The worst day of the year. The train is packed and people are staring at me.
I get a seat but I don’t actually want one. If I sit down there is more chance I might make eye contact with someone and then that might lead to a conversation, the part I am dreading. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day?’
If I don’t respond with appropriate and adequate enthusiasm people will catch on to the fact that the ‘Happy’ part of this three-word festive greeting is lost on me. The next thing people will ask is, ‘What are you doing?’ – I’m not sure which one I dread more.
I think about it.
I think about lots of things.
Yes, I dread them both equally. No one is a clear winner here. Neither ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ nor ‘What are you doing?’ They both have to share the ‘You Suck,’ trophy and as I say that I can feel them both competing, vying for first place. ‘I make her feel worse than you do.’ ‘No, I’m the question she dreads way more than you.’
And why is that? There are a couple of reasons. One reason is that last year wasn’t that great either and could this be a pattern? Not a problem in itself, other than, it gives me no reason to think the following year will be any different and what does that say about me?
The second reason is that I’m embarrassed. ‘What did you do?’ is a most direct question and there is little room for fudging, which is what I feel compelled to do to prevent the truth from squirting out like ketchup onto someone’s face, ‘I stayed in.’
The jaw drops first, then the eyebrows and then the jowls. Pity arrives like an embarrassing auntie. I’ve been noticing over the years that people talk about staying in more than they actually do it, and if they do stay in, they do it with other people. The look is about to become even more pained when I reveal I stayed in alone.
Completely alone. Apart from my chocolate truffles that came in a tin box from Marks and Spencer, a bottle of fiery ginger beer (another reason to be embarrassed, my intentional lack of alcohol) my book and Sandra Bullock, there was not another living soul to stare into my eyes for one night. Bullocks was not in the flesh, sadly, but by the power vested in Netflix. Her new film, Birdbox, had me on the edge of my bed, tightly balled fists tensely held the covers hovering somewhere around my mouth (as pulling the duvet over my eyes meant exposing my feet and then my toes would be cold). An unseen, malevolent presence is terrorising earth and people are dying. Sandra (and me) are on the run and she is having to learn to live blindfolded to stay alive.
For a moment, I close my eyes. What can I see? Nothing. Black with the random flicker of yellow lights that were in my field of vision before my eyelids closed. I can hear the neighbours’ new baby crying. I can hear people on the street laughing. I can hear…what is that…I can hear cats fighting. Am I superhuman? Do I have superpowers? I have a heightened sense of hearing, enhanced auditory abilities as my visual cortex starts going rogue. Sandra has a tenacity that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. There is no reason for her to stay alive in the world, let alone to think about what she might be doing and who she might be doing it with on Valentine’s Day, but she does. She finds hope in the rarest of places, two lone birds in a deserted supermarket which she saves, though they may be saving her too. The world is unrecognisable and how she derives happiness must be completely re-evaluated.
And then it occurs to me that in my bed, alone, with my now fiery ginger flavoured truffles, watching Sandra on Valentine’s Day is making me happy. All I need to do now is work out a way to own my happiness and not compare it to other people’s. Aristotle felt happiness should be less understood as a state of being and more as an activity, one that is regularly practised to achieve success. This leads to the question of what makes me happy and to my horror I realise I might not know the answer to this question. ‘Who cares what I did for Valentine’s Day, I don’t even know what makes me happy.’ Maybe Valentine’s Day is actually the best day to work out how to make myself happy before I start expecting someone else to, and if Sandra can do it blindfolded, well, she’s not Miss Congeniality for nothing.
Anoushka offers psychotherapy in primary care at an NHS surgery in Lambeth and long term psychotherapy in the low cost counselling service of The Awareness Centre. She is also a freelance writer and published novelist of the ‘The Good Enough Mother’.