Ugh, Valentine's Day. Designed by the government to reduce the population of ugly people by depressing them to suicide every February 14th. The most pointless day on the calendar whether you're in a relationship or not. If you are in one, it's a pain in the ass to buy chocolates for your girlfriend when secretly you think she's putting on too much weight as it is.
Or worse yet, having to treat her to a romantic night in/out, thus raising her opinion of you as a romantic soul, leading to a year of disappointment when you proceed to forget her birthday, anniversary, and even her name next time you've had a few too many beers and are chatting up the hot bartender. And if you're single, Valentine's Day is just a reminder of your lonely excuse for a life. Of microwave meals for one, endless box sets of American dramas shared with no one, punctuated by a solo death after drunkenly falling asleep in the bath on your 63rd birthday.
I hadn't even experienced true love yet myself, as far as I was aware, and here I was cashing in on hers. And yet why should we give a fuck about Valentine's? I haven't celebrated it with a woman in nearly four years, and if I'm single for the other 364 days of the year why should I care on this one day? Surely I should be just as lonely when I go out for my friend's birthday meal and realize I'm the only one not in a couple. Or when I realize I'm the only one out of my brothers and sisters not in a relationship. But isn't better to be single than in a relationship with someone who doesn't properly get you? Would you rather settle for someone who isn't the right match, because you fear growing old alone, than hold out for that special one person? That person who might actually be your soulmate… who you could actually live happily with rather than slowly spiraling into alcoholism and divorce with?
Call me cynical but sometimes I look at other couples—the ones who always argue after 6 glasses of beer, the ones who flirt with every member of the opposite sex they can, the ones who do anything to avoid spending any time alone together—I look at them and I think, "Thank fuck I'm single." Thank god I can spend my nights watching what I want to watch, going where I want to go, saying what I want to say. So I may not get as much sex as other couples. So I may not have the long walks in the park, the takeaway nights in front of the sofa, or the 3-hour sex marathons on drizzly Sunday afternoons. But when I see the couples who really deserve to be together forever I am filled with the hope that one day I'll have that too, and that it's worth holding out for. That one day I'll have the girl enter my life who is truly the one and makes me wants to be a better person.
If I wasn't such a mental of course.
Now it's quite easy to avoid Valentine's Day. Rather than send drunken texts to your ex-girlfriend or raise hell on Facebook about all the sickly couple stuff appearing on your news feed, all you need to do is shut yourself off from the world for a night. Stay off the social media. Watch a movie like High Fidelity, or even better, a war film. It's only one day to pass before you can go back to lying to yourself that secretly every woman in the world is in love with you and just too shy to ever admit it. That's what I was planning to do for February 14th this year. It still is what I'm planning to do. But something happened to me yesterday that changed my cynical view of the day of false love.
Suzie and I have been friends for about 12 years. She was a year below me at school, although she went to a different school entirely. We have one of those friendships that shouldn't really exist. We were originally only acquaintances when I was going out with a mutual friend. After that relationship ended we should have stopped hanging out entirely, as is customary after breaking up with a girl and instantly becoming "the total bastard" to every woman within a 20-mile radius. However, our lives became entangled again when we bumped into each other at the cinema. Not a particularly rare thing in a small town, but the weird part was that we were both attending alone. The year was 2004, the movie was Sideways (an absolute hoot of a road trip movie if I do say so myself), and neither of us could round up any friends to see this indie gem. Initially embarrassed by our loneliness, and the patheticness of going to the cinema alone, we retired to a trendy wine bar and discussed the film at length, until our embarrassment faded away in a vat of Shiraz. And we've been close ever since.
So when I was talked to Suzie on Facebook the other day and she asked me to come and visit Steve's gravestone with her, I felt compelled to attend.
I should explain.
Steve was Suzie's boyfriend when we first met. They went out for around two years before he unceremoniously died. I mean dropped straight down dead. It was attributed to a cardio condition that had run through his family for generations (and is apparently more common than you'd think in young people). Since then Suzie has of course moved on. She's been with her new man for around 18 months if my memory serves correctly, but she still visits the grave of her young lover twice a year: on his birthday, and on the anniversary of his death—yesterday.
Of course as much as her current man understands her sense of duty to this more deceased chap, it would be slightly unsuitable for him to accompany her, so she goes alone or with a girlfriend. And on this year during our conversation about the Baftas (well done, Affleck!) she asked if I was free to go to the cemetery with her. By coincidence I had the day off and also no plans, having just recovered from a serious bout of food poisoning. Thinking we would just be going to our local cemetery I told Suzie I would be happy to accompany her, as I felt it would be a chance to experience someone's true love for a soulmate they lost too soon… and as I said, I am a mental and thrive on others' pain for my own inspiration. So I prepared for the 20-minute drive.
Two and a half hours later I was sitting on a ferry on my way to the Isle of Wight. As Suzie explained to me after I got in her car, Steve had been buried where he was originally from, in a cemetery in Newport on the Isle of Wight. This was why Suzie only went twice a year. It's a bit of a trek and so on this date and on the 2nd of September she makes her pilgrimage to his grave in Fernhill Park Woodland Burials.
