Valentine’s Day 1990
An Italian taverna in Bournemouth. I’m wearing a red velvet dress from TopShop. My boyfriend, the love of my life so far (and boy so handsome I can’t believe he’s even looked at me), orders spaghetti and red wine. He has given me single red rose. We are play acting the role of a sophisticated couple. We think we’re adults, not realising how much we are still children.
We’d known each other for a few months before one night, late, we’d had a play fight and he’d started to tickle me. Tickling that turned into a kiss. I’d been transported to heaven. Always the chubby ugly duckling, his love validated me. Over spaghetti in the taverna, I don’t know that the relationship will be shortlived and end in tears when we both go off to different universities. But for that one night, Valentine’s fulfills all the fantasies..
Valentines Day, 2002
It’s the first Valentine’s day after our wedding. We have a nice dinner of oysters followed by roast chicken at home because we are consumed with work, ambition, and the job of gutting and renovating a huge Victorian house. My husband, working shifts, has to go on night duty. Soon after he leaves, my stomach starts to rumble. It keeps rumbling. The oysters….
It’s not a good night for either of us. When my husband, poisoned by the oysters too, staggers in the next morning, we both finally collapse, pasty and disgusting and sleep all day, our fingers touching across the wide white bed.
Valentine’s Day 2004
My husband hands me a heavy crystal glass of champagne. It’s the first alcoholic drink I’ve had in months. In my arms a baby sleeps, so new we’re still counting his life in hours. Seventeen days overdue, he timed his arrival so that birthday parties would completely obliterate Valentines Day for years to come. But looking down at his perfect lashes resting gently on his perfect cheeks, the day of love takes on a whole new meaning.
Valentines Day 2010
I stand at the door of my house in a dressing gown and those awful white stockings you have to wear for weeks afterwards. A friend who has brought my son home after looking him for the past couple of nights, is hopping anxiously from foot to foot. She winces as she looks me up and down. She doesn’t know what to say. My stomach is still swollen even though the baby that had been growing there has died. It’s the last baby that will ever try to grow there; the last of four babies who didn’t survive. My son has made me a Valentines Card, a shiny blue heart cut out and stuck on orange cardboard. My friend pats me on the arm and we say goodbye.
Valentine’s Day 2013
I can’t believe that the hospital would give you bad news on Valentine’s Day but it seems they show it no respect. Having insisted on going to his appointment alone, my husband comes into the kitchen and puts a pile of leaflets on the table. They answer the question that has died on my lips. We sit and drink tea and stare at them, trying to find some paragraph, sentence or word that gives us hope. That is a loophole. That will make one or other of us says “Aha, you see, it can’t be right, they’ve got it wrong. It says so here!” But no matter how many cups of tea we drink and how many times we read the leaflets, he still has cancer.
Valentines Day 2017
It’s dark when I wake up and I feel Mabel’s warm heavy body laying across my legs. She raises her fluffy head as I shuffle her to one side, but then flops back down, disappearing into the cream knitted blanket that matches her cockerpoo fur so well. I go to the kitchen to make tea, past my newly teenage son’s room and towards the room where my husband sleeps most of the time nowadays. Although he’s in remission from the cancer, the Crohn’s disease he subsequently developed causes him many sleepless nights, whether through pain or the medication. On the kitchen table I find a beautiful bouquet of roses.
My grandfather bought my grandmother an ornate satin padded card in 1942. Every year after, he gave her the same card for Valentine’s and her birthday, adding the date and a little sentence expressing his love for her. That card was given to her 144 times.
Next to the roses my husband has bought for me, there’s a huge, ornate card. It’s not padded or satin and so far it only has three years worth of dates on it. I don’t suppose we’ll achieve 70 years. But we’ll make as many as we can.