Wednesday, February 14, 2007

One Last Valentine Hurrah

In his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats claims that the height of romantic passion occurs in the moment just before consummation. He congratulates the two lovers whose images are carved into the cold stone of a Grecian urn: they are about to kiss, lips hovering only barely apart, and they are frozen eternally in that ecstatic moment, "For ever warm and still to be enjoyed, For ever panting and for ever young." Their lips will never meet, but their beauty and passion will never abate.

I know that maturity brings deeper love and all that, but when it comes to cupid and his arrows, I’m with Keats: the most romantic of Valentine’s Days, for me, was the last one of the last century, the one that landed just a few weeks before now-husband and I dropped the pretense that we were just friends.

Hubby was a student in a neighbouring city at the time; every weekend he came home to the London area, showing up faithfully at any social event I was likely to attend. And then, during the week, we emailed. "Our email relationship is strangely thrilling," I wrote in my journal at the time. "I almost look forward to the days when he’s at school, because then we can engage in a flurry of email messages, most of them fun, silly, and loaded with double meanings. In person we tend to talk about serious subjects – books, theology, relationships – but online we banter about nail polish: I was telling him that I fear I’ve lost my edge – instead of relishing fierce, sexy, rebellious colours like Ink, I’m beginning to crave colours like coral, lilac and periwinkle. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked – ‘Girlification, that’s what,’ he responded, ‘and it may be past the treatable stage too.’ I love that."

Fittingly, then, it was by email that he threw out the casual invitation: he was staying at school over the weekend, planning to attend a Valentine’s Day poetry reading entitled "Wine, Writers, and Song." There would be chocolatey desserts, unconventional love stories, and readings by award-winning poets. Does that sound like anything I’d be interested in? Hmmm. Actually, yes it does.

I described the evening this way: "There was a vast array of desserts, including a few bowls of chocolate mousse decorated with chocolate hearts; I ate my sweets with a pink fork and sipped a glass of white wine that produced an instant flush of lust and happiness. I had worn my ‘velvat’ – a black top I got at the Gap, with a dramatic v-neck and fashionable three-quarter length sleeves. I sat at the end of the row with [now-husband] beside me and chatted amiably with his old roommate, who entertained us with stories of [now-husband]’s first-year capers – the best one involved him awakening everyone in the residence at seven a.m. one December morning by blasting Spanish Christmas carols on his stereo."

After the poetry reading we went to the Moody Blues Café, where I drank vanilla-flavoured tea and clutched my souvenir of the evening, White Stone: The Alice Poems, by Stephanie Bolster:


The collection is a sequence of poems elaborating on the life of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. My favourite poem, the one Bolster read for us that night, envisions Alice and Elvis together in heaven, playfully comparing their levels of fame: "he cites the Churches of Elvis, the Vegas tributes, while she mentions the Alice shop in Oxford, the Alice ride at Disneyland. … Both delight in their limited edition collector’s plates."

I read this poem to my children’s literature classes, my voice always breaking just a little as I get to the final lines:

She lays her head against his chest
during late night TV, murmurs of the man
who gave her fame, and he of the woman for whom
he won his. She wants to sway
to the beat of his heart in her ear, slow
as "Are You Lonesome Tonight." In sleep
their tear-blotched faces could be anyone’s.

13 comments:

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh god. And now I'm all choked up. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing about how relationships begin and you have a very "sweet" story.

Jenifer G. said...

So very, very sweet.

I could feel the electricity you were describing. The time in a relationship when you move from friends to more is wonderful. So full of anticipation, exhiliaration and scary all at once.

What a wonderful moment in time to remember so well. Thanks for jogging my memory too.

Mad Hatter said...

"sipped a glass of white wine that produced an instant flush of lust and happiness"

OK, that line is the sexiest thing that has happened to me all Valentine's Day.

PeanutButtersMum said...

Aw, so sweet!

I can totally relate to the bit about the emails and how you can/do say things via email that you wouldn't necessarily say in person. My Gentle Giant and I were very much like that in the beginning, too.

Isn't romance great in its beginning stages? Not that it isn't great now, but it was definitely more 'exciting' then!

Alpha DogMa said...

The Omega Man and I too courted by email. We'd met in person but while away the hours of work drudgery flirting across cyber space. I kept all those emails (now saved on a floppy disk that I can not access - d'oh!) which were so lovely and intimate.

What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing this - I'm sitting here alone as the Omega Man is working late. This is just the boost I needed on my solo Valentine's Day.

Em said...

Ah yes, those early stages of a relationship are electrifying... love it!

Beck said...

Whoo! That wine line was smouldering - and now I want some white wine.
That was BEAUTIFUL. You are such a gorgeous writer. And email played a big part in my love story, too - it's a shame that I didn't print them out.

ewe are here said...

I always liked that Keats poem.

I know what you mean about the early days of emails. My husband sent me some lovely thoughts that way when we first started dating; I'm so glad I've saved them.

The Alice Poems sound fascinating.

gingajoy said...

my biggest regret about my early days with now-husband is that I did not journal it. I do have tons and tons of actual on-paper letters, though. You've inspired me to revisit them:)

metro mama said...

I'm with Keats: heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.

I wish I'd recorded some of those early days!

NotSoSage said...

In person, Joe and I would always sink into these incredibly serious conversations and yet we're both really silly people. I have this incredible need to lay all my baggage out on the line before anything gets too serious partly because I figure that a person's reaction says a lot about them and about how well the relationship is likely to go. But on the phone we would flirt and joke and have a really good time (not that the other stuff wasn't good).

About the moment before consummation: we had acknowledged our mutual interest a while before we actually began dating because Joe felt he had a few personal things to deal with before he could commit himself to a relationship and can still recall the tension and magnetism, in a near-physical way. It was amazing or torturous at the same time.

As always, an amazing post.

nomotherearth said...

I credit email not only for jump-starting our relationship in the early stages, but for keeping it going during Mr Earth's long hours of study. Thank god for email.

kittenpie said...

I think I had that same shirt... Yes, I have a heap of letters written london to peterborough over a years or two of our early courtship too. Filled with silliness and rambling, they were phone conversations on paper, and I love how they freeze that early form of conversation.