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Monday, 14 February 2011

Back When Valentine's Day Meant Something

Exactly a year after our wedding, my first husband announced that he wanted to leave me. There wasn’t anyone else; we were getting along quite well, or at least it seemed that way to me. He just didn’t think being married was the way he wanted to go. A bit like he’d thought sage green would be nice for the sitting room curtains, but once they were hung he decided that orange would go better with the carpet; or, after ordering an extra large pizza he’d realised he wasn’t that hungry after all and wished he’d gone for Regular.

The fact was that he’d made up his mind. His reasons were straightforward. He wanted to be a successful lawyer, and a wife ringing him in the evening, wanting to know when he’d be back, was interrupting his concentration. I’m not being sarcastic when I say I can see how that could have been very annoying. No, really, I’m not. He didn’t see any point talking about it. He knew it was the right thing to do.

So, he packed his bags and left the next weekend, right? Wrong. He said he'd move out over the May bank holiday. Which would have been pretty normal sounding if the original decision had been made in April, or even March, or even January, at a pinch. But this was the end of September. So between the announcement and the actual move, we had to get through the clocks going back, and the weather getting colder, and Christmas, and my birthday, and then, just over the half way mark, Valentine’s Day.

I like to have a bit of time to get used to things, too. I mean, I’m not one to exchange contracts and complete a house purchase on the same day. I only buy from shops with a liberal returns policy. But seven months is a long time to live with someone who’s decided their vows don’t count any more. It was a small house too, there wasn’t much room. I didn’t like to tell people, it was just a bit too weird. I could have thrown his stuff onto the pavement, but it wasn’t my style. And on top of that, property values were exploding under Nigel Lawson’s bubble and I was hoping for an amicable settlement.

So, Valentine’s Day. He asked me if I’d like to go out for a meal, to celebrate. To celebrate what? To celebrate Valentine’s Day. Better than mooching about at home thinking about what everyone else is doing. Possibly. Okay, I said.

The restaurant was packed with couples, of course, and as if he had picked up some subliminal communication, the waiter seated us in the darkest, hottest, noisiest corner and then apparently forgot all about his intuitive perception and presented me with a single red rose. It wasn’t funny. It was awful. Everyone else was enjoying themselves, that was obvious, holding hands, smiling, laughing, looking into each other’s eyes, feeding each other morsels of pudding, licking the spoon clean, all that kind of carry on. And then us. Not touching, not looking at each other, not speaking. Not even eating. I left the rose on the table, instead of a tip.

The weeks that followed were simpler somehow. For a start, there weren’t that many of them left. The weather got better. We discussed what we’d do about the house. I planned a holiday with some friends. I began to look forward to May which has always been my favourite month.

The next Valentine’s day I made a collage from pieces of fabric. Two figures, a girl and a boy; his trousers were tartan wool and his shirt was pink linen; she had a red corduroy skirt a blouse of Liberty lawn and they were holding hands. The year after, I did the same card but the girl standing sideways, so you could see she was pregnant, and the year after there was a little girl between them. Then I got too busy to make cards, what with that baby and another one, and everything. Now the kids get Valentine's cards, and go out for dinner with their girl friends and boyfriends, squashed in with all the other couples, demonstrating, mourning, escaping, chasing, celebrating their love.

Funny, I rarely think about my first husband. I know he thinks about me even less, because a few years ago I came across someone who'd met him. This person told me he'd once shared a long car journey with my ex-husband and been treated to his entire life story. There'd been no mention of a wife. I think about him easily. I'm not bitter or sad or cross, just very glad he did what he did. Otherwise, just imagine, I might still be hanging on to Valentine's Day.


  1. Goodness me, Penelope, what a long time ago it seems but you have described it all so perceptively. (You should blog more often . . . ) I may, at this point, have to resort to cliche and say, look how far you have come since that ill-fated Valentine's Day. Oh dear, I just did. But you have. And, as you say, just as well he did what he did; the alternative does not bear contemplating.

    Belated greetings, by the way, for that special birthday.


  2. Hmm Penelope, very perceptive... and great to see you've started blogging again. Mx

  3. A sad story of human frailty and decency-made no less sad by time-but a terrific bit of writing.

  4. Thanks for these lovely comments