The best Valentine’s Day happened a long time ago. As far back as 1982 in fact. And it’s been downhill from there.
I was 12 years old and I loved a boy in my class. Handily enough, he loved me right back. I put this down to the fact that his mother was German, thus differentiating him from the other boys in my class who sniggered at that word, love, preferring instead to push and pinch the girls they disliked the least.
I kissed him at a party once. A birthday party where the children were given the use of a room and a ‘ghetto-blaster’, while the parents sat in a different room, feigning indifference but really – I imagine, being a parent myself now – sitting on the edges of their seats, worrying at their nails and arguing over whose brilliant idea it had been to invite a classroom full of hormone-charged, pre-teens into their home.
The kiss was a closed-mouth affair, of the kind favoured in black and white movies, circa 1956. I remember wondering how I was going to negotiate the protrusion of his nose. You worry about things like that when you are 12 and about to embark on your First Kiss. I cocked my head to one side, closed my eyes and waited. It was more like a touch than a kiss. His lips rested on mine as the other kids formed a circle around us and counted down from 20. A 20-second kiss. I held my breath, like I was swimming underwater. It wouldn’t make it into my Top Ten Kisses Ever list. But it was one I never forgot.
Valentine’s Day happened a few weeks later. There was a handmade card on my desk when I arrived at school. Anonymous, like Valentine cards are supposed to be. Another one appeared after little break, every blank space filled with love poetry (‘Roses are red, violets are blue, I wish Elly was sick, so I could sit beside you.’ That kind of thing).
Another card after big break, this one accompanied by a red Snoopy purse. Returning home with my love stash, my mother handed me an envelope. Addressed to me. With an actual stamp on it. Inside was a Shop-Bought Valentine’s Card. One that had actually been handed over in exchange for pocket-money in an actual SHOP!! This was what love felt like. I was nearly positive.
Later, he arrived at my house with a gigantic biscuit shaped like a heart. He said his mother had baked it. He asked if I would go on a date, like we were a couple in a Sweet Valley High book. Dinner and a movie. In town. My mother eventually agreed to this liaison, only because his mother promised her that she would ‘shadow’ us, sitting two rows behind us in the cinema and eating at the same restaurant, but at a different table. Perhaps it was her German accent that made my mother agree. That accent has a very responsible twang to it.
And so we sat in the dark of a cinema theatre one Saturday afternoon, eating Coconut Snowballs and drinking TK red lemonade out of bottles. The restaurant was on Abbey Street with proper cutlery and glasses that would break if you dropped them and napkins that weren’t made out of paper. We had burgers and chips and cokes and ice-cream and then his mother drove us home.
A few months later, I went to an all-girls secondary school. Valentine’s days came and went. Valentines’ days with no Snoopy purses, no gigantic heart-shaped biscuits, no dates, like couples in a Sweet Valley High book.
In fact, a lot of Valentine days came and went without even the face-saving appearance of a card – shop bought or otherwise. Even now, as I grow older and have put away childish things, I still remember that Valentine’s Day in 1982. Nothing ever touched it. And at this stage in the game, I’m pretty sure nothing ever will.