Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: A Personal History (Revisited)

Note: this entry was originally part of an entry published February 14, 2008, on my old blog, Lonesome Dove Xpress-ions. That post is one of my favorites, and over the years has received more comments from folks via e-mail and phone than almost anything I've ever written. I have edited it somewhat and written some new thoughts at the end. I hope you enjoy reading it. – Allan

Valentine's Day.  First of all, if you have someone in your life with whom you celebrate this special day, I hope you enjoy it and are able to renew commitments to all that this day represents. I don't technically fall into that category, but while I was driving today and listening to all the talk on the radio about this day, my mind wandered to thoughts of my own Ghosts of Valentines Past.

And, as sometimes happens in this blog when something is on my mind, I thought to write about it somewhat. Feel free to peer over my shoulder as I do so.

M. H. 1971. Trenton, Georgia. I was in kindergarten at the First United Methodist Church. I had several friends, but the one I remember most from that time is M. She was a little younger than me, a few months, maybe, and she was small of frame, a head shorter than I was (not saying much at five years old). She had brown hair, short, not even shoulder length; brown eyes that swallowed the world.

She was the first girl I ever kissed and to whom I uttered those three magic words: “I Love You”.

We were friends into first and second grade. I used to walk to her house to play regularly. She had an older brother (who was in third grade or so at the time) who used to tease us unmercifully. We usually played board games. I have a flash memory of her mom serving cookies and milk to us out in a room that had been converted from a garage.

The only other image from those days is this: one day, maybe when we were in first grade, we were, for some strange reason, standing in the front of my house (had she come to my house that to play? I have no memory of it. Just this moment that is still magic to recall.). We face each other. I look down into those brown eyes (do you still have those lovely brown eyes somewhere in this world, M.H?), and said, from my heart, though I had no idea what it portended: “M.H., I love you.”

And, six years old, I planted as passionate a kiss on those upturned lips as I could muster, and drew her close into my encircled arms.

From there, memory fails. What happened next? What did she say? I only know that we were not in the same class for second grade – and we sort of lost what connection we had. And after second grade, I moved away.

Oh yes – I do remember one thing about that first, and innocent, but faithful, kiss: my best friend, who lived across the street from me, Charles, happened to be in his front yard when the Kiss That Shook The World occurred. I had not noticed. Indeed, how could I? My world was those brown eyes.

“ I'm gonna tell.”

“ I don't care!” My arm around M's shoulders in protective defiance. Us against the world.

Screen fades to black.

K.W. 1973. Fairmount, Georgia. Third grade. A teacher (who was very pretty in her own right), Ms. Gamble. Not Miss Gamble. Ms. Gamble. Why do I remember that?

I remember even less about this time, but I do remember K.W. Us playing on the playground, chasing each other. Liking each other. Different than M. and me – no declarations of love, no kisses of devotion.

I mostly remember another boy, and our vying for her attentions: Timmy. I remember one day at recess in the spring chasing him down, angry at him for some imagined offense I can't remember, tackling him, and holding his arms down on the ground. The only time I remember doing anything like that.

And K. standing nearby, half hidden by the oak tree she was peering around.

And her heart-rending verdict: “ Allan, you're nothing but a bully.”

Far from the declamation of the hero status I sought from her.

The only other thing I remember is that we moved after third grade, and I remember feeling awful that I wouldn't be able to tell K. good-bye, wouldn't see her the next school year. Thinking about how I wish I could go out to a local camp, where her father was the manager and where she lived, to see her before we left.

Happy Valentine's Day, K.W., wherever you are.

(She is probably married to Timmy.)

Zoe [not even close to her real name, but I wanted to protect her privacy, so I picked this because I like it.]. Fast-forward to the summer of 1980. Rome, Georgia. I'm 15. Between 9th and 10th grades. Church youth camp, somewhere in Alabama (my first). The previous summer, I'd had an awakening of faith that was to chart the course of my life for most of the next 25 years. I was very active in my church and its youth group.

That summer, I met several friends who were to form the core of my associations all the way through high school, and beyond. Among them was Zoe.

She was younger than me by a little less than two years. I don't remember how we met or started our friendship (though, by then I had started journaling copiously, so I know those memories are written down in journals I have), but by the end of that week of camp, I was smitten.

My favorite memory from that first youth camp is on Thursday night, the last night of camp, standing around a campfire, singing. Zoe is to my left. My eyes are closed in the reverence of the moment. I feel a hand reach for mine, and that became all the world I knew. Zoe's hand in mine.

But, alas, Zoe's affections were directed towards someone else: a boy named R.

But, over the next few years, we became best friends. We'd go out, but never on “dates” -- well, we did double-date several times, but we both had others for dates.

But the flame that was sparked at that campfire never went away for me.
I feared, though, that if I ever pursued it, the magic of our special friendship, a treasure to us both, would evaporate, a casualty of a thing God had not intended, to my grief.

