It started with a wink, an infatuation, a genuine, deep, and inexplicable connection. And in my young inexperienced world, it took flight, soaring with eagle wings and crashing straight into my heart. That summer, in the cool intimate darkness of my apartment, I would venture into a new world, exploring uncharted territory, uncovering new feelings in my heart and with my body, and on that journey, Brendon would teach me what it felt like to be adored, to be cherished, to be loved, to be treasured. To be a woman. Those three unnecessary words never escaped our mouths. But I knew. I had no doubt.
As the days grew shorter and the leaves began to lean toward fall, I started my second year of college. Optimistic and happy but financially strangled, I was forced to take a second job. Between classes, studying, and working two jobs, free time was scarce. We still managed to sneak in a lunch, a cup of coffee, a beer if I wasn’t too tired, and other sprinkles of precious moments, but the days of jumping in his jeep and spontaneously driving to the lake for an afternoon disappeared.
The leaves fell around us, and whispers of winter cooled our ears and our noses as we celebrated his birthday in early December. Strangely, he couldn’t see me on his actual birthday due to family obligations, so we had a quiet celebration at my place the next night after I got off of work. I had to travel to my brother’s house for Christmas, so we celebrated early at my apartment in front of a tiny tired tree where he gave me a charm bracelet with a single charm (a grand piano) and a stuffed teddy bear, which I didn’t quite understand but accepted graciously. On New Year’s Eve, I worked at the piano bar, which forced us to bring in the new year apart.
Icicles littered the buildings on campus, and winter fell harshly around us, and before I knew it, candied hearts and bouquets of roses lined the aisles of every single store announcing in bright red letters “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
It was on a Saturday that year, and the piano bar was not only celebrating Valentine’s Day, we were celebrating the anniversary of its opening, so the owner, Karl, a short stout ginger headed man, made a huge fuss about all of the preparations. He wanted big and over the top. Instead of waitressing, he gave me his stool at the piano for several songs. This would require a great deal of rehearsal and even more of my already depleting time, but I couldn’t say no. Karl had become like a second father to me reaching into my scared little girl soul and pulling out a confident performer. If he trusted me on his piano that night, there was no saying no. I would rock that grand piano.
Brendon and I made plans to celebrate the next night. No big deal.
So Saturday, the day of the huge Valentine’s Day Extravaganza arrived, and I decided that since I wouldn’t see my boyfriend on the day of love, I should at least drop by and give him his gift. I awoke early to a cool gray day, rubbed my tired eyes, showered, clothed, glossed my lips, spritzed on some perfume, and headed over to Brendon’s place. When I got there, I knocked on the door, but he didn’t answer. I thought it was strange since his jeep was in the driveway, but I figured it was early. Maybe he was asleep. I decided it would be nice if I left him a note for a change, so I pulled one of my college spiral notebooks out of my backpack and sat in my driver’s seat trying to summon the right words to say that I both loved and missed him without saying that I loved and missed him. I slumped over the notebook staring at the blue lined sheet, waiting for the words to spill from my pen. I managed to write “B” before I heard a knock on my window.
I let out a huge annoyed sigh and looked over to see a wild haired, dark eyed girl staring at me. She knocked again. The motor was burned out on my automatic window, so I opened the door to see what she wanted from me and why she was so frantically knocking on my window. Then I recognized her from the hospital. Adriana from Respiratory Therapy. She barked, “What are you doing here?”
I looked around. What was I doing here? “I just came by to drop off Brendon’s Valentine. I have to work tonight, so we won’t be able to see each other,” I answered. The “none of you goddamned business” was implied in my tone.
“Oh. I didn’t realize you guys were such good friends.”
“Um….er….well,” I said confused. Who was this chick? “We aren’t friends. We’ve been seeing each other for a while.”
“For how long?” She folded her arms across her chest, raised a black eyebrow, and tapped her sneaker on the concrete sidewalk.
“Since this summer,” I responded wondering why it even mattered to her.
She blew a stray curl out of her face offering me a death stare as she said, “That’s funny. He never bothered to break up with me.” Then she grabbed my hand and said, “Come on.”
“Oh. He’s not home. I just knocked on the door,” I said as she pulled me toward his house.
“He’s here. Trust me. I just left to get us breakfast.”
What the fuh?
She pulled a key out of her purse and opened the door. His mother greeted us in the doorway. (Did I not mention that he lived with his mom? Yeah…awesome.) She looked at Adriana and then at me.
She said to Adriana, “You can come in, but she has to go.” And pointed her fat index finger at me.
I turned to walk back to my car when Adriana gripped my forearm and pulled me back inside.
“She’s not the one who’s been fucking two girls. Where’s Brendon?”
His mother folded her arms and stood protectively in the doorway. I stood there wondering where the lady who made me jalapeno muffins was and why all of a sudden she was making me feel like a whore.
“She has to leave, Adriana.” She nodded with her head toward me. She never even addressed me. I was third person to her.
