Valentines Day…Love it or hate it that bad boy is going nowhere.
Before I start waffling on about the beauty of Valentines Day, how it ignites and fuels the love struck but reminds the unlucky in love that life does indeed suck; that for one day and one day only, you are allowed to wallow in your own self pity and isolated despair, because remember…you are the only person on the planet that feels your level of broken hearted turmoil…
Did I just do exactly what I said was not going to do? Well, whatever you feel about Valentines Day, it’s all relative and it’s all valid. Not convinced? Let me tell you a story.
I spent thirty-one years surrounded by people who worshipped the very concept of Valentines Day. I didn’t. Year after year the concept of that day became increasingly difficult to navigate and if I managed to come out of the other side somewhat unscathed, it was an improvement on the previous year.
From birth (I guess), I believed that it was the guy who was supposed to express his affection for the girl. I believed that if a boy sent me a Valentines card with a terrible…
“Roses are red…”
…poem inside, then it was the real thing.
All the way through primary school the same kids were kissing the same kids regardless of the fact they probably couldn’t actually spell the word “Valentines”.
The girls got roses, the boys got a Wispa chocolate bar and I got…well, nothing.
Taking in to consideration my chronic constipation was in action from a very young age, I got my first spot on my chin when I was ten and back in the 80’s kids didn’t really mess around with concealer like they seem to these days, so there was no disguising the monstrous volcano that went from red to yellow to just plain gross! So I understood why a boy didn’t want to send me a card or write me a poem.
In 1993 when I started high school, that’s when the fun really started. I got more constipation so I got more acne. I know it sounds strange and I only gained this knowledge just before I had surgery and got my stoma in 2017. When you poo you’re getting rid of all the toxins and bad bacteria that your body needs to get rid of. If you can’t poo, those toxins have to go somewhere, so for me; they came out in my face! This was no good for a teenage girl my friends, no good at all.
In my high school years when my friends were experimenting with make-up and clothes and were allowed to go into town shopping on a Saturday afternoon; I was in my bedroom, ploughing through my homework with my cassette player next to me listening to Kula Shaker and Ocean Colour Scene. As soon as my homework was done I pulled out my notebook and took inspiration from those voices and the lyrics in the songs they were singing to make a world with words that only I had access to. A world where I could create the same characters in school that I spent every single day with and I could choose to take away their Valentines cards, their chocolates and their roses and just give them…
As every year passed it became more and more imperative that you had to kiss a boy! You had to have a boy want to kiss you and every single year, neither of those things happened.
I became the gopher. The friend people would send to another group of friends to break the news that one person fancied the other and they wanted to go out with them. To this day I still don’t know where they wanted to go out to, it’s a mystery.
It was a known fact, that some of the people I went to school with were the lucky recipients of multiple Valentine’s Day paraphernalia but I was always empty handed. I was the girl who never wrote a card and was never the recipient of one but every year people would ask me…
“How many Valentines cards did you get Katerini?”
I started off by hanging my spotty head in shame and saying very quietly…
I remember one year I had a triangle of acne spots on my forehead with one sitting extremely uncomfortably in the space between my eyebrows and a boy laughed and said…
“I’m not surprised, Cyclops.”
I don’t know exactly where that boy is now but I’m pretty certain he’s not a comedian.
I lived my life through music. I believed that listening to one song first thing in the morning as I put my school uniform, on would dictate how I lived the hours of my day until I could take it off again.
I must have been about fourteen when I discovered a band called Ruth. They did one album, Harrison, I was madly in love with the lead singer, of course, and when I heard their song “Valentines Day” where the latter of the lyrics were…
“Stay out of my way, on Valentines Day.
Stay out of my way, and you’ll be okay…”
Well, it became my anthem. Every year I would play that song and throughout the day I would sing those words in my head, strongly believing that the more I sang them, the more I believed them to be true.
I was bullied pretty much all year round, not just on this sacred day and I had to work out a version of self-protection that would make other people smile and keep the bullies at arm’s length.
14th February 1994…
“How many Valentines cards did you get Katerini?”
“Oh the ship’s not come in yet. There were too many to load on to it so it’s due tomorrow along with all of my flowers and chocolates.”
Believe it or not that bought me freedom from the bullies, some of them didn’t know what to do with it to such an extent they backed off and I had the rest of the day to work out what to say next year.
From that moment on I used my creative mind to come up with the most ridiculous romantic scenarios as I could in the hope that people would think I didn’t care about the 14th February.
14th February 1995
“Oh, Crispian’s on tour at the minute with his band, Kula Shaker. He called me last night and said he’s got me a card and a present but the post in Japan is really slow.”
14th February 1996
“Crispian’s on tour again. He called me last night and asked my mum if I can go on tour and he’ll pay for everything because he really likes me.”
14th February 1997
“Yeah me and Crisp split, we’re still friends but I’ve got a new boyfriend now. His name’s Scott James, he’s the lead singer in The Montrose Avenue.”
14th February 1998
“Simon (lead singer from Ocean Colour Scene) sent me something in the post but it’s still on the way. It’s coming by carrier pigeon but he said it’s really special.”
Silly stories made me feel better. They made life feel easier, as if there was another world out there for me, an alternative existence where I was accepted as myself by the most creative and alternative people.
As I got older it was more difficult to pass those humorous stories off and I just looked strange. I became a twenty-something trying to put myself in a world that didn’t exist. I became the twenty-something whose mental illness spiralled when on the 14th February my letter box produced nothing but a hospital appointment or a writer’s magazine containing articles on how to write a successful love story!
