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To Break Tradition

A Valentine's Day Ensemble

By Melissa IngoldsbyPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 14 min read

He didn’t care about Valentine’s Day. He really hated it, actually. He took the approach of the character, Becker, when it came to love, remembering the line from the show:

“I know I know, it's Valentine's day, I swear, you know, the only person who ever celebrated this day right was Al Capone.”

He had things to do that day. Well, not really. After work, he would probably just heat up some frozen meal and then watch TV.

One thing he never told anyone, however, including his own mother, to who he actually did tell everything to... was that he loved romantic music.

He was home drinking an ice-cold beer after work, thinking about his ex-girlfriend Sherry.

Her idea of romance was shacking up with a wool blanket on the couch with the novel Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk. Every so often, she’d laugh, and call him over to read a line that she’d get a kick out of. He felt like his attempts of romance were bull kicked into a far off place where no one can see or hear his voice or his tears, and her red eyed, bullish thrashing abouts only sated those with carnal needs. Flesh and blood. Sex and no cuddles after. Not at all what he really wanted in his long term relationship.

He hated Palahniuk, finding his books to be distant from emotion and only resonate with sociopathic egotists who pretended to be wise.

They broke up last spring, and still, he hadn’t found another lady who hated Valentine’s Day quite like she could. Like he could. Together.

They met in their last year of high school, through their mutual friends.

They stayed together a total of three years, and John still thought back to the first song they listened to, You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette. She really loved that song, and it became their unofficial song as a couple after they became official.

She had come up to him one day in early January during their last year together with an odd request: “John, make me an anti-Valentine’s playlist.”

He laughed, but she was quite serious.

So, he put together a list of songs she would enjoy: Lemon Eyes by Meg Myers, Nine Crimes by Damien Rice, Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey, Closer by NIN, Mutter by Rammstein, Venus As A Boy by Bjork, The Mountain by PJ Harvey, Jolene by Dolly Parton and their song You Oughta Know.

She loved them all. Except for Summertime Sadness.

Secretly, however, that was the only song John liked.

They broke up because of a sudden fight about dishes, and she smashed a teacup near his barefoot. Luckily, it didn’t hurt him, but he had had enough.

They were not good for each other. She said that to him, and they both were silent. Her eyes said something else, too.

She did not love him.

She moved out the next day.

Valentine’s Day was coming up, and it was the first one without Sherry since they broke up.

He finished his beer and decided to go write up a new tradition for himself. He put on the old anti-Valentine’s playlist and felt the cold nostalgia run through his body, thinking of her soft black hair against his cheek as they would hold each other, their kiss somehow feeling more of a ghost of physical expression than actual affection.

He got out a movie to put on. Gone With The Wind. He really liked Gone With The Wind.

But no one knew this about him, either. If Sherry had known, John knew he would have been ridiculed for it terribly. She’d emasculate him, and laugh at his emotionally vulnerable state.

He got into the whole one-sided romance with Ashley and Scarlett and even fell in love with the pure love between Melly and Ashley. He scorned Scarlett for emotionally blackmailing Ashley, and hurting her husband Rhett’s feelings because he could never live up to her fantasy version of Ashley. And when Scarlett got up from the field, starving, angry, and determined, saying, “I’ll never go hungry again!” He would stand up and say the line in unison, feeling the burst of passion rise in his own chest, throughout his worn out and partially unused heart.

He’d be careful not to even say he owned the film, going so far as to hide it at his mother’s house.

But the main thing was, romance and love songs were always off the table with Sherry, his most important and longest relationship to date. There was something off about these songs, yet, in some strange way, he felt like they spoke to him.

They said, yes, life is strange. Yes, life is messy. It is very weird, and not what you really wanted. Or expected, even.

But, hey, at least it’s exciting.

He put on the movie, turning off the CD.

It was right after playing PJ Harvey’s The Mountain. She especially loved it because he found a live version of the song recorded for the CD.

That song made him want to hide under the covers in his bed, as childish as that sounded. He was only twenty-one years old and felt as though he still needed to call his mother every day, but couldn’t admit anything about himself to anyone.