Now, my previous experience of the Isle of Wight consists of two music festivals, a couple of friends, a childhood family visit, and an ex-girlfriend. On the three times I have visited the island I have seen Bjork, The Prodigy, Pendulum (twice), Annie Mac, Public Enemy, The Stereophonics, and countless others. So I was fully under the impression that we might bump into Bjork or Liam Howlett in the graveyard.
I tried to keep things light in the car. We exchanged nightmare Valentine's anecdotes; argued over our favorite pancake toppings; and debated why, when they essentially come from the same area, sperm and urine have two completely different warmth levels. Once we got on land again and began to drive closer to the cemetery, however, I felt Suzie begin to close up. She would only speak when I asked her a question and she began to nervously tap the steering wheel.
Once we arrived at the cemetery I followed Suzie to the grave in silence, casting my eyes over the grieving families at separate headstones. I used to date a girl who loved spending time in graveyards. At the time I just thought she was being a Tim Burton obsessed emo, but now I could appreciate cemeteries for what they are: calm, serene, and full of reverence. No mobile phones going off, no adverts playing on billboards, and no litter. The sense of death was everywhere but it was a calming sense, almost a comforting one.
When we finally got to Steve's grave I hung back while Suzie approached. It was very well kept, as I suppose all graves for people taken prematurely from this world are. I looked at Suzie as she planted her flowers and mumbled what I gathered was a prayer. Suddenly I felt suspiciously like I was intruding on her grief. As much as it intrigued me to watch someone who had clearly been in true love, I had no place there. I hadn't even experienced that kind of emotion yet myself, as far as I was aware, and here I was cashing in on hers. This was a private moment between her and Steve. Even her new boyfriend was clever enough to know that.
I moved forward and put my hand on her shoulder. She was crying; silently and suitably, but the tears were running down her face. I told her I was going to take a walk and for her to take as long as she needed. I had to step away before I did any damage or said something inappropriate. She hugged me, leaving a small tear outline of her face on my shirt. I felt bad. I hadn't cried over a girl in nearly three years and here she was, grieving again over the worst tragedy imaginable. She had moved on with her life and her new man but part of her died the day Steve did and that would never heal. I walked off with my head bowed to look like I was a mourner rather than a mental.
As I walked past all the graves I noticed some of them were overgrown and messy… clearly from people who had no family, or at least no remaining family. There were graves from back in wartime, graves of dead lovers, fathers, friends, daughters. All now left to gather moss and overgrown weeds. I sat on a bench and thought about what would happen to my gravestone when I'm gone. I hoped that it would be more like Steve's, all neatly kept and tidy rather than… I leaned forward and read the gravestone in front of me. Was that? It couldn't be…. I cleaned my glasses and rubbed my eyes before focusing on the name on the headstone again.
5th May 1911 – 26th August 1963
A beloved father and husband
May the Lord grant unto him eternal rest
I sat in shock for a while. This had to be the biggest coincidence that had ever happened to me. I don't have a particularly common surname. Nor do I spend much of my life in graveyards or amongst graves and dead people in general. True, the name was missing an extra "n" at the end of the surname, and I haven't been known as "Thomas" in many years, and the inscription on the "e" of "Eydman" was pretty weathered and could have easily been an "f" or even a "k" or a "p". But the fact is, I was looking at the grave of my namesake. And he had been a married father.
The grave didn't say much more about what Thomas Eydman had done in life or why he had died. Frankly it wasn't my place to find out either. But still, this man filled me with hope. Clearly, Thomas Eydman was a family man. Probably worked on a ship somewhere to make an honest living for his wife and son. His wife was probably a writer with a series of kids books published in a local magazines under a pseudonym, his son captain of the school cricket team. After Thomas passed away while saving a baby from a burning building, the son had gone on to become a successful architect in Australia while his mother spent her remaining days travelling the world. I smiled a faint smile. If Thomas Eydman had had a wife and son and lived a happy life (till the age of 52 anyway), then there was still hope for a mental like me.
I went to the shop and bought two bouquets of flowers. Back at the cemetery I placed one by Thomas Eydman's headstone. I wiped as many of the weeds away as I could and stood back to admire the plot. Whilst not exactly pristine, it still stood out among all the other stones there. I smiled. I hoped one day Mr. Eydman's son, or even grandkids, would visit their relatives grave when they came to see their old hometown. They would be pleased to know he hadn't been completely forgotten.
I turned around to see Suzie standing there. Her tears had dried up, and she had a strange expression on her face.
"A relative of yours?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Nope, just thought I'd do something nice with my day."
She smiled. "Are those for Steve?"
I shook my head again and extended my arm. "For you."
She took them and smiled. For a second I thought she was going to cry again. Instead, we hugged and headed back to her car. I turned around and gave one final look at Thomas Eydman's grave and grinned. I hope he and his wife had many happy Valentine's Days together. As I do all of you.