Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Still Mine: A Ridiculously Long Sappy Story for Valentine's Day

So today is Valentine's Day, a sugary flowery made-up holiday that attracts way more attention than it rationally deserves.

I thought of writing here today about the first Valentine's Day I celebrated with my beloved, but I don't know--there's something private about the story. Also it's so treacly sweet it might induce diabetic coma in more sensitive readers.

One of our own children once described our relationship to friends as "effing BS." I think it was meant as a complement. Also I don't really want my children emulating me by getting married six weeks after they graduate college. (My son is right now older than his father and I were the day we exchanged vows.) I'm sort of surprised my parents went along with it, though, as my mother pointed out, that was mostly because they knew they couldn't stop me.

I was sixteen years old. I'd been classroom rivals with this tall smart boy for several years, trading insults and eye rolls and exasperation. Then I'd inexplicably started dating him--though I was pretty much the only person surprised.

That's a story I'm willing to tell. Not our first Valentine's Day--which really wasn't much because I was candystriping at the local hospital all evening any way, it's just that we were disgustingly touchingly sentimental, and also--I just checked--the tiny stuffed bear he gave me that day, February 14, 1984, is sitting on my office desk right now--yep, I know, it's revolting--anyhow, here's the story of the prelude to our first date.

We had gone to the local branch library together one morning of Christmas break to work on a paper for some class, probably English. Back then, with no internet, this is what people did. It wasn't a date even though he drove and picked me up--I didn't have a car. Nor were we alone in the library--as soon as we arrived, this freshman who lived down the street from me came over and sat down at our table, chatting away. It was snowing like crazy, and at one point, looking out the library window, I said, "We should forget this work and go sledding."

My Not-Yet-Beloved (more like my Crosstown Rival) jumped up. "Great idea," he said. "Let's go." The freshman also jumped up. "Let's go!"

"If we're taking him," I said, nodding to the freshman, "we might as well take my brother." So we did. We went home and bundled up and drove out to Franke Park, which was one of the very few places in my hometown with any hills at all. (My current driveway has more elevation than my hometown.) We went sledding in the deep soft snow. Afterwards, as we were piling into my Not-Yet-Beloved's car, he said, "Are you going to the basketball game tonight?"

"Probably," I said. Every Christmas break our town had a holiday basketball tournament in the big sports arena, the Fort Wayne Coliseum.

He said, "I'll give you a ride."

Now this presented a dilemma. Very few people in my group of friends had cars. My friend Julie down the street did--she and I and the Freshman carpooled to school together. My NYB did, and he typically drove a whole group of guys around. So. Was this "a ride," me and several others, or was this "a date"? Being sixteen, I didn't ask.

At home I showered in my parent's bathroom, because that's where the shower was. I was walking back to my own room, one towel around my torso, another around my long wet hair, and the phone rang. Remember, this was before cell phones, but my parents had a phone on their nightstand, so I answered it, dripping onto the carpet. It was my NYB. He said, "Want to grab some dinner before we go to the game?"

OHMIGOSH. IT WAS A DATE.

"Sure," I said.

I hung up the phone, and before I got out the door, two steps away, it rang again. (not only was this before cell phones, it was before texting. People had to use actual land lines for all their communication needs.) It was Julie down the street. "Hey, I'll give you a ride to the game, pick you up at ---," whatever time. Julie was a cheerleader and usually needed to arrive early.

"That's okay," I said. "I've got a ride."

Julie lived two houses away from me. "Don't be ridiculous-" she said, then, "Oh. OH. Bart Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

And it rang again. I swear I'm not making this up. It was another friend, with whom I played Dungeons and Dragons, because I was that kind of a nerd. He said, "Hey, we're all playing D & D tonight, my house, So-and-so can give you a ride."

"No, thanks," I said. "I'm going to the basketball game."

"Forget that," he said. "You don't even like basketball."

"Yeah, I think I'll go to the game."

"Ohmigosh. Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

As God is my witness, it rang again. While I still stood dripping on what was now a pretty wet patch of carpet, swathed in towels.

It was So-and-so. "Hey, did you hear about the D&D? I'll pick you up at seven."

This was getting ridiculous. "That's okay," I said, "I'm going to the basketball game."

So-and-so roared with laughter. "He finally asked you out!"

Yes. Yes, he did. Bart Bradley asked me out, and we went and ate Italian food from a restaurant long since closed, and then we went to the basketball game, and then we played video games at a nearby arcade and then I had to go home because I had an early curfew and he thought it meant I hadn't had fun, but he was wrong, I'd had a great time.

On the first day back from Christmas Break nearly the entire population of our high school said to me, individually, over and over, "You're dating Bart Bradley? I thought you hated him." I pretty much wanted to hide in my locker.

I never hated him. By Valentine's Day, less than two months later, I thought I loved him. I was sixteen; who knows?

But now I'm forty-nine. I understand what love is. I do love Bart Bradley, heart and mind and body and soul. If that's effing BS, so let it be.