One of my favorite memories of those days was when I was a senior in high school. Zoe was in 10 thgrade, and we were both active in the Drama Club together. Our production that year was a musical, “ Sock Hop”. I got to play a guy named Spud. Zoe played my old girlfriend. So, for a moment, on the stage, I got to pretend.

I was planning to go into the ministry, and so, when I graduated from high school, I moved away to Dallas, Texas, to go to school. But Zoe and I wrote to each other often, and our friendship remained strong.

Christmas 1983. I went to Georgia for the holidays.  One of the people I saw was Zoe. We went to lunch one day. And we started talking, as we always did, about anything and everything. At one point, I joked about asking Zoe out for a date. I don't remember why (but the memory is preserved in my journals somewhere from that time), but at one point, I confessed to her that I had always secretly liked her, but didn't want to spoil our wonderful friendship.

She had felt the same way, she said.

What? Was I really hearing this? Something I had dreamed about so often for the four years I'd known her?

The rest of that Christmas may well be the most magical time of my life.
Then, life interrupted. I had to go back to school in Dallas.

But, we stayed in touch, our friendship still a rich treasure, made even more beautiful by our accidentally discovered affections.

Zoe was the first girl I can say that I was in love with in a way that was more than just a childhood crush. I fully expected and intended to marry her at the right time. It was all I wanted.

The spring of one year – not too long after that magic Christmas, but I can't remember exactly how long – probably 1985 – I called Zoe.

“ Hello.”

“ Hello.” (Something sounds different. What?)

“ Allan, I've got something to tell you.”

“ Okay.”

“ I'm engaged.”

My heart's world fell into a million pieces, and nothing but an empty void remained.

My response: “ Praise God! I'm happy for you.”

“ What?”

“ Well, I want what God wants [no I didn't], and if that's his plan for you, I'm happy for you [but I wasn't, not at that moment, not until much later].”

“ That's not the reaction I expected.”

Our conversation ended. And, as well, the special friendship – the most special I've ever had with a girl/woman besides my wife Charlotte -- but her story comes next.

It took a long, long time to heal that broken heart. And, I think the capacity of my heart was diminished for a long time. Of course, it took much longer because I cloaked my feelings in the guise of submission to God's perfect will.

Charlotte M. 1993. We were both living and working in the intentional Christian community of JPUSA in Uptown, Chicago. We had met early in 1992 when we both shared the overnight shift at the homeless shelter JPUSA operated.

I had a huge crush on her after that, but she ended up getting engaged to someone else in the ministry, and, as before, I figured that was God's perfect will, so who was I to question it? (I've made up for all that lack of questioning in the last few years, though. Ha ha)

Anyway, Charlotte's engagement eventually ended, and we happened to be working in the same office at that time, not 10 feet from one another. We became best friends (though casual friendships were not encouraged at JPUSA), and eventually, started “happening” (JPUSA parlance for dating).

We became engaged, and in March of 1995, got married in Florida, where we had moved.

I had found the true love of my life. Charlotte was the woman I had been waiting my whole life for.

We enjoyed, from the standpoint of anyone who could observe us, a wonderful and happy marriage.

But there were underlying problems, old wounds, silent and unsung, that began to cripple our union after several years. And when, in 2001, I became ill, violently, suddenly, many of those things that were lurking beneath the surface of my own heart, and our marriage, were let loose in tornadic force.

Our marriage, sweet and precious to us both, was a casualty of that turbulent time.

Tomorrow, the day after Valentine's Day, will mark three years since our divorce was final.

We are still friends, have always been friendly, and we, each in our own way, still love each other. We don't talk often, but when we do, it's enjoyable for us both.
I have not believed in the notion of there being just one right person for another in a long time, but if there were such a thing, Charlotte was truly that for me. The love of a lifetime.

I still miss her some days. Including today.

Happy Valentine's Day, Charlotte. Always.

I include below a poem I wrote for Charlotte on Valentine's Day several years ago, before the bad things got so bad. It is my favorite poem of all that I've ever written.

"Knowing You"

Sometimes when I look at you,
when you turn just so,
I know that I knew you
before we were us.

Memory fails to recall
where I have seen your face,
now more familiar than all
I have known before.

Then, past memory's
bounds, in night's visions
glorious, my eye sees
you, whom I have known,

And I know that I have loved
you in my dreams,
while waiting for my beloved:
you, my chosen one.

Update: Valentine's Day 2012. I was certain when I originally wrote this personal history of Valentine's Day in 2008 that the final chapter for me had been written. And maybe it has. I am content in any case. But a little more than a year ago, one person unwittingly opened my heart to the possibility of being able to fall in love again. And another showed me that I could actually love again. For those two things, I am thankful.

I am not seeking it, but if it finds me, I think I can write that next chapter. It's a good place to be in.

It is possible that some may read this who also believe the final chapter of their own Valentine's Day History has been written, and perhaps Valentine's Day holds pain and regret for you. I want to encourage you to believe that the final chapter has not necessarily been penned, and that there is possibility and hope as long as you are here on this earth. My prayer is that you will find it so.

Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

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