I went through all of my teens with no sign of a love poem. Even in my twenties the very short-lived relationships I had didn’t fall on Valentines Day so there were no chocolates and definitely no flowers on my doorstep.
I spent so long grieving over why I wasn’t the recipient of a ginormous heart shaped red card and a box of cheap chocolates that I never actually asked myself what Valentines Day looked like for me? What did I want? Did I want chocolates? Did I want rose petals and candles? Was I prepared for someone to write a writer a poem? Could I even write one myself when I still struggle with the definition of a Limerick never mind harbour the ability to create one.
The truth is, I had no idea what I wanted because I’d always been so focused on the things I didn’t have.
When I met Matt I was thirty-one. I’d given up on Valentines anything so ten years ago when he asked what I wanted to do for Valentines Day I said…
“All I really want is a card, because I’ve never had one.”
Well, I got my card, and I got chocolates that he still points out I didn’t eat, but in my defence, I can’t eat something that is in the shape of a heart and says “I love you” on it. If I ate that, there’s no evidence of that ever being true.
Ten years later, every year I get my card. Every year I get a little present. And every year people ask…
“What did you do for Valentines Day Katerini?”
And every year I say…
“Not much, I just wanted a card.”
This year I had a really rotten start to the week. For three and a half months I have managed to swerve a Diversion Colitis flare up. I have been able to serve up a Christmas dinner, do three presentations and make the journey up to Dundee without it getting a look in. Until now…
Diversion Colitis is a nasty infection in your colon that around 90% of people who have an Ostomy and keep their colon will be the lucky sufferers of. It’s a grim process and I cannot express how painful this one has been, but I’ll try.
It’s been agony. To the point where the pain made me vomit, and I haven’t been sick for seven years so this was not a pleasant experience. At one point I was lying on my bathroom floor, wiping my vomit-stained mouth with coconut scented toilet paper thinking…
“I’m never eating another Peparami ever again.”
“This might need a trip to A&E…but I have no idea how to move from my bathroom floor.”
Rest assured people, there was no visit to A&E this time, it was a close call but we managed to swerve that too.
I had three days in bed and went back to work on Valentines Day. To cheer me up Matt gave me my Valentines card the night before. Now Matt’s known in his family for his inappropriate card choosing skills and he’s not cottoned on to the fact that when he laughs at the cards he buys, he laughs alone. Ten years ago I said to him…
“If you ever get me a stupid card, we’re done.”
Ten years later that threat still stands, and I have not received a stupid card.
Valentines Day night I had to go to Manchester to co-facilitate the Bipolar group, because just like romance, Bipolar can be unpredictable. I felt rubbish, all I’d eaten in twenty-four hours was a chicken Cup a Soup and a tin of chocolate Nurishment, but, while being stuck in traffic with mum I got a text message from Matt that said…
“Keep yourself free Friday night. I’ve booked that wrestling thing you fancied.”
Okay, so hold that thought…
As a teen, I was a lot of things. I was a geek, a nerd, a swot, an indie kid, a music lover, an actress, and a writer. I was not a wrestler. But… I did like watching it. I liked watching the crazy characters dressed in anything from spandex and tutu’s to chains and hooded capes.
I would watch WWE and WWF and make up the stories of who those characters were and how they came to be fighting in a ring. I even created my own wrestling club where I was the ringleader and the peacekeeper of all involved. My members were troubled kids who needed guidance and I was the only person who could give it. Sorry reader, but it never made it to the page.
I had never heard of Bolton Town Wrestling until Matt spotted a poster outside his work and joked about taking me. Little did he know that he’d married a wrestling fan! I am just so full of surprises!
At work I opened up every single conversation I had with people with the words…
“Ask me what I got for Valentines Day.”
“What did you get for Valentines Day?”
“Tickets for what?”
To say people were a little bit surprised is an understatement. A couple of people even said…
“Oh I’m so sorry. Why would your husband take you somewhere like that for Valentines Day?”
Imagine those expressions when I told them it was the best Valentines present that I have ever had. Seriously, Bolton Town Wrestling! Guys! I am forty-one years old, where were you when I was fourteen?!
I smiled as soon as we walked through the doors of the recreation centre. There were families, there were couples, there were community groups, a raffle! There was a merchandise stall and massive ring in the centre of the room, Tyson Fury eat your heart out mate, Bolton Town Wrestling is where it’s at!
I am not a violent person, for me it’s about the stories. It’s about the atmosphere, it’s about a group of people forgetting who they are for a few minutes and becoming someone else entirely and making people smile.
As I watched the people bouncing around the ring covered in face paint wearing tiny shorts, I finally realised what Valentines Day looks like for me.
It’s not about chocolates and rose petals. I don’t want a posh meal in a snazzy restaurant. I don’t need violins or teddy bears holding heart shaped “I love you” pillows.
I want a card, that goes without saying. I want to be in a room with the person I love looking at something that makes us both smile. I want to laugh, and I want to close my eyes at night and feel grateful for someone who knows me and does something for me that no matter how big or small it might be, they do that thing because they are happy and proud to be with me, not just because they feel they have to. That’s what I want and I am thankful that this is what I have.
I have never been normal and even now, at the age of forty-one I am still discovering who I am and realising that there is no shame in being different. There is nothing wrong with liking music no one else does. It doesn’t matter if you have to make up stories to keep yourself safe because trust me…
Valentines Day 2024 may not have been your average Valentines Day, but…
…some things are worth the wait…