He thought about the ending of the PJ Harvey song, Sherry’s favorite part of the playlist. Especially that ending, where her ethereal and unearthly crooning gave way to a cry that sounds like a wounded Siren, or a ghost crying out from the abyss, between the living and the dead.

The song was about betrayal, and about being wounded. That’s what it felt like all the time around Sherry.

She never cheated on him but made him feel unimportant to her all the time.

He knew that they weren’t right for each other the first time he tried to be romantic with her.

Twelve long stem roses, a box of chocolates, a bottle of Merlot and a card with a long poem he wrote for her. This was their first Valentine’s Day.

She laughed at his attempts to show affection.

“How ironic you supplied me with the necessary ingredients for a housewife to just get by long enough until next year—- to barely feel like they were appreciated for one cheap day!” And she ate a few pieces of the chocolate hastily and got a beer, going back to reading a book by the furnace. The wine was left unopened and John ended up putting it away, sadly, in their cupboard.

He felt so hurt, but instead of saying so, he laughed along with her, pretending it was an ironic statement on society.

Since then, they never celebrated anything. Not their anniversary, January seventh. Not a single Valentine’s Day after that first one. He thought of if they were personified as a song what they would be. What they sound like. Feel like.

Her theme song was Public Image Ltd, ‘(This Is Not) A Love Song’ in his mind. But her true song, personified was Salen, ‘Heartbreak Diet’.

For his song, however, it was something much calmer. Avril 14th by Aphex Twin was the theme song for his life. Quiet, unassuming, peaceful, yet sad, tranquil, longing.

But from the movie Carrie, with Sissy Spacek, was his true feelings in a song.

Katie Irving’s I never dreamed someone like you could love someone like me.

Corny, sentimental, and very romantic, it summed up something he longed for since he was seventeen years old.

A true love.

He almost had that once.

With Farrah.

A girl he knew from band class.

She loved to play Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and they had tons in common with each other in middle school and in the beginning of high school. She loved poetry as he did. Mainly, Edgar Allan Poe.

However, after they stopped going to band together, they grew apart. Different friends. Different groups.

Until he met Sherry.

Then, jazz, romance, and love stories were history.

Toast, as she liked to put it. Dry, burnt toast. Crumbs, actually. Dust, really.

She had a dry sense of humor, he concluded. She particularly liked the dark comics of Jhonen Vasquez and the macabre sense of humor.

A panel from Sherry’s comic book, JTHM

He sat down with a pad of paper and a pencil, hearing Scarlett talk about the impending barbecue and for everyone to stop talking about the war. He smiled softly and turned up the volume.

He started to write down all the songs he wished Sherry and him had shared together.

A String of Pearls by Glenn Miller, Bluebird by Paul McCartney, Put Your Head On My Shoulder, by Paul Anka, Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra, Your Song by Elton John, Our House by Crosby, Stills & Nash and Young and My Heart Will Go On, by Celine Dion.

He wanted these songs to be about Sherry, about what he wished their relationship could have been, but he realized they all reminded him of Farrah.

Farrah, red-headed with freckles over her nose and cheeks. A beautiful smile. A sweet laugh.

And her voice, quiet, shy and wistful.

He wondered what she might be up to lately.

Then he thought about Sherry again, making him the sugar cookies he had been craving late one night.

When they had fought about nothing in particular at first, but it became something serious, and they were both mad at each other. When she didn’t talk to him for hours. When all of a sudden at three in the morning, Sherry woke him up. John went to bed by himself and was surprised by her spontaneity as she usually wasn’t this way.

“Hey, you!” She whispered to him.

John woke up, rubbing his eyes. “Huh? What?”

“John, come on!” She grabbed his hand and led him to the kitchen. “I made you those things you wanted.”

“What things?”

Duh. The one thing you have been saying you wanted.”

“Cookies?” He yawned.

“Yes!” She said with a grin.

She showed him a big plate of homemade sugar cookies.

