616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Capitalism, Christian Persecution, Commercialism, Crush #1, Interracial Relationships, JD, Love, Lust, Martyrs, Observation Mode, Rita Moreno, Romance, St. Valentine, The Contrarian One, Transactional Relationships, Valentine's Day, Vicarious Living, Wendy, West Side Story (1961)
A couple of alternate titles could be “A Little Ditty About ‘Jack and Diane’,” or “The Legend of Crush #1 and The Contrarian One.” Really, though, I’ve never given much thought to Valentine’s Day, even in dating and marriage, mostly because until I turned twenty-five, I never had money to waste on such an aimless, unbelievably overhyped and commercialized “holiday.”
Few understand that the Catholic holy day of St. Valentine was about a Christian martyred in the midst of a period of Roman persecution under the emperor Aurelian, outside Rome, on February 14, 273 CE. Or that when combined with the St. Valentine’s Day massacre on February 14, 1929, the only heart truly associated with the day has been one punctured by a sword or a bullet, a blood-soaked one. Plus, it’s not as if I need capitalism to tell me whom to show my romantic side, with cards and flowers and chocolate, no less. Still, as a married man, I participate, although not with Western ideals of masculinity and romance in my head, if only to ensure my wife doesn’t feel left out.
But I must rewind about three decades, because while I don’t appreciate the fakery that comes with celebrating some candy-coated version of romance without actually celebrating St. Valentine, I did learn a thing or two about watching relationships bloom from afar. It was around this time thirty years ago that I noticed that Wendy and the contrarian one were dating, whatever that term means in the context of high school. Both would tell me that their relationship only began in high school, but my own recollections dispute that somewhat, if only because they shared roughly the same level of dislike for me during seventh grade!
The main point is, while for most of my classmates, it would’ve only been obvious in our junior year that Crush #1 and JD were together, I sensed it by the middle of tenth grade. If I’d been the exact same person I’d been during seventh and eighth grade, one head-over-heels in love with Wendy, I would’ve put my heart in a woodchipper, shot it all over a field, gathered it up again, and then put it into a mortar shell to explode into the sky to rain down all over Mount Vernon.
But I wasn’t that person in 7S, and hadn’t been for quite a while. My focus for most of tenth grade had been on living a sin-free Christian life, a transactional relationship with God that consisted of making good things happen for myself by prayer, fasting, and reading my Bible everywhere I went. Between that and my routine of watching younger siblings, washing clothes, tracking down my father Jimme, surviving another year of Humanities, running to the store two or three times every day, and so many other tasks, romance and dating might as well have been in an alternate universe. Even if I did feel envious, it would’ve been over not having money or a car or good food in my belly. Pining over Wendy — or any other girl or woman, for that matter — didn’t fit with any coping strategy that I had to get out of Mount Vernon as soon as my high school diploma and a college acceptance would allow me. At least prior to Crush #2.
What was more interesting to me, and what I knew was more interesting to my classmates, was the fact that Wendy and the contrarian one were dating, and in fact, an interracial couple, one a Black female (or, as some classmates still believed, biracial), the other a White male. I was interested only as an observer of people, because by tenth grade I’d actually grown to like JD and could be around Crush #1 without being conscious of the fact that she used to be my crush. I was interested in that the reactions of the folks at MVHS varied from my own “no surprise here” to dagger-eyed intolerance or head-shaking shame expressed by students across all cliques and most racial lines.
I’ve certainly known and know plenty of other people involved in interracial relationships and marriages since the spring of ’85. Some where only racial politics and stereotypes mattered, some where love and social justice mattered much more. In the case of my class’ Juliet and Romeo, maybe my crush took advantage of some of the racial politics involved with dating someone White, while my contrarian friend obviously doesn’t prefer blondes, and hasn’t in the years since. From my observer’s perch, though, there was much more to their relationship than racial preferences.
It was the first time I’d seen or heard about any interracial coupling beyond movies like West Side Story (I still love Rita Moreno, even at eighty-three) or in others telling me about them third-hand, after it was already over. To me, it was always a good fit and fitting, despite the racial politics playing out at school, not to mention the identity issues that had to be playing out between Wendy and JD, even unconsciously. What I gleaned from two and a half years of the two of them dating, though, was that they had found a world unto themselves, one which must’ve made MVHS a much easier hellhole to navigate, if nothing else.