My Bloody Valentine

Ottawa XPress, Feburary 10, 2005

There’s a place in my soul where
No one else can adore you
And like the poet-soldier says
I would spill my blood for you.

~ “Subversives,” by Lowest of the Low

Valentine’s Day is upon us, smeared with romance and chocolate marshmallow treats, with heart-shaped boxes and red velour ribbons. It’s meant as a time to celebrate our love for others – whether friend-love or hot-lover-love. But it’s mostly a time for lovers.

Single people either feel like shit or take over the damn thing and have a blast. But despite all the joyous celebration and recognition of love life, it sure does have a lot to do with death!

For starters, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February, the dead of winter. Its marketing rep is Cupid, with his arrow poised to puncture your vital organ. Next, the colour signature of the holiday is red, which, besides being the colour of passion, is also the colour of blood and rage. Not convinced? Then consider how the good Saint Valentine himself came to be revered after suffering a terrible death by getting his head chopped off. Heady death, anyone?

Back in the days of Claudius II, the emperor was having a bitch of a time getting soldiers to join the military for his bloody and unpopular campaigns. He suspected Roman men did not want to join because they were too busy falling in love all over the place. So, while Stephen Harper – I mean, Claudius the Cruel – cancelled marriages and engagements in Rome, Valentine and Saint Marius were busy helping the Christian martyrs and secretly marrying couples. For this, the noble priest Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and beheaded. Saint Valentine suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270 AD.

It’s clear: Saint Valentine’s death makes us think of love.

And relative to dying for love, don’t we all think about death a lot when we evaluate our love for our own special someone?

We blabber things like: “I couldn’t live life without you my fart blossom,” or “I’d rather get hit by a truck than spend one more minute with you.”

Our desperation at the thought of things we love one day ceasing to be, or the hope they’d go away faster once they cease to enchant us, measures our connection to that person or object. Alternatively, some peoples’ calmness when faced with losing a mate to death can be an indication of a solid relationship that will bring the survivor many comforting memories. Or just generous insurance benefits that will last until their own demise.

In many affairs of the heart, indeed death pops up again, to forge, rejuvenate or sanctify a bond, or to seal a fate (think Romeo and Juliet). Let’s take inventory. First up, “til death do us part” is a wedding vow. Next, in sex, our orgasm is described as “le petit mort.” Finally, the purest form of love is said to be God’s – and also the Dude in Whose eyes two people are wed –and what do we have here but His son getting bolted to a cross and left to die, all to show how much He cares.

But while Saint Valentine got the axe in support of our right to care for our partners as a wife or a husband, was it all worth it?

I mean, how many marriages end in divorce these days? While some people out there would just kill to get married, others would rather get killed than ever marry again.

I got a chuckle from a CBC Just For Laughs comedian who said when everyone around you is in love, and you’re not, it’s like there’s a big party going on that you weren’t invited to. He describes the lonely scene: a solo traveler wandering sadly past a noisy house full of people. Tears mix with rain as you wish you could be inside. Very sad.

Then there’s the people at the party: “I’ve been at this damn party for 16 years, where’s my coat dammit! I want to leave now!”

This last sentiment is quite popular in some of my favourite books. Take for example Kate Chopin’s protagonist in The Awakening. Facing a sink-or-swim relationship void of excitement, Madame Pontellier, a depressed wife, chooses literally to sink. Then, there’s the eccentric Calla in Joyce Carol Oates’ I Lock the Door Upon Myself, who faces a similar doom after she escapes an encrusted marriage to an abusive old white fart for the tall gentlemanly black Tyrell Thompson.

But despite these tales of people fleeing their marriages with deadly results, true to what the comedian said, there are those wanting to be let in to the perceived lovefest. For instance, the adventurous single Celia in T.S. Eliot’s play, The Cocktail Party, searches for love literally to (a cannibalistic-and-crucifixion) death. Now that’s dedication.

Truth be told, there’s a whole whack of characters throughout history, in addition to Saint Valentine, who’ve died in hot pursuit of the real deal. And while they don’t have a day named in their honour, we sure deserve a day off to read about them. On that positive note, happy reading, and Happy Valentine’s Death.

– Sylvie Hill