We’re all the lucky ones

Because it was on a weekend this year, Valentine’s Day might have passed without me noticing if it weren’t for a few Facebook friends sharing photos of bouquets and festive table settings. Unlike some previous years, I wasn’t bitter or envious of those in a pair. Sure, it would have been nice to have someone be like, “SURPRISE! Here’s a first edition Lolita with a butterfly doodle on the title page. Now let me buy you a steak!” but I wasn’t aimlessly hurling frustration just because I don’t have a guy to buy me flowers and a card.

When I think of Valentine’s, I recall an album I heard a few years ago: Daughter’s “If You Leave.” It was a dark winter morning & I was getting ready for work and I decided to buy the album on Amazon on a whim. I was groggy, craving soft sheets, snuggles, and the adoration of someone else and the lyrics hit me in the gut.

And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one,
‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone.
Setting fire to our insides for fun,
To distract our hearts from ever missing them.
But I’m forever missing him.

It was a melancholic day in my cubicle. I spent most of the day thinking of loves lost, envious of those lucky ones who took their companionship for granted. I missed the days of democratic valentines when I didn’t understand the holiday, I just knew I was going to get 28 poorly torn and folded cards from my classmates. In middle school when I actually did get the holiday, the first three weeks of February were a slow roasting hell, seeing the halls covered in advertisements for the carnation sale. I think I received two $1 carnations – both were from female friends whose generosity felt cruel because they weren’t boys. High school was where I started seeing that it wasn’t so much about love and affection as it was about the things guys bought girls. Since boys weren’t buying me anything, it was fortunate that it was cool to hate Valentine’s Day.

I had several vaguely memorable gifts Valentine’s Days that I can fondly recall; The lunch, latte, and bouquet from the produce boy. The blood red roses from Jon. My first Kindle & pearl studs from Bill. The Second City tickets from the professor. Last year’s dozen roses delivered at work after a first date.

What I hate most about Valentine’s Day is how reductive it is. That list isn’t representative of those relationships. They ranged from simple blushing and hormone-heavy infatuation to complex and sustained commitments. But somehow, whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the previous February 14ths – not the relationships I was in at the time. It takes a while to recall how the produce boy made me blush every time he delivered a white chocolate raspberry latte from my favorite coffee shop – longer still to remember how badly I craved any sign of love from Jon and how deeply I celebrated any instance of affection. It’s somewhat easier to recall the easy tenderness Bill and I shared, and the thrill of the professor’s support of my hobbies.

I listened to “Youth” again the other day, and it didn’t hold the same sadness it once did. Instead of focusing on the lingering bitterness over someone, I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a range of love and despair. It means I’ve been able share myself with a person and he’s trusted me enough to share himself with me. A successful relationship isn’t necessarily one that ends in marriage and eternal commitment. A successful relationship can also be one of mutual discovery and growth. Even the relationships that ended badly were ones that lead to further self-awareness. It’s cliche, but it really is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

While the ego bruise from Valentine’s Day might still be fresh for some readers, I still want to tell people to treasure wherever they’re at. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t place any importance on this arbitrary day. Just treasure your moments and savor whatever you’re doing.

Vonnegut sums it up better than I can tonight: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

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Falling in Love on Summer Street

The first time I fell in love, it was to a soundtrack of Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, Nada Surf, and Broken Social Scene. Our first kiss happened in the front bedroom of a house on Summer street with a group of hardcore straight edge guys playing video games in the living room below. Chicago was playing, because why would it not be playing during a first kiss?

His name was Eric and he made me feel like the manic pixie characters I was constantly writing about in my fiction at the time. In his eyes, I was thing to be constantly in awe of. It began so tentatively, I can’t remember exactly how we met. My earliest recollection of Eric-induced butterflies were his responses to my away message on AIM that I read upon returning a youth symphony performance. He somehow found out I wasn’t going to senior prom and wanted to take me, but couldn’t afford it. I was embarrassed by his enthusiasm. Not only was I not accustomed to attention from boys, but he was three years older than me and had graduated from another high school. I imagined introducing him to friends and classmates. I told him I was flattered and thanked profusely, but told him that I was fine. When you’re 18 and awkward, romantic attention is impossible to process.

We started spending time together under the guise of starting a band. He wanted to write songs & I had no idea how to accompany unwritten music. Somehow we got promo photographs taken without so much as a name or song established. Eventually we stopped using song-writing  as the reason for spending time together and then we just started kissing a lot.

This probably would have been our band's first album cover.

This probably would have been our band’s first album cover.

He wasn’t the boy I thought I would date. I was acutely aware that my parents didn’t understand my attraction to him. He gardened. He had a pair of male and female vintage Schwinn bicycles just because. He wore slim-fitting Levis, tired Converse sneakers, and a perpetual red hooded sweatshirt. He had a habit of making sly observational remarks that surprised new acquaintances.”You just don’t get him,” I felt compelled to explain when I saw this happening. “He’s just commenting on the absurdity of life! It’s just what he does!”

Our timing cultivated the perfect setting for a doomed first love: dewey sunsets, rickety vintage bicycles racing down the hill by the river, ipod classics and auxillary speakers, dusty box fans, virginity’s farewell, and my impending first semester of college just months ahead. Though I maintain the swing shift job I worked that summer was my worst ever, my only memories are those of complete bliss. I was carefree – I had two hilarious best friends, a boyfriend, a convertible car, and an endless supply of mix CDs. I didn’t need anything more.

It’s been ten years since this brief relationship, but some of my most vibrant romantic memories are with him. They’re embarrassingly innocent and naive. I think that Eric was (and perhaps still is) an extremely self-aware person who translates well only to a niche audience. Sometimes it felt like he was directing the scene, ensuring maximum nostalgia for years to come. Sometimes he would change a song before it ended, only to arrive on the one I realized should have been playing all along:

  • Sufjan Stevens: Chicago –¬† for our first kiss
  • Nada Surf: Your Legs Grow – a sticky night, tacking photographs to his wall
  • The Shins: Those to Come – the timid and moon-bright night when I inaudibly told him I loved him
  • Broken Social Scene: Shampoo Suicide – the night I wore a lime paisley boatneck tank and he breathlessly told me that I was amazing
  • Kenny Chesney: Summertime – driving to Woodman’s in his truck, listening to something like the Getup Kids, and Eric saying he had heard a country song that made him realize he liked the way my toes looked on the dash
  • matt pond PA: Lily Two – sitting on a quilt in some field off of highway 76 with our instruments, Eric trying to get me to loosen up by singing “leaves of grass, leaves or grass, leaves of grass…” at the top of my lungs
  • Silence – lying on our stomachs, watching rain fall beneath a streetlight, then him saying “You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die? I hope this is one of those moments I see.”

Eric was mindful about creating memories. He was a complicated person, someone I don’t think I ever fully knew or understood, but I knew that if he was choosing to spend time with me, he thought I was special.

I only have the one, but I think it’s safe to say that first loves are magical. I could go on to describe its end, but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that it happened and that it was special.