Valentine Memories

Valentine's Day card


Cole Parker

Valentine’s Day means nothing to me. I’m an old codger living in a ‘retirement home.’ That’s a fancy, politically-acceptable name for a place old people can be stuck so they’ll be out of the hair of the young whippersnappers who are running things now and find us inconvenient.

I had some marvelous VD times back a few years. Well, more than a few now. Many. Back when VD had a whole different meaning. Back before penicillin and other ‘wonder drugs’ tidied things up a bit. That’s what we called them, wonder drugs. Now they’re called antibiotics and we don’t hear much about VD.

I always favored boys over girls. Back then, that was taboo. Now, it seems to be accepted, mostly, except for some stick-in-the mud, head-in-the-sand religious nut cases and politicians seeking the votes of those particular fools. I thought then, and still do, that there was nothing wrong with two people of the same sex loving each other. Especially in a world where overpopulation is one of civilization’s main worries. Seems like same-sex couplings should be encouraged, not scorned.

But I was talking about VD. Hey, sorry about that, but at my age, abbreviations are easier to type than whole long words if I can get away with it. Valentine’s Day is 13 letters. I prefer to use two: VD.

Just so you know, I write a weekly newsletter for the home I’ve been placed in by my loving son and somewhat-less-loving daughter-in-law. The reason you’re reading this in the town newspaper is that Henry, the editor of our newsletter here, is a good friend and he thought more people should see this. That’s what he said. Actually, I think he’s just sucking up to me. I have this stash—

Well, enough of that. Back to VD.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for Better, Not Older, the name of our in-house rag.

We’re heading towards one of the worst days of the year. Yep, next week, we celebrate Valentine’s Day, hereafter called VD. Why the worst? Because for a lot of us, it’ll be a day to stay in our rooms with the blinds closed, hiding from the reality that our kin won’t be visiting, with memories that remind us that those VDs are behind us along with their thrills, that we don’t have that many days left, and in almost none of the few that remain will we be as happy as we were then.

I don’t mean this to be a downer, but if we don’t face facts, they’ll rise up and bite us in the ass. And the fact is, for a lot of us, VD would be a great day to be able to sleep through.

But to dispel a lot of those thoughts, I’ll write about one of my good VD experiences. I suggest you wait till the 14th—that’s Tuesday for those of you who have trouble remembering what day it is (not you, Merv; you only need be reminded that this is 2024, not 1984)—to read this. I hope this might perk up all of you some, and think of your own good times with joy, not regret.

I was 16. I was a little shy back then. Yeah, I grew out of that in a big way. We do, you know. No one here is shy like we were way back when. Why, you all know Gladys, and how quiet she is. We thought she was shy. But you also know Thomson farts a lot. Hey, it happens! But when we’d had cabbage for lunch that day last week—remember that? Whew!—Gladys, quiet, demure Gladys, told Thomson to sit somewhere else, this was the clean-air side of the room. Nope, not shy at all.

But back then, I was shy, and part of the trouble was I didn’t relate to girls like I did to boys. I did get over that to a degree as I entered my 20s. You had to. Gay was a word meaning happy back then. And gay men, to use today’s meaning, were generally speaking not happy at all in those benighted times.

I had this crush on Isaac, a quiet boy in my class who always seemed to know the answers that none of the rest of us did. He got teased a bit for that but was able to shake it off. If he hadn’t been, I had thoughts of stepping in and defending him and earning his lifelong love and devotion. What was wrong with that was that I was shy (I have to repeat some stuff because I know some of you can’t remember what was written even as short a time ago as in the last paragraph) and didn’t have the grit needed to defend him, and also he’d have been well able to do that defending all by himself.

VD was approaching. We were all encouraged to give a V to everyone in class. We were 12, yet the teachers hadn’t made the transition we all had. They thought we should act like we were 10. They were more excited about us getting VD cards than we were. The whole process smacked of angst to us. In elementary school, it had been fun. Now it reeked of potential embarrassment and heartbreak.

But I realized I could put a VD card in the box for Isaac, and if I didn’t sign it, I’d be home free, and he’d know he had an admirer. That was the bravest thing I could do, but it was something, and I was proud of myself for doing it.

So come the big day, I acted. I’d found a card that was just right. Not flowery, but not a joke, either. The words on it are lost in the fractured filaments of my ancient brain, but went something like this:  You’re very special, and I watch you wishing I had the courage to tell you so to your face. Be my Valentine, if only in my dreams.

It had a big red heart on the outside, and my heartfelt feelings written inside. It came with a red envelope. I put in it the box. When the cards were passed out to us all just before lunch, I watched as Isaac received his. He got several, one of which was in a red envelope.

I got what I expected: none. None. But a lot of us were in that boat. Not Noah’s. Most of us in my class who’d be passengers on our lovelorn boat were straight boys, and if I remember correctly, those sailing with Noah were all horny, procreative SOBs.

I didn’t sit at Isaac’s table at lunch. I sat where I could watch him, though. Like all the other card recipients, he opened his cards before eating. He opened the red envelope last. He read it and I saw him smile. Then, he started looking around the room.

I wanted to drop my eyes so they wouldn’t meet his, but then realized he had no idea who’d sent the card, and if he caught me looking guilty and dropping my eyes just as he looked at me; it would take no Sherlock Holmes to realize what was afoot.

So I watched, and his eyes eventually passed over mine. But then they came back. His smile got broader, possibly because my face was getting redder.

He knew! It was only then that I realized mine had been the only red envelope he’d received, and if he’d watched cards being dropped into the box, well, he didn’t need to be a Sherlock. Even Nancy Drew could have figured it out.

I was embarrassed. Back then, you could be in a world of hurt if other boys knew you were bent. Bent. Yeah, I was bent, to use their word with their meaning. So I was embarrassed but scared, too. Shy and not a bit physical. Isaac now knew.

But it didn’t come to that. It came to something much different.

“You sent me this card, didn’t you?” he asked when he met me by the door to the school as we were leaving that day. I’d have been petrified except that this was Isaac, my crush, and he didn’t look angry at all.

I nodded. I didn’t trust my voice.

His smile got broader. “Me too, you,” he said. “I was afraid to say anything. I’ve watched you. Surprised you never caught me at it. I wish I could have been as brave as you were.”

I finally found my voice. We walked home together. We went up to his room. The giddiness I was feeling was almost overwhelming. What happened in his room that VD, well, it’s why VD has special memories for me. My first love.

And maybe VD has special memories for you guys as well. Let’s remember those days, and let’s forget for a moment that those are moments from the past. Let’s remember the feelings we had for first loves, and that those are part of us, and always will be. They help define who we are as much as who we were.

We may not be able to do some of the things now that we could when younger, but we have histories and a store of memories that the younger crowd can’t yet, because they haven’t lived the lives we have. Full and eventful lives. So let VD come. I’ll welcome it.

Henry, our editor, liked that. I guess the town newspaper guy did, too, as you’re all reading this. Just let me say, if you have time to visit someone living here, do. Some of us will be in our rooms. They’d like nothing better than a visit from a loved one. Or even just a friend. You’d make VD special, like it was way back when.

Picture credit: Red envelope with red roses by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.