Valentines to Boys and Men Who’ve Mattered
Hoping Cupid's Quiver Contains Lots of Extra Arrows
By NANCY DAVIDOFF KELTON
MANY boys and men have found their way into my heart. These are the special ones: secret loves, caretaking loves, a man who snipped, another who snapped and my heart’s delight. Valentines to them all.
In the fifth grade you brought me a valentine (my first from a boy) when you came over with your older brother, who gave one to my big sister. I assumed you were being polite. We sat at opposite ends of the sofa, not talking. I had a crush on you. I kept your valentine under my pillow for months.
As we got older, you got cuter and always had cool girlfriends. I didn’t stand a chance. A smile from you in the school cafeteria made my day.
At our 25th high school reunion, when you asked me to dance the first slow one, I acted cool, but I was in shock. I told you about my onetime crush. You said you wished I had told you then, because you had one on me, too. Wow!
Who knows what might have happened without our fears and silence? I doubt we would have gone steady, to the prom, and built a life together, but during our dance, as we moved to that slow song, I was the high school queen.
TO UNCLE HY
When I returned from camp and found out that my cocker spaniel had died, I hid in my room. Not knowing, you drove over to welcome me home. Mom, into appearances and “shoulds,” made me come downstairs. When you saw my tears and swollen red eyes, you told my parents and me that at a time like this I needn’t entertain the relatives. Thank you for understanding and rescuing me.
When I was 12 and you were 16, I thought you were the sharpest guy in the world. You thought I was a nice kid. I wanted you to ask me to go to the movies. We played table tennis in my basement instead. You beat me, 21-15.
A few years later, you dated my classmate: a buxom blonde with a reputation. I was a nice kid, though a nice kid who was jealous.
When you visited me at New York University, we walked along Bleecker Street holding hands, and you invited me to Princeton, not for table tennis. I still thought you were sharp. Too sharp for a nice kid to handle. I said no. We never spoke again.
I heard you run a company, have been divorced twice and have a girlfriend who is younger than springtime.
After all these years, I feel secure enough to share two secrets. You have appeared in my dreams. They have often been erotic. You were a lousy table tennis player. I let you win.
Although I have had more beauticians than boyfriends, I don’t plan to cheat on you.
You have given me the best cuts, romantic advice and recommendations on what to read.
I appreciate that you call my gray hair “striking” and love Nabokov as much as I do.
So why can’t we agree on my bangs?
I did not terminate therapy with you because I got better. I terminated because of group. Yours. You insisted that I join. I hated it. I hated using my individual sessions discussing my aversion to group therapy and having you tell me that that was an issue I needed to work on — and why I needed group. I wanted to spend our 50-minute hours discussing deeper issues.
Yet you remain in my heart because you constantly reminded me that single mothering and book-writing require adult behavior and that I should give myself credit; to “hold tight” when I hit a bump. You demonstrated that by clutching the arms of your chair.
It works. With and without a chair.
TO THE ONE BEFORE ‘THE ONE’
When Arthur Miller’s name came up, you thought I meant Arthur Miller, the lawyer and law professor. You probably saw him on television — your apartment looked like Best Buy, with multiple TVs that were always on. And when I told you that an editor liked my voice, you said you didn’t know I sang. We were often out of sync, but you were a handsome bad boy, and I was very lonely.
I could not, however, ignore your rage, which baffled even your anger-management coach. When you lashed out at me at a party, I didn’t cower. I left. I got on the road to the right man. For that last outburst, I thank you.
TO MY RIGHT MAN
You have a receding hairline, and I have receding gums. Between us we have three ex-spouses, three grown children, three deceased parents and four teeth that are not our own. We are compatible physically, intellectually, emotionally, gastronomically and at table tennis, except you play better. I wouldn’t dream of letting you win.
I am crazy in love with you.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton teaches writing at the New School and New York University.