By Tim Murphy:
Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air and on the air, all over the TV. But it’s not a good day for people who have lost their love. I don't write about that kind of love stuff. I don’t think that I qualify as a romantic, but I have lost love and lost at love . . . a lot. So I thought it might be good to think back on those love’s lost in honor of all those out there who have lost love too. To let you know that even though you feel alone, you are not alone.
There all kinds of love-themed stories: first love, lost love, endless love, troubled love, puppy love, lost at love, summer love. My first love was Agnes Sinwelski back in fourth grade. I don’t think Agnes ever knew that we were in love, but I sure did. I started to write about that, but then I remembered I ended up getting hollered at by Father Boyd in the Confessional over my thoughts of her, and it still haunts me. So, we can cover Agnes another time. Maybe for Lent and Penance, because what goes on in the Confession booth stays in the Confession booth.
But summer loves—those are some of the most memorable ones. Maybe it is the excitement of the vacation, all the free time, the unscripted random meeting, or maybe something to do with the heat. My next love was Elena Ubaldi. Like Agnes, I don’t think Elena knew about our love either, but I did. We had just moved from our old house six blocks to the west. School was out for the summer, so I was enjoying the freedom and exploring the new neighborhood even though it was still part of the old neighborhood. The freedom of summer to me meant I could just wake up when I wanted and then go out and play. No brushing of teeth. No combing of hair. No washing anything—just get up and go. There was playing to do, and nothing should get in the way. I was old enough to know that the freedom of summer was fleeting and not a moment should be wasted.
So, I hopped on my bike and headed over to Jackie Rohrer's house. Jackie was my age; we had known each other since first grade. The backyard of our new house backed up to his backyard. He knew the neighborhood, and we set out cruising on our bikes. We got a block away and ran into two girls that Jackie knew—Barbara Bahnsen and Elena Ubaldi. They went to the public school, so I didn’t know them, but I had played baseball with Barbara's brother Jeff for a couple of years. Elena was this cute little Italian girl, and she was a beauty—dark hair, dark eyes. Short enough for me to be taller than her. Barbara Bahnsen was a foot taller than me, just like her brother, and she looked just like her brother—even though she may have been very pretty too, she looked just like her brother, so . . . well . . . that was all I could see when I looked at her. I turned back to Elena—wow!
Jackie introduced me to them, and I told Barbara that I knew her brother and blah, blah, blah. I turned back to Elena. What a babe—and I didn't even know what a babe was yet. I tried to think of something to say, but she was just too pretty. All I could think of was Ooh, la, la! And I didn’t know Italian either. I couldn't think of anything to say out loud. So, I turned back to Barbara and said something about baseball, blah, blah, blah, hoping to buy some time to think up something clever to say to Elena. As I flustered, she smiled at me, but that made me even more tongue-tied. I went to word association, trying to hit on a clever topic. She had beautiful eyes, and her hair was soft and long, and her smile was gorgeous. But my tongue felt like it filled up my whole mouth and maybe my brain too, because I couldn’t think of a thing to say.
And then the word association took over, and it hit me. Smile. Tongue. Mouth. Crap. I hadn't brushed my teeth since school got out. It might have been a couple of days—maybe a week. Maybe two. And I hadn't combed my hair since then either. And I wasn't sure about my last bath. I could remember my mom yelling at me about it, but I thought, Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . I’ve got things to do. But now I was concerned about my mouth and what might come out of it—both verbal and hygienic. All I could think of saying now was, “I gotta go.” I hopped on my bike and took off home. I showered, brushed my teeth, and combed my hair. My mom seemed very happy but a little confused. I have done so every day since. Elena was a game changer. Love does that. Makes you drop your old ways, clean up your act, listen to your mom. It changes your life forever.
Elena and I never became a couple—I imagine because I could never think of something cool to say. We went out once to a Chicago concert at the Aerie Crown Theatre. It was a magical night, but when I got her home I was too scared to kiss her. So I just said, “See ya,” or something equally meaningful. Maybe it was, “I gotta go.” I never did qualify as a purveyor of love. We are still friends today, though—maybe because we didn’t become a couple. She is one of the people from my old neighborhood that I still keep in touch with, and she’s finding out about her impact on my life right about . . . now.
So this Valentine’s Day, I will let the commercials cover the romance junk—that's not my specialty anyway. Rather than "Love is never having to say you’re sorry," I would say that love is appreciation—appreciation of someone but also appreciation as in an investment. It grows and builds into something bigger and of greater value. Love makes you be better.
As I was thinking of lost love and how the whole world seems to have lost a lot of love, we could sure use some of the appreciation kind. So this Valentine’s Day, let's remember the loves that we have lost but also remember to appreciate the loves who have changed our lives—teachers, coaches, co-workers, friends, family members, first loves, lost loves, loves that didn’t even know we exist . . . and the loves that are right in front of us.
Instead of thinking of what they can do for us, we should be thanking them for what they have done for us. They changed our world.
So, to Elena and all the other Game Changers out there—I hope you feel a little love this Valentine's Season. Feel a little love, see a little love, taste a little love . . . even hear and smell a little love too.
I hope you come to your senses and use all your senses this Valentines Season, because the world seems to have lost some sense—especially its sense of humor.
I suppose the world owes a bit of gratitude to Elena Ubaldi—at least my world does. We will start there. Thank you, Elena . . . and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Tim Murphy grew up on the south side of Chicago in a home filled with Catholic Irish traditions. He has kissed the Blarney Stone and been given the gift of storytelling. He attended Catholic Grade School, public high school and a Lutheran College—which perhaps has shaped his somewhat irreverent style. In his sixty-four years, he has received many blessings, and despite his misbehavior, they seem to keep coming.