I threw my arms up in the air and mumbled something incoherently as I turned and bee-lined it to my car. Adriana ran after me. “Give me five minutes,” she said. “I’ll go in there and see if I can get him to come out here and face us together.”
I sighed, slumped back into my car, and waited obediently per her request. I was young and dumb and incredibly naïve. Clearly.
It could have been ten or a hundred minutes later, but finally she emerged from the house looking dour, with swollen eyes and a red nose. “He won’t even look at me,” she cried. I naturally reached out my arms and pulled her into a hug.
“We should go,” I said after her sobs became quiet hiccups.
“Where should we go?” She asked me.
I was thinking this would be where we parted, where she went back to her place, and I went to the bar where Karl would wrap his chubby arms around me and tell me how wonderful I was and make everything all better, but Adriana had other plans. She walked around my car and got into my passenger seat.
“Do you need a ride home?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to be alone right now,” she replied and continued to cry. “What’s your name?” She asked through snorts as I started the car.
I’m not quite sure how, but we ended up at my apartment. I pulled out two glasses and made us each a heavy rum and coke. We cheered to assholes and downed the first glass. Then I poured another. It was 9:00 am. After the second, and some awkward conversation, I invited her to rehearsal with me. “Where there’s a bar, there’s booze,” I said, “Might as well drink to assholes all day.”
When we arrived, we told all of my coworkers about our twisted love triangle, which earned us glasses running over with various assortments of spirits. Over the course of the day through many drinks and lots of Adriana’s tears, we learned all about the clever little game our Brendon played. Turns out my busy schedule worked right into his infidelity. On nights where I worked, he stayed with her. On nights that I didn’t work, he stayed with me and said he was at his mom’s. He spent the holidays with her, and his birthday, well, it wasn’t “family” obligations. He told her that I was a good friend who he had met at the hospital and that I was really lonely because my boyfriend was in the military and stationed in some other country….and she bought it.
As we compared notes, I couldn’t help but notice a very familiar bracelet with a solitary diamond ring charm dangling from her wrist. He gave it to her for Christmas promising to marry her when he completed his degree. That one pierced my heart a little.
Between rehearsal and the actual show, she asked that I take her home so that she could change clothes and make herself decent. When I walked into her house, the first thing I noticed sitting on her couch was the exact same teddy bear that he bought me for Christmas. I almost punched it.
She came to the show, which was wonderfully fantastic in spite of my being incredibly tipsy by that point. I took out every ounce of anger and despair on those keys, closed my eyes and let the music that pounded through my fingers take me to a different world, a world where I ignored the piercing pain boiling in my chest. Billy Joel’s carnival piano had nothing on mine that night. (But don’t tell him that.) After I took my bow and the curtain came down, we decided to seek a tiny bit of revenge.
Because he had frequented Blues (the bar next door to the hospital where we all three worked at one time) with both of us on numerous occasions, we thought it might be funny to pop in together. We laughed as we jumped up on the bar stools and ordered drinks from Craig, who never seemed to have a night off and had served us both on the arm of Brandon. He looked at us strangely but poured our drinks with a smile. As immature as it was, we wrote his name all over the bathroom wall in sharpie saying things like, “If you love herpes, you’ll love Brendon” and then added his number.
At the end of the night, I dropped Adriana off at her cottage style house where we shared numbers and promised to chat again soon. I drove home exhausted, depleted, and heart broken. I had yet to shed a tear. I sullenly walked through my apartment and went straight to my bed, sunk into the sheets that still held traces of his smell, and passed out.
The next morning, as I sat at the piano in front of an entire congregation of my dad’s church, the anguish finally caught hold of me, and I ugly cried, sobbing big giant tears that dripped onto my fingers as they danced robotically across the black and white keys. When I got out to my car, there was a note on my windshield.
I’m so sorry, kiddo. ~B
I crumpled it up and threw it in the parking lot.
Anger ate at my soul for a very long time. I grew bitter and cynical and lost, but only temporarily. At some point, I realized that I was too good for resentment. I was too valuable for all of the anger. I chose to learn from the experience, to let it help me become better.
Brendon taught me a lot of things. He helped me understand what I want and what I’m capable of giving. He helped me to learn that being a woman is wonderful and empowering but sometimes heartbreaking. He showed me that red flags were everywhere when I finally opened my eyes to see them.
I’m no longer mad at him. I no longer feel hatred toward him. We were young. He made mistakes, lots of them, but so have I, and as much as I want him to be bashed for what he did, I also know that he’s human and that there was a big reason he came looking for me.
I will, however, never celebrate Valentine’s Day again. He forever ruined it for me.
Have you ever been heartbroken? On Valentine’s Day? Do you have an epic love story that ended tragically. Share them. I like to wallow in my own self pity, but I’d rather not do it alone.
~Come back next week to see what happened after the heartbreak.
Valentine’s day was never a big deal to me. Never a sappy girl who needed roses and love notes, it always passed with little attention. Still to this day, I don’t care to celebrate. I don’t need a holiday to show me that I’m loved.