Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Alphabet: A History (V) Valentine’s Day

The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes. This one is dedicated to all the members of the lonely hearts club this Valentine’s Day.

Alphabet: A History (V) Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, 2004, and for some extra money, I’m pitching in at the flower shop where I worked full-time until a few months ago. It’s only early afternoon and I’ve already made 60 arrangements of long-stem red roses. I line up the vases ten deep on the counter and then fill them, one-by-one, with greenery — Myrtle, Eucalyptus, Bells of Ireland, Snake Grass, and Lemon Leaf — before dropping the roses in their place. We use Black Magic Roses, the most expensive, and in my opinion, most beautiful variety of roses.

“It’s like a red velvet room,” I sigh, stepping into the cooler two years earlier on my first Valentine’s Day at the shop. An army of Black Magic Roses stands at attention, waiting for its orders.

These days I’m less impressed. Roses are pretty, but they’re the last thing I’d want to receive on a day like this, my fingers rubbed raw and red by their thorns. I prefer the flexibility of tulips instead, the way they bow in submission, almost humbly in their vases, against the aggressive presence of heartier flowers.

But it’s not really roses or tulips on my mind today. My boyfriend moved out exactly four weeks ago — my ex-boyfriend, I mean — and I’m single for the first time in four years. Three years earlier, we’d moved together from Missouri to Chicago when I was 24 — and the apartment we shared, the place where I’m still living while I look for something smaller, something cheaper, feels enormous in its emptiness, feels empty against the aggressive presence of mass marketed love. I don’t really want to go home today.

But I do. After 10 hours at the flower shop, I send my last arrangements out with the delivery driver and go home alone. I order Chinese food and listen to Nina Simone. I wait for the phone to ring. I wonder if anyone is thinking of me. I wonder if my ex-boyfriend is thinking of me. I wonder how long it will be before I find someone else, if I’ll still be alone next year and the year after and the year after that. I wonder, suddenly, if it’s possible I might always be alone, if maybe there really isn’t someone out there for me, and if maybe I should have just stayed in my relationship after all. Being with someone — anyone — seems better than this right now: an empty apartment and a half-eaten carton of Chicken Lo Mein.

The next morning I wake up and go to school. I go to school and come home and go to school and come home and I do this again and again and again. Some evenings are punctuated with dinner or drinks out with friends. Some days I stay in and study. On weekends, I worry about my solitude. I find a new apartment and move; I decide I don’t like my living situation and move again. I date a little, have another failed relationship, watch a couple more Valentine’s Days come and go.

And then it happens: I do find someone. And it’s good. And it lasts. And those lonely years were not in vain. And I want to go back in time, back to 2004 and say: yes. Yes! It will be better.

But I’m still sitting in the dark, listening to Nina Simone and waiting for the phone to ring. I’m not ready for yeses yet.

6 comments… add one
  • Tudor Princess February 14, 2011, 11:49 am

    As I read this I was listening to Kings of Leon’s “Revelry,” a song that always makes me think of my ex. I’m still nursing a bruised heart wondering all the same questions we ask when someone leaves us. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day because I’m alone. I’m not. My valentine is a beautiful, intelligent three year old boy who owns my heart. What I hate about Valentine’s Day is the pressure to be with someone that abounds. I am really trying to be happy with who I am and what I have. Hallmark isn’t helping. But, it’s not their job. It’s mine. So today I will go home and cuddle with the best Valentine I could ever hope for and try to remind myself that Hallmark (or the rest of the world, or my relationship status, etc.)doesn’t define me, I do.

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    Just Max February 14, 2011, 11:59 am

    “The next morning I wake up and go to school. I go to school and come home and go to school and come home and I do this again and again and again. Some evenings are punctuated with dinner or drinks out with friends. Some days I stay in and study. On weekends, I worry about my solitude.” ==> + work = my life, today. It won’t be like this forever. And knowing that it is temporary makes it better. 😀

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  • maynard February 14, 2011, 12:26 pm

    I’ve never given a shit about valentine’s day, but now that I have a broken engagement under my belt and my ex is dating again, I think I might actively dislike it. Of course I blame this on the hundreds of valentines and/or online dating commercials I’ve seen in the last week or two (we met on match.com).

    My big plans for tonight include hopefully knocking off of work a little early, getting a huge ass burger from somewhere, then curling up on the couch with my dear, sweet friend – alcohol. Cheers!

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  • Elle February 14, 2011, 12:54 pm

    Dear Wendy,
    Thank you for giving lonely hearts hope. I’ve been single for the past 3 Valentine’s Days. There seems to be a pattern there :). But today, I decided to embrace Valentine’s Day. I bought my best friend (also single) a bouquet of roses, and we’re going to go to dinner later.
    Today is about love. We’ll celebrate our friendship. A different kind of love, but love, nonetheless.
    Happy day everyone!

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  • MissDre February 14, 2011, 12:58 pm

    Aww… I know exactly how it feels. I hope I don’t go through another breakup (who knows though, right?) Cuz this feeling can really suck at times.

    I really like what Elle wrote. After my last breakup, I was really depressed, and shutting out my friends and being mean and bitchy. And I realized I didn’t want to push away the people who loved me most. So I showed up on my best friend’s doorstep (also named Elle :)) with a bouquet of pink roses, and she cried and told me she’d always love me.

    Having a good man feels great, but it’s your lifelong friends that stick with you through and through. It’s totally awesome to make Valentine’s a day to cheer up somebody else!

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  • Nina February 15, 2011, 7:16 am

    When Wendy wrote this, the original title was “Alphabet: A History (V) Valentine’s Day, Nina.” After all, she was clearly talking directly to me. … Thanks, Wendy!

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