By Julia Connolly
Even as a little girl I found the gooey-ness of Valentine’s Day suspect. Yeah, the candy was great, but all those hearts, flowers, red and pink everything made me crazy. “What’s The Big Freaking Deal?” I thought.
It wasn’t until I was 17 and got to college that I found out what was The Big Freaking Deal.
His name was William (never Bill) and he had curly dark hair that bounced down into his big blue eyes. His eyelashes were out to there and he had a darling little mustache. He was smart (pre-law), connected (officer at his fraternity), older (21!) and best of all, he was in love with me. Or so I thought.
The truth was that William was in love with love. He wrote me love letters in red pen on pink paper and sent so many flowers they threatened to crowd my roommate out of our dorm room.
We went everywhere together (always just the two of us; he didn’t approve of my friends). I went to his classes with him. He bought two candles, one red (his) and one pink (mine), and when he placed them side by side and lit them, the wax melted together in pinkish-red swirls. “Just like us,” he said.
He met my parents (who thought we were “moving too fast”); I met his mother (who wondered whether we’d “set the date”). On my 18th birthday, he proposed to me.
My head was in a cyclone whirl. I loved William. Or did I? He was “the one.” Or was he? Images of long, white dresses collided with those of me traveling, finishing school, having a career.
I said maybe.
I agreed to wear the pink “pre-engagement” ring he’d bought me, but took it off when he wasn’t with me. He pressed harder, I backed away. Every conversation was about getting married, or rather, him telling me how wonderful our lives would be when we were married.
He became jealous of anyone or anything that took me away from him. I pushed away my friends, stopped going to classes, and quit my job at the school library.
But I couldn’t give up my two-mornings-a-week gig as a d.j. at the student radio station. William hated that place and was jealous of the hip people I worked with. I stood firm. I wasn’t leaving the station.
One freezing day we were arguing about my radio job while driving to my parents’ house. He was speeding, red with anger. We hit a patch of ice, the car flew into the air and flipped three times. We landed, upside down but alive, in a corn field.
I made a decision: I did not want to live―or die―with this man.
That night, the night before Valentine’s Day, I told William I didn’t want to marry him. He said it was “marriage or nothing,” so we were through. Suddenly the man I’d once thought I’d loved was calling me names and spitting obscenities about every aspect of my being.
He eventually stomped out, only to show up at the radio station at dawn the next morning to “return a few things.”
I waved him in and got ready to do my show. As I cued up the first tune, Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills and Nash, William stood and glared at me. When the song started to play, he grabbed the stylus and wildly scratched the needle back and forth across the record. I quickly put All Day Music by War on the other turntable and he scratched that one too.
He started swinging at me, breaking my glasses and landing a punch squarely on my eye. While he was hitting me, he was ripping out wires, throwing records, beating up me and my beloved radio station.
He ran out, leaving me a bleeding pile on the floor.
I crawled to the phone, called my dad, and spent the next two weeks at home with the covers pulled over my head.
When the friends I’d shunned heard what had happened, they piled in a station wagon and drove two hours to my parents’ house. They crowded around my bed and got me laughing, telling me jokes, gossip and tall tales about what they were going to say to William if they saw him. I was saved.
The next time I saw William was in the school dean’s office waiting room a few weeks later. We each had to give our side of the story to the dean so he could determine consequences―the radio station had sustained substantial damage, as had a student. William and I didn’t speak to each other, we both just sat looking at the floor, hard.
In the end he had to pay a fine and perhaps there was an academic penalty of some sort. I know I didn’t press charges, but don’t remember much else about the aftermath.
I eventually allowed myself to dare a relationship, marry, have children, build a loving home. But I’ve never forgotten the hard lessons I learned during those fateful months in 1974: Never date someone more in love with love than with me. Never turn my back on my friends. And never, ever allow anyone to take possession of my best friend and truest valentine: Me.