A Boy Named Valentine (With Apologies to Johnny Cash)

My six-year-old has been very, very excited about Valentine’s Day. In fact, she was contemplating naming her new stuffed animal Valentine, but then said “That’s not a real name.” I told her about St. Valentine, and also mentioned I had once known a man named Valentine. I hadn’t thought about the story in ages, but it all came back to me.


Many years ago, I had just moved to New York City. I didn’t have a job or a place yet, and I temped for a while until I found something more permanent. Of course, this made finding an apartment rather difficult, as I didn’t yet have a steady income. After answering a million Craig’s List ads, I finally found a place to live. It was a converted commercial space, and to say it was less than desirable aesthetically would be an understatement. It was kind of like an authentic version of Friends, if they actually had to pay for their apartment with their character’s salaries–very few windows, low ceilings, the occasional mouse. I had five roommates: Jill, actress, model, and bartender; Gerry, a nightclub manager; Kristen, a morose aspiring writer/grad student; Jen, a free spirit who loved skydiving; and Andrew, a junior accountant (whose mother, hand on my heart, would fly up every month from Florida TO CLEAN HIS ROOM and do his assigned apartment chores).

But I digress.

So: Valentine. My friend from California told me that her former coworker, Val, was moving to New York, and asked if I’d mind getting together. Since I’d been in the same boat only months before, I agreed. We met in an Irish bar, which was appropriate, because Val turned out to be Irish. He explained that he’d been named after St. Valentine. While it wasn’t that unusual back in Ireland, his name resulted in lot of teasing in the US.

We got together a couple of times–always platonically. Then, one weekend night when I’d decided not to go out (for whatever reason, since that was a rare thing then), I got a call. Val had been out drinking and he’d lost his keys. He couldn’t reach his roommate and he wondered if he could sleep on our couch. I said okay, but warned him that my roommates might be trickling in as the night wore on.

He came over, and fell asleep on the couch. I also fell asleep, but was awakened by yelling. I ran out, thinking that perhaps one of my roommates somehow missed the note on the front door that a friend was sleeping on the couch. No one had come home, but Val was yelling at the top of his lungs. He swore that he’d seen a ghost. As in, a real, honest-to-God ghost. I was sure he believed he had seen it–he was truly panicked–but I told him that he’d probably fallen asleep and dreamed it. He told me he couldn’t sleep out there any longer, but he still couldn’t reach his roommate.

It was beginning to cross my mind that perhaps this was some sort of guy scheme, but the panic seemed genuine. Luckily, my roommate Jen was out of town, probably skydiving or wrestling alligators or something similarly adventurous, and I knew she would probably think it was funny if a drunk Irish guy who sees ghosts stayed in her room.

As I settled him into the room, Valentine chose that moment to declare his undying love for me, and went in for the pass. His bad timing was not helped by the fact that he kept mumbling about ghosts. (Apparently, ghosts didn’t preclude make-out sessions.) I dodged and ducked and eluded him, getting more annoyed by the second. I think I finally got him into Jen’s room by telling him that if he didn’t stop, I’d not only never talk to him again, I’d throw him out on the street.

At this point, I was pretty peeved by the whole situation. I called my California friend, and got her voicemail. I hissed something to the effect of “I just fought off your drunk friend who said he saw a ghost and then jumped me, and I really want to kill you right now even though technically, it’s not really your fault.”

The next morning, Valentine would not leave. (He was “too tired” aka hungover.) As I was new to New York, and was not yet the raging bitch I would eventually become, thanks to crowds and mass transit, I let him stay while I was out at brunch with some friends. (I know, I know.) I did tell him he’d need to be gone by noon, when I planned to return. Thankfully, he was. He called me a few times, but of course I never saw him again.

According to one source online (thanks, interwebs!), St. Valentine had a three-part execution: beating, stoning, and when he lingered on, decapitation. I could see it. Those Valentines are nothing if not persistent.

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