I used to hate Valentine's Day. I used to dread it. I remember eyeing women carrying excessive bouquets, or teddy bears, or both, going home on the London tube during my trying-to-be-an-actress-temping days, and hating the vulgarity of the celebration at the same time as wishing the vulgarities could be heaped upon me. I remember walking up and down Camberwell Grove one particularly dark Valentine's Day night, the vast, leafless plane trees dripping rain, just to get out, because the street was better than being inside with the howling loneliness that assailed me.
I have never passed a comfortable Valentine's Day. Never, that is, until now. And this was surprising, given the unlikelihood of its being a cheery day, being so very near to the first anniversary of the Bim moving out. And given that, in all the years I have known the Bim, this was the first year he did not send me a card.
But this was a mark of great progress! A card would have been inappropriate. A card was inappropriate on each of those Valentine Days he proclaimed his love for me and as it turned out was placing his real feelings elsewhere. Nearer to some woman whose name began with 'S'. (They all began with 'S', indeed two of them shared the same name. I like this little, meaningless detail. It amuses me, in a not very amusing kind of way).
Even last year, only eight days after the last woman whose name begins with 'S' handed me the letter outside my house which would change my life forever (God, I sound like the soap opera I felt myself to be in at the time), even then, the Bim gave me a card. It was red and gold and not very nice (he never did get the kind of cards I liked) but it was written from the heart, full of contrition come too late. I kept it. It's in my wardrobe. Not because I felt romantic about it but because it was the closest he came in those early days to an apology and that meant something to me.
So I wondered what would happen this year. I was aware that something was going to happen, stage-managed by the Bim over several school nights in elaborate stage-whispers between himself and Anna-Mouse. I feigned nonchalant unawareness as a present was smuggled from the Bim to her one evening, and prayed that whatever it was would be given as if entirely from her. When it turned out to be so I breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and I didn't even have to wait until Valentine's Day itself to find that out, because after a heroic effort to keep her mouth shut, Anna-Mouse begged me to let her show me the present stashed underneath her bed, at the same time as swearing the said showing to secrecy from Daddy.
Therefore on the day itself I received for the second time a milk chocolate heart engraved with the words I love you Mummy xxxx and a wonderful, hand-made card (featured) wishing me a Happy Valooms Time. And, as I say, nothing from the Bim. Only I knew what self-control and not a little growing-up it took for him not to write me a card. I knew that it meant he had come really quite a long way. I knew that he understood that, however much he wanted to send me a card, no doubt repeating his sentiments of last year, it would pain me far more than please.
And this year's Valooms Time, this day of symbols, for me too marked a change. It showed me to myself in a new light. I examined my heart and found that it was not wanting. Literally not wanting. I am often sad at the turn life took this time last year, often so sad I have to weep, but I seem to be emerging intact. I did not spend February 14th longing for a man to complete me, as I have longed so often in the past.
If I am honest I know that too much of my heart is still bound up with my past promises to the Bim, and so I am waiting, simply waiting, for time and my own best thoughts to extricate those parts of myself from those potent vows. Because we have the wondrous Anna-Mouse in our lives, I know that many of them will exist as a contract between myself and the Bim forever - but in a contract between loving parents, now, not lovers.
Do I feel lonely? No. Do I feel alone? Yes. Sometimes I feel very alone. But they are not the same things. And now that I understand that I am not ready to share myself with anyone again, possibly for a long time, I am beginning to like this waiting time. It's a clear, honest, almost translucent thing, waiting to be wholly Liv again.