Valentine. This was the curse my parents gave me. I never knew a day where someone didn’t say I must be the master of love with that name. Fact is I was the complete opposite. I had very little interest in love. Everyone had this preconception of who I was, based on my title. And it wasn’t even like I could shorten the name. William could be Bill, but Valentine was Val. Which was even worse. I had my issues, and I wasn’t about to let love be a major player in my life.
Or so I thought.
Adding insult to injury, my love affair started with a cliché hello, on a cliché bench, waiting for a cliché bus that would take me downtown. There, I would partake of a Latte from Gerald’s coffee hut, and then go to Chapter’s to read an art magazine. I was not your typical 18 year old. I didn’t watch football, or route for the Leafs. I liked Miles Davis, and appreciated Jackson Pollock. I wanted to go to Chicago, not to catch an afternoon game, rather to take a walking tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes. These things labeled me some unflattering titles at school. I was eighteen with a bus pass to nowhere.
The word itself is an open door. Whether one chooses to respond can set a person on a course of destiny that they never expected. In this case, I responded. The tangent that one little word took me on was profound.
Her name was Olivia. She had straight brown hair and inquisitive eyes. The simplicity of her demeanor and clothes were overwhelming. I was eccentric, and took to topics that fit my ideals. But here was Olivia, saying hello, and for no reason at all, I said hello back.
“Where are you headed?” She asked from the other side of the bench; her right hand was up blocking the sun.
“Downtown” I responded. “I like to grab a coffee every now and then”. No sense in admitting what kind of coffee right?
“Nice day for it”, she said.
The 103 bus turned the corner and pulled up. I looked at her and she extended her hand, “I’m Olivia”.
I let her go first. “I’m in trouble.” I said.
Olivia looked back with a smile and deposited two dollars. She sat behind the driver, watching as I forgot where I put my pass. I fumbled for an eternity, which was actually ten seconds, but left me feeling inept. As I flashed my credentials at Milosh, the familiar driver on my route. Olivia said “why are you in trouble? Because of me, or because of you?’
“An interesting question. I guess it would be because of you, then again, I would have to choose that, and then that would make it my fault, right?’
“ Do you have problem’s choosing things in life?”
“Not really.” I said this without believing it myself; Olivia saw right through it.
“Perhaps you haven’t chosen the right things.” She was something else. How can a person aim for the heart in five minutes, my life was on my sleeve; I know this now. Olivia saw who I was and more importantly who I wasn’t.
She didn’t even know… MY NAME!
Almost as if she had read my mind, she asked “so what’s your name?”
“Valentine”. I couldn’t lie; I said it and now all I had left was an awkward ten-minute bus ride. Maybe I would get an espresso. I needed the heavy stuff for sure. But Olivia was one surprise after another.
“You’re synonymous with love. A lot like another friend of mine”.
Another friend? What other person had a name like that? Perhaps we could start a support group.
“You might know him, but if you don’t, I’d like to introduce you”. She said this with a subtle smile of certainty that locked me in.
We spoke of her friend, and what he did, and why he had to do it. I had heard of him, but never gave him a chance before. Much like someone else I know. We passed Gerald’s, passed Chapter’s, and Milosh let us go the loop three times before getting off. There is not a day that goes by, where I don’t speak to the friends I made that day. Life is full of tangents. Funny how a word can change who you are.