There didn’t need to be any more words between them, and they embraced.

They stayed up eating the cookies with tea until the sun came up, listening to the CD that John made for her. He remembered how she would keep replaying Yellow Eyes over and over, swaying a bit to the beat, but not singing along. She didn’t like singing. He did.

He realized with a pit his stomach, that might’ve been one of the best memories he had with her.

And still, he knew that it was all for the best that they broke up.

Well, that she broke up with him.

But, that was history too.

He decided to look through his old yearbook and saw that Farrah had actually signed it in Senior year.

Why did the courier have to quit the band?

Because he couldn't CARRY a tune. Haha! Jk. Anyway, I hope that your after high school experience is even better than our middle school experience! Be awesome! -Farrah

He saw there was a number jotted down by her name as well.

He felt surprised he never reached out to her at all, but he realized why. He was always trying to make it work with Sherry, for better or worse.

But, he decided to text the number and see if it was still hers.

-Hey I hope I got the right number, I’m looking for Farrah. This is John from high school.

He decided to put the phone down and wait a little while to see if there would be any response.

Finally, there was a text back.

-Yes, hi John! It’s Farrah! It’s been way too long how are you?

He texted back: Good, just been working. You’re right. It has been too long. How are you?

-Fine. I’m here with my poodle, Frankincense. She’s jumping like crazy. Lol. I actually finally got my dream job. I am officially in the Spokane Symphony. You know I play the flute. So I’m excited!

He grinned, knowing that was Farrah’s dream for a long time.

-Congratulations Farrah! I’m happy for you.

-Yes, my dog just gave me a toast to celebrate lol.

He chuckled.

-That’s an advanced dog!

She messaged back: Top of his class in the Dog Academy!

They typed back and forth for a while until she mentioned that her symphony was going to be playing a Valentine’s Day show and she had an extra ticket.

-Is that a date? Will you come to watch me play or is that too dorky for you John?

-No, I love dorky lol. But, do you mean a real date?

-Yes you dork! Unless you are taken already!

He grinned, typing back.

-Farrah, I’m single. So, send me the address and I’ll watch your Valentine’s Day show!

-Whew! Lol. I thought about asking you out so much in high school. But you were already taken then by that girl. Sherry.

-We broke up last spring.

-I’m sorry.

-Don’t be. I’d love to hear some music live! It’s been a while.

-John, I’m sorry for being so presumptuous though! I was just so surprised when you texted me today.

-I was rummaging around my old yearbooks and saw your old band joke. And your number. So I thought I’d give it a chance to see if it was still your number.

-And Valentine’s Day isn’t already booked for you, John? Any extra booked appointments that you’ll need to leave for early? Lol


-Awesome! I know you have a penchant for some corny things so I thought this musical stuff would be fun for us. Remember you told me how your mom would leave the records on really loud with Paul McCartney and listen to Bluebird while you cleaned the house?

John put the phone down for a minute, feeling a bit flustered, his cheeks red.

He didn’t realize how deep their connection really ran back in middle school. How much he shared with her. How they were best friends. Confidants.

How much he loved the song Bluebird and how he always wanted to dance with a girl to it.

No, not just a girl.


He finally took in a breath, his heart fluttering wildly, and picked up the phone.

-I’d love to dance with you to that song. This Valentine’s Day. After the concert.

And she texted back immediately: Yes, John, I’d love to.

Their date was perfect—-a dream come true. And John found that old dusty bottle of Merlot that was intended to woo Sherry out of her loveless stupor—- sharing a glass with the sweet and funny Farrah. They both laughed and drank half the bottle together, sharing memories and having a wonderful time after the concert.

And ever since then, his new Valentine’s Day tradition was to break the old Anti-Valentine's Day vibes and listen to Bluebird, to dance with Farrah his now wife, to this song.


About the Creator

Melissa Ingoldsby

I write short stories and poetry. I hope you find yourself in between the spaces of my words.

My Patheos column profile on art history.

My zombie apocalypse novel I am Bexley has been published by Resurgence Novels and you can read it here.

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