Fifteen Valentines

Fifteen Valentines was originally written in response to a prompt, “The Love That Changed My Life.” In 2012 it was performed as part of the full-length monologue production, Conceal & Carry: Queers Exposed, with performances at Broom Street Theater, the University of Wisconsin as part of Coming Out Week, and at Edgewood College. The message of  Fifteen Valentines is that love is transformative and intimate partnerships between two people transcend the laws of government and judgments of the dominant culture. The human heart and spirit is resilient, able to love, let go, grieve and love again against all odds.

Fifteen Valentines

People often ask me, how long were you two together and where did you meet? I always laugh in response. These are not simple questions, but story problems resembling riddles. First, how long were we together? It depends on how you count. Do I include our sabbaticals taken, total two? Does geography factor in, living at the same address, in the same city? Do I count the number of cups of coffee we cumulatively drank during our ten minutes of intimacy each morning? At our ten year anniversary, I estimated we each consumed three cups of coffee every morning, totaling 21,900 cups. The easiest way for me to measure our time together is by counting Valentines (actor pulls out a Valentine). Yes, fifteen Valentines. I wrote her fifteen Valentine poems and gave her one each year.

Where did we meet? She made me promise for a number of years to never tell anyone, until the not telling became so intriguing to others, she couldn’t tolerate the attention any longer. Here are the facts: we met in a Lesbian Relationship Therapy Group in 1993 led by my personal therapist. The requirements of the group were as follows: (actor holds up fingers to represent the counting of rules) 1) You weren’t currently in an intimate, committed relationship; 2) that we each desired to learn how to be in a healthy relationship; 3) that throughout the duration of the group, we were not to get physically or intimately involved with each other, and finally 4) if we saw each other we could not discuss what transpired in group, everything was confidential.

I laugh too when I look back and remember walking into group the first time. There was my therapist and six other women, five whom I already knew, and her. I thought to myself, this was another reminder of just how small and incestuous was the size and nature of our lesbian community. I was hoping to meet new women and yet the room was full of people whose paths had already crossed mine, who shared some history with me, our lives intersecting again in this seemingly random place. We shared ten weeks together and when the group ended I asked her if she’d like to get together sometime for a cup of coffee, dinner, or maybe see a movie. She responded assertively, “There are two things you need to know about me before we make a plan, I smoke and I eat meat!” I smiled, laughed loudly, and extended my arms to hug her.

Our first lunch together we ate hamburgers and drank so much coffee afterwards, talking non-stop, I suspected she may have drugged me, slipped in some potion that possessed me. Symptoms were clear, escalating excitement, complete disclosure of thoughts and feelings and a compelling desire to repeat the experience. A few days later she asked me out, on what was our first “official” date. She said I could pick the restaurant. I chose the most romantic restaurant I could think of.

After dinner, she told me she’d like to show me where she worked, but true to form she made me promise I wouldn’t tell my friends that we did this on our first date. It was a sign for me that I didn’t heed, work was her mistress. Looking back I realize: We reveal all the important details of who we are, how we think and what’s important to us, in those first few intimate hours. If we’re paying close enough attention we can foretell the future, but for most of us, including me that day, I didn’t heed the signs of our inevitable undoing. At that moment, as we rode the elevator to the tenth floor of the government office building, I could only think about how much I wanted to kiss her.

We did kiss later, while on her couch, until the early morning hours. She asked me if I wanted to stay the night. I wanted to, but I didn’t want to appear too eager, so easy. When I said no, quick thinking as always, she invited me for breakfast. I went home, slept for four hours, and returned with orange juice. Our relationship began. Fifteen Valentines later, it was over.

Betrayal by Robin Good

Betrayal by Robin Good

You are probably thinking what happened, why aren’t you still together? Did she die? Did you leave her, why didn’t it work out? Yes, this is another story of love that didn’t endure. In the end, the gift was that it served its season, lessons were learned, hearts mended. For me, love is a journey shared, like a road trip meandering down country roads, when you look back the dangerous curves and detours disappear. We’re left marveling at the distance traveled. We navigate the wilderness of intimacy and sometimes our destinations lead us in different directions.

The scenes of everyday life are often mundane. We measured time in memories shared, celebrated anniversaries, counted the years like the rings of a tree trunk, cycles of the moon, dog years, or the number of finch nests in a season. In loving her, I realized that love grows like bones, filaments weave, grow strong over time, while struggles and growing pains measure progress, not distance.

I’ve never known someone as long and intimately as her, sometimes I would think her thoughts for her, answer her questions before being asked; I’d anticipate her regrets. Some days I knew her better than myself. I knew things about her that she couldn’t know, what she looked like when she slept, how her eyes would brighten when she had a good idea, how sadness pressed into her shoulders and etched frown lines in her brow. I loved her in ways that I feared, past limits of comfort and control, loved her in spite and because of my better judgment. I’ve never loved someone as much as I loved her.

So, why it didn’t work out? The answer is pretty simple. There are lots of reasons, and some of them are revealed to us at the very beginning. Remember, work was her mistress and her mistress prevailed. In the end, we come and go, enter each other’s lives for a time than leave. The purpose of our life, both at the beginning and at the end, is to learn the lesson of who and what to hold onto and who and what to let go. My lesson with her, at the end of the day, was I stayed too long and she left too soon. Yes, let me repeat for emphasis. I stayed too long, she left to soon. Some days it’s simply about timing and synchronicity. My journey until now was to grieve, learn the lessons, let go and move on. Today, I’ve let go of the letting go and I’m moving on with the moving on. I dedicate this sixteenth Valentine poem to someone out there; this poem is for you.

Valentine to My Unknown Lover

Whoever you are, whatever you do,
wherever you live, whenever you’re ready,
however scared you may be,
I am waiting for you, my new love.
I try to recognize you in the faces of the unfamiliar,
or in the eyes of friendly others.
Perhaps I’ve already met you at the bookstore,
or the Farmer’s Market on the Square,
our hands reaching for the same red pepper.
Were you the woman two rows in front of me
in the movie theater? I watched you, then the film.
Maybe we’re friends; belong to the same group,
pass each other on the road during our daily commute.
You may not yet have arrived in town;
the new kid at work;
The neighbor moving into my building,
whose ripped cardboard box
I rescue before hitting the ground,
our eyes meeting for a second
in recognition of something important,
strangely familiar.

We ready ourselves for each other each
day in our meditations and reverie,
conversations with friends,
when they ask, what will your next girlfriend be like?
I ponder you. I wonder.
My curiosity distracts me in my work,
sometimes becoming the purpose of my play,
inspiration for poetry.
I write about you in my journal,
I conjure you up in my dreams.

Know this sweet woman. I have loved, I love, I will love again.
I will love you as well as I have learned to love myself,
sometimes with abundance and generosity of spirit,
often imperfectly. I can’t promise I won’t hurt you, I will.
It is the nature of life and love,
yet I will give you my best and hope you can accept the rest.
My passion and desire will wax and wane,
yet my love will always be true and yours.
You will have my hand, my heart, my attention.
We will laugh at our similarities,
and practice patience with our differences.
We will hold each other during the dark nights
and giggle under the covers
as the sun peaks in the window in the morning.

Unknown Valentine, come out, come out,
whoever you are, whatever you do,
wherever you live, whenever you’re ready,
however scared you may be,
I am waiting for you, my new love.

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