Valentine’s Day. And the National Anthem.

“Happy Fake Holiday, everyone!”


The older I get, the more I’m kind of okay about the whole Valentine’s Day thing. I mean – I’m not about to leave a trail of rose petals from the front door to the bedroom, where I will be stretched out in my flannel cat-print pajamas with a half-eaten Whitman’s Sampler. But, you know, love is nice, and I like looking at creepy, vintage Valentines, and I just can’t with the grousing about it anymore.

WE KNOW IT’S A FAKE, MADE-UP DUMB HOLIDAY. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t know it, and hearing the endless kvetching about it is sort of like…okay…here’s what I think it’s like. Story time:

One time I was at a 4th of July party with a boyfriend. It was in an apartment building which overlooked the Charles River, and therefore the fireworks display on the Esplanade. I think I was all of 22 years old at the time, fresh outta college, and therefore possessed of the belief that I knew EVERYTHING. I was also just starting to dip my toes into the cool, still waters of “drinking like an adult” (which is really to say, I was wading waist-deep into what would become the rip current of my full-blown alcoholism), and wanted desperately to appear like the sort of adult who goes to parties in nice apartments overlooking the Charles River, drinking out of nice glasses and saying, oh, just the most interesting things. But because I felt so out of place there, with my nice, smart MIT Ph.D candidate boyfriend and his nice, smart friends; because I was acutely aware that even in my nicest sundress I was never going to pass as one of them; because I was so uncomfortable that I wanted to jump off the tiny little balcony into the Charles River below – I drank too much. Somehow the conversation turned to the National Anthem. And I whipped around like a spastic, inebriated ostrich and bleated, “IT’S A DRINKING SONG!”

“I’m sorry?”

“The National An..anthem. It’s based on a English drinking song. No, FOR REAL. It’s about ANACREON. A Greek p-poet. It’s about DRINKING.”


“I mean…that’s FUNNY. You know? The words are different, but it just, like, got lifted from a song about being drunk. AND THAT’S OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM. Woooooo! AMERICA!”


So, basically, listening to people bitch about a bogus holiday that’s commercial claptrap aimed at supporting the greeting card industry or whatever is akin to listening to a 22-year-old, drunk-ass me lecturing everyone about the origins of the National Anthem. So stop it.

I’m reflecting on the love I’ve experienced, the reciprocated and the unreciprocated and the ones that got away (or, rather, the ones that RAN away), and of course there’s a soundtrack for it all.

Now, some of these songs now kind of make me want to hurl (you can probably guess what they are), but I’m not going to revise my life’s soundtrack to make it sound cooler and hipper than it is.

Let’s start with this one:

I was way into INXS through most of the 80s. Except when “Kick” came out, because then EVERYONE liked INXS and I felt robbed. I know – I’m starting to creep into “drunk 22-year-old Lisa and the National Anthem” territory there. ANYWAY. I was 15 when this album came out, and I would listen to this song over and over and over, and picture myself as the jilted heroine in my mental video, because surely Michael Hutchence would take one look at me with my frizzy hair and giant glasses and think, “Yes. This is the person I am thinking of when I sing ‘Girl, you know I need you more than any word spoken.’” So it’s kind of personal for me, because of my imaginary video love with Michael Hutchence. I had a really cute outfit for it, too.

Listen, this is a terrible song. I know this. But I had to sing it at this summer teen theatre review I was in during the summer of ’86 (no lie – Susan Tedeschi was in it, too; she sang “The Greatest Love Of All”). Somehow I was given this song to sing, probably because it was in my range. And I was in the throes of insane, hysterical puppy love. That heart-catching, burst-into-tears-at-any-moment, Twinkies-and-Jolt kind of love. The night of the show, I learned that my envisioned intended had a brand new girlfriend. I remember gazing out of the girls’ bathroom window (as much as I was able to, as it was frosted glass) and thinking, “Lo, my tiny teenage heart cannot possibly withstand this fatal blow rendered by this boy and his new girlfriend with the really cute asymmetrical haircut, but I must go up on that stage after Sue Tedeschi, and I MUST SING OF MY HEARTBREAK.” And so I did. And everyone applauded as I ran offstage and dissolved into a puddle of tears and colored mousse. And then I probably made my friend Katie, who had her license, drive past his house. Five times. Okay, only three.

So, fast forward several years. It’s now 1993, and I am no longer with the MIT Ph.D boyfriend, because I am berserk in love with this singer/songwriter guy who writes me songs, looks at me like I am a pretty, pretty princess, and doesn’t seem to mind that I am quite insane (understand that this is years before I got all of my brain chemistry more or less in working order). The problem? I am not a singer/songwriter. I am not even a moderately good guitar player. What I like to do is wrap myself in chains and spin around blindfolded in the basement of the Cantab Lounge while my friends play a cover of David J’s This Vicious Cabaret. And I think I’m pretty good at this. But, as I’ve mentioned, I’m completely insane and probably an alcoholic. So he moves far, far away – clear across the country – leaving me in my chains with a cassette copy of this Sting album that I bought because of this song, this song that he used to sing for me at open mics. I certainly wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. Because Sting.

This is the song I think of whenever I think of my husband. He and I got together when I was still completely insane, AND an alcoholic. And while I got better for myself, and myself alone (because you simply can’t do it for other people if you yourself are not important enough), I am eternally grateful that he stuck around to see me through it. He is my rock. He is my love. He is my stone cold elf. We are going through a really terrible, trying time right now, but this is what you do when you love someone: you tighten ranks. You walk through, not around. And maybe you fart under the covers sometimes, but you totally apologize, like, immediately.

And on Valentine’s Day, you do some dumb little thing to acknowledge all of that, even though it’s a bogus holiday and blah blah blah. Have you heard my story about the National Anthem?

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