In my own telling of the history of my life, I have only ever received one Valentine’s card.
But in the box that is now the Museum of my Life there’s evidence that more happened on the dreaded V Day in the past than I’ve accounted for.
So here we have the first exhibit.
#1a. Two small soft toys, of the kind you might get in a kids meal at McDonalds.
I was given these by a guy with mental health issues, which at the time seemed to be entirely benign. Far from being unstable to the point of aggression or being sinister, he would just smile, give you the thumbs up and repeat a series of stock phrases like mantras to positive living.
He came into the office where I was based and left them at reception for me. I thought it was sweet, sat them on my desk and thought nothing more of it.
Unfortunately, this for him was the beginning of an entirely different story, not entirely based in reality. Over the next few weeks and months, as I started a relationship with someone else entirely, a completely different narrative was being played out in the mind of my smiling acquaintance.
In his mind the soft toys marked the beginning of a romance. We were dating and he started telling people that he had a ring in his pocket and he was going to propose to me. I never saw this ring or heard this proposal, but the story in his head continued nevertheless to the happy moment where we became engaged.
The plot then took an evil twist as he obviously became aware that I was going out with someone else. In his mind, I had now cheated on him, broken off the engagement, ruined his life.
It was at this point where, Gollum-style, he would still smile and be nice and then all of a sudden hiss obscenities at me from wherever he was standing – to him I was a whore and a cheat and a liar.
I didn’t realise why all of a sudden this vicious streak had appeared and was being directed at me until I was visited by a police officer at work one day. She had been sent to investigate a threat made against me. It seems that my smiling acquaintance had a brother with a history of criminal assault. This brother had overheard him saying he was going to get his guns and shoot me, that I’d ruined his life and so on. And so the brother reported it to the police, fearing for my safety.
The poor police officer looked fed up with having to deal with yet another domestic conflict until she realised that I was entirely oblivious to the story she had been told.
‘So you’ve never been engaged?’
‘And you’ve never been in a relationship with Mr x?’
I was given a direct dial number and a reference in case I was ever threatened and needed help quickly. I am glad to say I never needed to use it.
I’m not entirely sure why I’ve kept the two toys, why I decided this was a memory to be stored for later curation, since it’s not the happiest tale ever. But they’re in the box, so the story is being told. I guess the truth is we all have our own versions of what reality is playing out in our heads. Maybe it’s a good idea to check your version tallies up with everyone else’s before getting yourself into trouble.