Here comes Valentine’s Day and the attendant red, chocolate and roses. My first memory of the holiday is from early childhood. It’s not of the classroom card exchange, which seems like an awfully pointless exercise to bother with during actual school hours, considering we weren’t even making cards but simply giving every other student a Valentine from a box. What on earth were we learning? Consumerism? A lack of sincerity? Regardless, my first memory is of my father picking me up from my babysitter when I was 3 or 4. I remember it was drizzling outside and that he was wearing his Army uniform and that he had a box of chocolates for my mother that was designed to look like a ladybug. He should’ve gone for the up-sell, as they divorced by the time I was 8.
A box of Valentine’s Day chocolate can’t fix the fundamentals. The day can, however, offer us a simple excuse to feel romantic. It can also be a huge pain in the ass to singles and couples (or any other permutation, I imagine) alike, as a reminder that you are spending the day alone when you might not otherwise have reason to care, or get you in trouble as your card, gift or forgetfulness fails to impress.
I’ve spent the holiday in both camps, though through adulthood usually with somebody. I just can’t manage to be single for very long, for better or for worse. I have such a service-minded personality that I simply enjoy life more when I have someone to care for romantically. Perhaps that makes me a dialed-down version of Octuplet Mom, but that’s who I am. No denying the romantic streak.
That streak first sucker-punched me when I was in high school. There was a boy named Frankie who worked at ”Soup to Nuts,” one of the mall restaurants. He went to a different school, so I could only stalk him at the mall. It was forever unrequited, but I was obsessed and miserable for a good two weeks. Frankie was golden. Then came Michael in college. He taught me that it’s not polite to call a boy at 3 a.m. when he’s still living with his parents. He also taught me that a guy who dumps you will generally still have sex with you.
The big blow, the one that really ended childhood, was David, the first guy I lived with. A three-day, whirlwind encounter was followed by six months of letters as I toiled in London, willingly seduced by promises of the fantastic life we budding adults would build for ourselves upon my return. We’ll spend Saturday mornings in bed with cereal and sex? Wow. You’ve enclosed a photo of your graduation in tux and tails — and an ascot! Dreamy. I can so vividly recall the night, nine months later, when he drunkenly returned from a gay bar, he being 21 and me only 20, with some trade in tow. The tour of the apartment ended with David’s bedroom. I’d already moved into the den so we could ”work on our relationship.” When you’re that young, in the first serious one, you really do believe it’s forever.
Later, I’d move to Oregon with Mike, the crew-cutted, Eagle Scout, vegetarian Marxist. Our courting included letters to each other in which we’d refer to ourselves as Racer X and Speed. The last I heard, he was a dreadlocked white boy with chickens in the backyard — for eggs, once ”Peak Oil” dooms civilization — who belongs to a drum circle. I still feel guilty that my mother pitched in $1,000 for the down payment on the house.
There have been many others. Too many to name in a limited space, each deserving of a Valentine’s wish in some way.
But this year, as for the past seven, I focus on Fernando, my little anomaly. So unlike any of the others, no matchmaker would ever have put us in the same room. He dances to Cher, while I’ve only liked her in movies. When we met, I was easily as scruffy as he was polished. He couldn’t come to my place because the dust was at biohazard levels. He’s Dirty Dancing, while I’m Dancer in the Dark. His friends took me for a penniless freak who had just rolled down from Counter-Culture Mountain in hiking boots and cargo shorts. My friends looked puzzled every time I reminded them my Lexus-driving, banker boyfriend was a registered Democrat.
I never thought it till I lived it, but opposites can attract. And you can find genuine love in a gay bar — thank you, JR.’s — despite conventional wisdom that insists you’ll get nothing more than laid. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to pass the time while hunting for Mr. Right. That reminds me: Yes, you can find love while you’re completely looking for it. I was. I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind, but I was very open to it. I will agree, however, with the rule that holds you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. On that point, I think Fernando would agree with me. What we’re going to watch on TV, that’s a different matter entirely.
I want to wish a happy Valentine’s Day to every guy I’ve dated, lived with, or simply just hooked up with. But especially to Fernando, who refers to as me the ”one-night stand who never left.” Happy Valentine’s Day, Fernando. I love you. And, indeed, it will take more than demanding I take out the trash to get me to ever leave.
Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.