Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Valentine's Day: maybe this year...?

I’ve only ever received one (ONE) Valentine’s gift in my entire life, and that was when I was 14. I think this says more about the men in my life than it does about me – I was married for seven years; don’t you think my then-husband could just once have got himself to the local cafe in time to buy a measly box of chocolates?*

The only present I ever got was, in fact, a box of chocolates. It had been stuffed so determinedly (perhaps frantically) into our mailbox that it was bent practically in half. The accompanying card, home made, had a red heart inexpertly drawn on the outside and inside the following verse, scrawled in what was evidently a schoolboy’s neatest hand: ‘Though we walk across the field no more, I still thee adore.’ (Yes, ‘thee’.)

It puzzled me for ages. I had never ‘walked across a field’ with a boy that I could remember, far less one who had once and apparently still adored me (and perhaps had a passing acquaintance with Shakespeare).

Years later – literally years, I was by then about 16 – I got a phonecall out of the blue from an old schoolfriend of my brother’s, Craig. Would I like to go out with him, he asked.

I had only the vaguest recollection of Craig from when we were kids and at a mixed-gender primary school together (our high schools were monastic – blots on the face of civilisation, in my opinion) but I had no other options for that particular Friday night so I said okay. ‘I’ll pick you up in an hour,’ he said.

Only an hour! Eek! But the issue wasn’t what to wear or how to get my hair ready in time – I was a jeans-and-Tshirt-type girl and have never even owned a hairdryer – it was how to prime my father.

My father was Old School: any potential date was, to my immense embarrassment, expected to sit down in the living room with him and my mother, and endure 15 minutes or so of excruciating grilling pretending to be chit-chat, during which he would be required to reveal his name, age and address; his parents’ occupations and, if possible, income; his nationality as far back as his great-grandparents; his future aspirations; and, of course, his intentions vis-à-vis me. (‘Well, Mr H, I really only want to get her pissed enough to bang her.’)

I tried to get around it by telling my Dad that he already knew Craig (‘He was G’s friend in Standard 5, remember?’) but he was having none of it. So at 7pm when Craig knocked on the door I was already resigned to my fate: a boy who might have been keen on me and maybe even dated me more than once, but who, after being interrogated by my father, would take to the proverbial hills.

Craig, however, turned out to be – well, perfect. His hair was neatly combed and he was wearing a ‘letter sweater’: first team rugby, he told my father with just the right mix of modesty and pride. His parents, he said, were recently divorced – it had been ‘hard’ for him and his brother, he murmured sadly, looking down at the carpet, but they were ‘learning to live with it’. He didn’t drink, he told my father: it interfered with his training. Et cetera.

My father, thrilled to finally meet a young man of calibre (as opposed to the dope-smoking, motorbike-riding, beer-swilling, long-haired louts I usually hung around with) went so far as to extend my curfew by an hour – I could be home by midnight instead of the usual 11pm, he said. ‘But,’ he added, putting his hand on Craig’s shoulder in a ‘between-us-men’ fashion, ‘not a minute later, okay, pal?’

Craig all but saluted, and off we went. Down the garden path, out the front gate, into his car, around the corner… where we stopped.

‘Christ,’ said Craid, wriggling out of the sweater, ‘this thing’s hot. I don’t know how those guys wear them.’

‘It isn’t yours?’ I asked.

He laughed. ‘Are you mad? Me, play rugby? Nah, I borrowed it.’ He tossed the sweater into the back seat, then stuck his hands into his hair and skromelled it around until it stuck up all over his head like a porcupine. He grunted his approval at his reflection in the rearview mirror, then he indicated the passenger footwell. ‘There’s a coupla beers down there,’ he said. ‘Chuck us one.’

Bemused, I passed him a beer, which he popped and drank down in one go. Then he crushed the can and asked for the other.

‘Are your parents really divorced?’ I asked.

‘Not yet,’ he said, ‘but it’s coming. My fucking bitch mother’s been having an affair for years. With the pool boy!’ Here he laughed so hard he snorted beer out his nose. ‘My father’s such an idiot. He’s almost as bad as my pansy brother – can’t see what’s right in front of his stupid eyes.’

Then he did the unforgivable. He turned to me, put a hand on my thigh and said, ‘Like your father, hey, babe? I did my homework. I heard about him. But I had him completely fooled. What a turkey!’

Well, you know what they say – you can insult your own family, but woe betide anyone else who does.

‘Take me home,’ I said.

‘Why?’ he said, cheerfully, clearly not believing me for a second. ‘We’re just getting started! I’ve waited for two years for this!’

‘Two years?’ I was beginning to feel thoroughly creeped out.

‘Ja,’ he said. ‘I’ve liked you since we used to walk to school together, remember? Across that field? But my folks were so strict that I wasn’t allowed to see girls then.’ He gave a nasty laugh. ‘They should have had that rule for themselves! Then maybe my mother wouldn’t be screwing the help!’

‘That Valentine’s Day card and the chocolates – they were from you?’

He had just enough shame left to look slightly uncomfortable. ‘A bit soppy, hey?’ he said. Then he perked up. ‘But look where it’s got us!’

Where it got us was me back home (after an energetic scuffle in the car, during which I jumped out and ran away) and Craig heading, I presume, for the hills. I never heard from him again.


* I lie. I’ve just remembered, my then-husband did give me a card once, one he’d made himself. It had a picture glued to the outside, clearly snipped out of some medical journal, of a mess of bloodied body parts, and it read, ‘If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a woman’s must be through her mind.’ Inside, it read, ‘Be my Valentine or I’ll smash your brains in.’ Romantic, huh?

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1 comment:

meggie said...

Over the years Gom did occasionally give me chocolates or cards, but we never really got into Valentines Day as a tradition.