♥This story is brought to you for Valentine’s Day by writer Russell Elkins, author of Open Adoption, Open Heart. He has part 2 of Open Adoption, Open Heart coming out soon, as well as a fiction novel of the “romantic comedy” genre. You can read more of his stories on his blog.
video: Russell and his brother Ellis
The Number 14
I woke up, got ready, and was sitting in my Sociology 111 class before I realized today was a holiday. It was easy to forget about Valentine’s Day because I had no reason to look forward to it. It wasn’t until my professor started the class with those words that started my mind reeling–
“Happy Single Awareness Day, everyone.”
It was true. From the moment those phonemes sounded from her vocal chords, I began a day that informed me over and over again just how single, and how lonely, I was.
It wasn’t my first Valentine’s Day without a girlfriend. I’d had many before and it had never really bothered me before. It was, however, the first Valentine’s Day after my divorce, which bothered me a lot.
There had been no slamming doors before she left, nor yelling. We didn’t argue or fight. In fact, the only thing we ever really disagreed upon was whether or not leaving would help her to sort out her depression. After just two months of being married that was exactly what she did, packing up the little blue Mazda Protégé and heading to Oregon where her dad lived. And there I was, standing in the doorway of our college apartment scratching my head, wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently.
She didn’t come back. Not to me, anyway. Months later, and after a judge signed some papers that signified an end, she came back to town so she could finish her schooling.
Fast forward six weeks after school started back up again, and there I was in Sociology 111 celebrating Single Awareness Day. I had never in my life found it so difficult to concentrate as that day. No amount of Ritalin or Adderall could have kept my mind on track during all of my classes. I thought only about one thing. One person. Her.
With thirty thousand other college students swarming the sidewalks around me I still felt very much alone. And even though she was the one who brought so much confusion and sadness to that point in my life, she was the only one I wanted to see that day. What we had together had been ripped right out of my hands. I had felt helpless. I felt like I had no say in what happened to me. I was confused and lost.
I still cared about her and debated over and over all day whether or not to find a way to wish her a happy Valentine’s. Surely she would be feeling just as lonely as I was. That debate within me would surface over and over throughout the entire day. I still cared. Maybe I’d send her flowers. I could do it anonymously.
I thought all day about the one thing I wanted most—not to get back together, but just to talk to her and see her again. Maybe I’d bump into her on campus.
Then, as I took my seat in my last class of the day, I began reading the campus newspaper someone had left on my desk. If I thought the news would be a distraction from the girl who had taken over my thoughts, I was sorely mistaken.
She had recently started as a photographer for the campus paper, chasing the desire she’d always had to have one of her photos make the front page. And there it was. She had done it, her name printed right under the large picture on the front page.
The cognitive dissonance of whether or not to send flowers was nothing compared to the turmoil about whether or not to send her a congratulations about her photo. I did own a cell phone, but back then nobody used them for sending text messages. I did, however, have a pager with a tiny keypad that served that very function. It also provided me a simple way to send a message to her email box. I sat in class for an hour, glancing back and forth between the front page newspaper photo and the pager sitting on my desk, completely tuning out every word from my professor. Not long before the bell rang, I typed a quick congratulations, hesitated, then pressed send.
It was done. Sent. I couldn’t take it back now. I was officially torturing myself by reconnecting with the one person I wanted most to see, but probably should leave alone.
After all my classes were finished, I spent the evening with my best friends to try to keep my mind off of things. As the day was drawing to a close, and although I had stopped wondering whether she would send me a message in return, my pager sounded off.
A few more messages passed between her email account and my pager before I found myself on her doorstep.
“I needed to talk to someone and you’re the only one who probably has any idea what today was like for me,” she said.
We talked. We talked and talked and talked. We talked throughout the entire night until the sun came up.
This story may seem like it’s full of nothing but loneliness and suffering, but as I reminisce on it, I smile. That day, Single Awareness Day, was one of the most important days of my entire life. Getting to really talk to her again opened the doors between us to be able to talk about all the things she wouldn’t tell me before—before she packed up the car and left so many months earlier. Over the next few weeks we talked and talked more about all the things I had been trying but failing to understand.
Most importantly, that day marked the start of my new life. Up until the night of the 14th of February, I felt like I was a sheet of paper blowing whichever direction the wind insisted I go. I finally started to understand what had just happened to me, and I was finally starting to feel like I could make my own decisions again.
That is the story behind my song, The 14th. Originally, the song was entitled Happy SAD (get it, SAD=Single Awareness Day), but it’s not a sad story to me. It’s a story of new beginnings. It’s a story of taking my life back. A story of becoming me again, and that’s not at all a sad thing. This song brings me a lot of inner peace to sing it with my brothers.
Blind to the fact that today is today, in a way blind to a lot things
One little thing I do see changes my whole day
And for an hour I debate to say what I’ll say
Congratulations on a picture-perfect picture perfect for the paper
Simple words that will spark a conversation for the whole night
I still choose to skip on the flowers,
But that doesn’t help clear my mind much more, for I still think about a time once before
But even more I think about a story manufactured in my mind
I still choose to skip on the flowers, but fantasy can still become reality in a matter of hours
A bittersweet taste on my mouth I’ve tasted before
A taste more familiar than an imagination can imagine
And imagine me saying no
When I wrote this song, my goal was to get as far away from a “pop” song as I could. I didn’t want anything catchy or bubbly. I purposefully wrote the music in a “drag-it-out” fashion, taking my time to get from point A to point B musically to create a feeling of being deep in thought.
When I wrote these lyrics, as soon as I lifted my pen from the paper I put a guitar into my hands. In my more than twenty years of playing guitar I’ve never felt so in tune with a song as it I wrote it. It was almost like I wasn’t even the one writing it—as if the song came out on its own and all I did was watch it unfold. I knew I had to plug in a microphone and in less than two hours I had written and recorded the lyrics, guitar, and both vocal parts of the entire song. True story.