marry, have a daughter who by chance attends the very college where I teach, who then writes a story for a competition, and reads it in the very room where I sit as audience when she finally reads the anger he’s given her? My sweet boyfriend when I was fourteen became an addict and a no-show father. He died from the failures he became and that I never saw coming. Jay was 49.

You can understand why I filed it away. I’m still unsure how to process that kind of coincidence.

The boys I loved are men now and some are dead. They are special because I can freeze-frame them individually at the age they were when I loved them, before they became the men I couldn’t really love or the ones who would tear my heart out. These boys belong to me and I can replay each of them at their best, at my best, the 8mm camera in my head selecting only the loveliest parts of us.

So today I’m giving my inner love-cynic a rest. I’m putting down all the baggage and recursive disappointment and I’m going to put my feet up, thread the projector, and allow the prettier times to cast their smiling shadows on the wall.

Happy Valentine’s Day, boys. I won’t forget again.

12 thoughts on “Why Valentine’s Day Passed Without Comment and How the Universe Got Even

  1. Wow, Monda. Just goes to show you what life always reminds us of sooner or later, that truth is far, far stranger than fiction.RE Facebook: I just joined a few weeks ago, just in time to find them embroiled in some nonsense about how they surreptitiously changed their Terms of Service such that the wording basically states that whatever you post on your “wall,” they own forever, even if you leave. And they could sell it without telling you or sharing the spoils. Rubbish, I say, but I removed my blog and all RSS feeds to it and I may removed myself if their Fearless Leader doesn’t come out with something more reassuring than, “Oh, you can trust <>us!<>“RE Remembrance of Loves Past. I once wrote a short story that a friend of mine asked me to read to her freshman comp class. Like you, she toiled at the thankless task of endeavoring to force some literacy onto basically illiterate college freshman in backwards baseball caps. Anyway, she was teaching a unit on “Writing From Life,” and since my story was based on a romance I’d had when I was about the age of the kids in her class, I thought I’d read it to them. Well, long story short, they were great, attentive and remarkably perceptive. One of them paid me the highest compliment of all by saying, “Wow, that was better than a video!” But later, after my friend and I had had a few glasses of wine, I had this terrible moment when I realized that I had just blabbed rather intimately about my sex life to a bunch of nineteen-year-olds. Yikes! LOL.

  2. Oh, Kathi. That Facebook business is exactly why I’m a marginal, university-purposes-only user. I also suspect that, in our golden years, they may never find anyone clean enough to run for president. Facebook will forever be this generation’s smoking gun. Well, that and MTV Spring Break footage.I’m a firm believer in sharing writing with students – in my classes we are ALL writers. It does make for some awkward moments, though. Teachers/professors/grown ups aren’t supposed to have pasts or lives or shop at Kroger. I’d love to read your story, by the way.

  3. Steph, I obviously have too much time on hands while my butt is in this wheelchair. Ya’ll need to rattle some beads or something for the miraculous healing of my trick knee.

  4. Monda, darlin’, what’s this about being in a wheelchair? Tell Kathi. I’m a physical therapist in my day job. For real. What’s up with your knee?BTW, I’ve often thought the same thing about anyone running for office. I think it’s rather remarkable that our current president admitted toking some weed in his college days and no massive furor arose from it, at least not one that I (who scarcely watches TV) heard. I mean, it’s kinda silly anyway, because there just aren’t going to be any pure people left to run for office anymore after the Baby Boomers, and we Baby Boomers are hardly pure to begin with. And who wants the “pure” folks running things?

  5. Can I just say that I am happy that I don’t teach in my home town? My mom, however, does. It is a small enough town, though, that the gossip just circulates– I asked her more than once “you mean you *dated* him?” Most notably referring to a functioning alcoholic who was her special education supervisor from the co-op.There is something to be said for anonymity.

  6. Mike – you’re the best big brother I never had. I mean it.Kathi – the knee is an ongoing soap opera at the moment. Maybe a bone bruise, mabye a torn ACL, who knows. I’m on a funky rolling walker-chair now for a month before they scope it.Laura – I could tell you some uncomfortable stories about parent/teacher night when I still taught at the high school. VERY uncomfortable. And “ya’ll” should be “y’all.” It’s a It’s a pet peeve of mine and I can’t believe I did that. Chalk it up to the pain meds.

  7. Holy hell?? What are the odds of that? Valentine’s Day blows. It wasn’t so bad this year, but I cannot divulge that here cause, well, you know who might be lurking about, but overall it blows.I missed something. What happened to your knee?

  8. You can’t make this stuff up, Candace. I’m stunned every time I think about that that child reading about her father/my old beau.VD day is set up for failure, gal. It’s a test no one is expected to pass.My knee is the culmination of old injuries and old age. I’ve graduated to this swanky walker on wheels now. It has a basket and everything. I’m tempted to trick it out with some spinners.

  9. I was about the age of the kids in her class, I thought I'd read it to them. Well, long story short, they were great, attentive and remarkably perceptive. One of them paid me the highest compliment Wireless Internet Card Rental of all by saying, “Wow, that was better than a video!” But later, after my friend and I had had a few glasses of wine, I had this terrible moment when I realized that I had just blabbed rather intimately about my sex life to a bunch of nineteen-year-olds. Yikes! LOL.

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