To All the Men I’ve Loved Before: A VALENTINE’S DAY REMEMBRANCE
“Love distills desire upon the eyes,
love brings bewitching grace into the heart
of those he would destroy.
I pray that love may never come to me
with murderous intent,
in rhythms measureless and wild.
Not fire nor stars have stronger bolts
than those of Aphrodite sent
by the hands of Eros, Zeus’s child”
Euripides 485-406 BC
I’m not a Romance Writer though I’ve always been a ‘romantic’. I tried writing a romance novel once, but writing to that formula isn’t as easy as it looks. At best, I can only write about my own romances.
Valentine’s Day is here again, one of those times of years that makes me feel melancholy -- the nostalgia of times gone past -- and along with the happy memories, painful reminders of lost loves.
When I lived in Athens, I shared a house with my Gemini soul-brother Roberto, an artist from Buenos Aires. He and I often used to share a bottle of wine and listen to Shirley Bassie tapes. One song always made us cry. “To All the Men I’ve Loved Before”. (As Roberto was gay, the song applied to him as well.) Love songs always provoke nostalgic thoughts, causing me to reflect on my past loves. And days like Valentine’s Day, bring back a tumult of these memories.
Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? The popular custom now associated with Saint Valentine’s Day, originated in the Middle Ages. On February 14, half way through the second month of the year, the birds begin to pair. For this reason, the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lover’s tokens.
“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
Chaucher “Parliament of Foules”
When I was a kid, I used to looked forward to Valentine’s Day. I loved making Valentines, inscribing them with verses of my own. Sometimes the Valentine’s box at the school brought disappointments as well as good cheer though. There were times when the piles of Valentines on other children’s desks grew larger than mine as the cards were handed out. I was a shy one, and envied the more popular girls.
What is the purpose of Valentine cards? One legend says that a priest named Valentinus, in third century Rome was imprisoned when Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, and outlawed marriage for young men . Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentinus defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him to be put to death. While in prison, it is said that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Thus came the concept of sending Valentine cards to friends.
Valentine’s Day is a lover’s day. Eros is flitting about and maybe if you’re lucky he strike you with one of his love arrows.
I recall some Valentines Days of the past. When I was married, my husband always remembered the day with flowers, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and other generous gifts. In the years after my marriage ended, when I lived in a house full of hippies any reason for a party was seized upon and even burly Dan my boyfriend remember the day with cards and gifts. Later, when I went to live in Greece, bouquets of long-stemmed red roses were presented to me by my Greek boyfriend, Terry. Unfortunately, as Byron said: “All farewells should be sudden” which describes my unfortunate parting from Terry. I returned home to Canada with a broken heart.
I had vowed never to let Eros near me again, but somehow, through a series of co-incidences and strange events, two years later I had a reunion with my first love, Jimmy (the “Johnny” of my play, “The Street”).
It had been years since we’d seen each other and yet it hardly seemed time had passed . For a few weeks we were eighteen again, having fun, recalling old times and renewing our old love. But quickly I began to realize how damaged he was from his years of drug use, how obsessive, how potentially dangerous this relationship was. The epiphany struck me just before Valentine’s Day. We had planned a gala party that weekend so I could introduce him to my friends. He invited a couple of his ex-prison cronies, and I realized it was time to pull the plug. Three days later, Valentines Day arrived with a record snow-fall. We were supposed to go out for dinner, but I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he couldn’t possibly drive all the way to town in the blizzard. Even the buses weren’t running.
I had to walk home from Chinatown where I was working at a daycare centre.
Much to my shock, when I arrived home, there was he was parked out front of my apartment, waiting. There was no way we could drive anywhere to eat dinner. I had no food in the fridge and was in no mood for his company. Perhaps because he had suspected I intended to break up with him, he had brought me lavish presents including a gold filigree cross (to impress my Baptist minister dad, he said) and a wad of money enclosed in a huge card with one of those sappy over-the-top Valentines greetings in which he’d written a long romantic letter to me. At the time, I was not amused nor grateful. Considering what he was up to, and what he’d intended to involve me in, I didn’t want to take anything from him. I just wanted him to leave. He was gone for good by the weekend and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, vowing to not get myself so involved ever again!
The years had made me cautious and jaded. I couldn’t suffer another broken heart. Yet I was born a romantic, and like a school girl yearned for a ‘true love’. But Valentine’s Days came and went and there were no more love notes or flowers from admiring suitors. Returning to Greece, to my village in the mountains of Evvia, I took comfort in the company of a shepherd who had been my friend for all the years I’d been living there. Mitso was the man who came to me in my dreams with words of wisdom and comfort, my dashing knight in a jaunty cap, who rode a white horse. In the summer of 1996, when I was leaving the village to return to Athens, we had a romantic meeting on the roadside beneath the plane trees and asked me to marry him and come to live in the village.
In the end, all things considered, I declined. I was the last time I saw him. The next time I went to the village, he was up on the mountain with his sheep. The following year I planned to surprise him with a visit and possibly reconsider his proposal. Two weeks before I returned to Greece I learned that he had died suddenly of lung cancer. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
And so, this Valentine’s Day I remember all those men I loved before including:
Roberto, who also died of cancer. I think so often of those days we sat in the courtyard talking about love, life, literature, music, and art and listening to stories about your beloved Argentina.
Hakki, who took me on a magic carpet ride in Istanbul.
Mitso, who taught me about the zoe.
Khadar, who was once my Muse. Old friends are not forgotten.
And T, G & E, who have remained my friends through the years.
“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” George Sand, (Letter to Lina Calamatta.) March 31, 1862.
Valentine’s Day is meant for remembering friends too. Emerson said: “A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud.” It doesn’t matter whether you send or receive cards and gifts. Remember your friends in other special ways. I think I’ll buy myself a bouquet of flowers in honour all my past loves and present friends.
Friends are like flowers in the garden of life. On this Valentine’s Day I send my love and heartfelt appreciation to all of you. Especially my girlfriends. And, of course, love to my family, my sister and my children and grandson. Thank you for being there for me. As the song goes:
“Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm get high with a little help from my friends.” Paul McCartney