There is no cheesier “holiday” than Valentine’s Day, and while I have no horrible V-Day memories to conjure, neither have I any overtly romantic ones that come to mind. Every day with Andy is like Valentine’s Day. (Pass the barf bag.) This has always been a Hallmark-perpetuated celebration of the hollow and trite, and traditionally I wear black to mark the occasion. It wasn’t always this way. When I was a boy the sweeping grand possibility of romance blasted from the horns of golden cherubs, and I fervently believed that one day my prince would come. As a throwback to that innocent time, to the moments when my jadedness had not yet hardened into its current implacable state, I present to you this modern-day version of a mix tape.
Back when I was a wee youngster, we had cassette tapes. They were small plastic rectangles that slid into a stereo or Walkman and played music from the slow turning of a fine, shiny brown filament. They could hold anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes of music – most clocking in at the 90 minute range. That’s a lot of space to fill with sound, but there never seemed to be a dearth of things to say though music. I won’t put you through anything as torturous or time-consuming as that – in fact, this is more of a super-brief EP than a proper mix tape, but the sentiment is the same. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Track #1: YOU’RE THE INSPIRATION
You know our love was meant to be
The kind of love that lasts forever
And I want you here with me
From tonight until the end of time…
In the scant few years before the boys would square off against the girls, my best friends were mostly of the female persuasion. While any burgeoning physical attraction was leaning toward the guys, I had much more in common with the girls. They found me funny, and I found them more interesting than boys. They cared about pretty things, like hair and shoes and jewelry, and they were less rambunctious and violent than boys. We were not quite to the age where the lines were drawn in the sand though, so my friendships with girls in the class went relatively unridiculed. Such safety and freedom were more fleeting than I realized, and soon enough it would be forbidden to sit at a table of girls until high school. I didn’t know this then, so went about blissfully unaware of the impending end to such easy and sexless camaraderie.
For Valentine’s Day we would create our own Valentine receptacles out of brown paper bags, decorated with construction paper and glitter and doilies – the only time it would be ok for boys to dabble with doilies. I poured my heart into it, making the prettiest bag I could, hoping to attract the most Valentines ~ not just because of who I was but because of how pretty I could make my bag. In truth, none of this really crossed my conscious mind. I loved a good craft project as much as the next person, but when given free reign I always felt a shiver of panic, particularly when no guidelines or rules were established. A little freedom is a good thing; too much makes me uncomfortable. Chalk it up to my Virgo birthdate.
Looking back, I can see now that I was never as despised as I sometimes felt I was. In fact, my bag was one of the heavier ones. This was a time before we were really hardened by the world, a time before any serious divisive differences. When left to their own devices, most children are pretty accepting of each other. It’s when parental and adult prejudices and influences start coming into play that kids get ruined or enriched.
For those few Valentine’s Days when boys and girls could give loving cards to each other without care or concern, I felt happy and adored. There was a purity in that exchange, something that would be missing after a certain age. We gave our hearts to one another, without reserve, without fear, without judgment.
You’re the meaning in my life, you’re the inspiration.
You bring feeling to my life, you’re the inspiration.
When you love somebody til the end of time…
Track #2: OPEN ARMS
Lying beside you here in the dark
Feeling your heart beat with mine
Softly you whisper, you’re so sincere
How could our love be so blind?
By the last years of our time at R.J. McNulty Elementary School, we were beginning to galvanize into adolescents. The change was sometimes sudden, sometimes slow, and always irreversible. Boys didn’t much socialize with girls except to torment and antagonize. It was playful teasing for the most part, the set-up for more serious flirtations to come. Yet my heart sang a different tune. The sirens that called to me weren’t female, and the attractions I felt toward girls in my class were platonic and comforting, not dangerous or tinged with desire.
At night, the glowing red digital colon of my alarm clock blinked on and off its steady count of seconds. Staring idly at the shaft of hallway light that came in through the cracked door, I listened as Journey’s ‘Open Arms’ came on over the radio. At such a young age, I couldn’t have had the first clue about romantic love, but something in me had always understood longing. The unrequited fancies of a boy too often get lost in the assumed toughness that comes from being a boy. I never had that toughness, so I’d have to craft a cage for my heart for my own protection. I didn’t know that then, and I’m sort of glad.
I opened my heart to every silly crush and foolish infatuation, and fell head-first into the giddy swirling notion of what I thought was love. I pined silently and relentlessly for a camp counselor, a class-mate, and the blonde guy on ‘CHiPs.’ It would be my major downfall in life: to want the ones who didn’t want me back. My heart would never learn. My heart would never quiet. And my heart would never stop… longing… wanting… loving.
So now I come to you with open arms
Nothing to hide, believe what I say
So here I am with open arms
Hoping you’ll see what your love means to me…
Track #3: THE SEARCH IS OVER
How can I convince you
what you see is real?
Who am I to blame you
for doubting what you feel?
I was always reaching…
Shards of ice amid a crazy state of mind. Disconcerting winter thaws and restless summer nights. The shifting of seasons across the mine-field of my heart. The ongoing search for a match. The quest for a partner. The fear of being alone. Such thoughts marred the mind as it tried to empty itself for sleep.
A love song on the radio. Lovers listening on the ride home. And me, not giving a fuck. Not even trying. In black and gray, damning the day of St. Valentine with a vehemence reserved for the bitter and the bereft, I spit out emotional vitriol and the carrion of trampled hearts in my wake.
I was living for a dream,
Loving for a moment.
Taking on the world,
That was just my style…
The random act of violence upon an innocent bystander is somehow easier to take than the sweet stab of veiled aggression by a lover or a family member. The former may leave you with a sickening lack of faith in the world, but the latter always leaves you with a sickening lack of faith in yourself. It is invariably destructive.
A shattered heart can never quite be put back together again.
All these silly love songs, all the cards and flowers and candy, all the jewelry and perfume and cologne – are but masks to disguise the utter emptiness of this holiday. If you’re lucky enough to get to this point in your life relatively unscathed, and if your heart has never been broken, hold onto that. For the rest of us, we’ll just keep looking for a way back to the day our school desks were littered with the innocent love notes of classmates, to a time when love was given without hesitation or reluctance or question, and to the last moment our hearts were full.
[I bet you can't wait to flip the tape to get to Side Two...]Back to Blog