Friend’s Day

This time of the year is hard.

I have never told in public what happened on Valentine’s Day, and I’m not about to start now. I feel that with everything I talk about online, I should keep this one thing to myself.

However, I’ll put it into one sentence: I was forced to have sex because it was Valentine’s Day.

The only reason I tell even this is because I feel it’s impossible to explain why I struggle with Valentine’s Day so much otherwise. It’s impossible for me to separate the day from the trauma because the day itself is at its core.

I’m so acutely aware of Valentine’s Day. It’s literally everywhere. Even in lockdown, ads still find me. The sexualisation of this day doesn’t only upset me on a personal level but it makes me afraid that it drives another person into the same set of circumstances I found myself in.

That’s not the 14.2 I grew up with, though. In Finland, it’s known as Friend’s Day. There’s no set way to celebrate it but the main point is that friends send each other cards to tell how much they appreciate one another.

This isn’t just some arbitrary day only celebrated by young people either. It’s engrained deep within my birth culture. There are a few things as wholesome as my dad, who is in his fifties, ringing his friends, also in their fifties, to wish them happy Friend’s Day. I receive cards from my parents, relatives and family friends. It’s very much everyone’s day, not just a day for couples.

After Valentine’s Day happened for me, Friend’s Day has become even more meaningful. Instead of a day of consumerism and artificial romantic expectations, it’s a chance to tell my friends, who have stuck with me through thick and thin, just how much I love them. My adopted culture doesn’t celebrate the same holiday however, so it requires conscious effort to step away from Valentine’s Day and focus on what 14.2 originally meant to me.

Dealing with Valentine’s Day has been an organic process. Some years I avoid it completely. My best friend and I have taken up doing something each year but obviously this year will be different in that regard.

Maybe that’s why I have sent out more cards than ever before. I know I will never see justice for what happened to me. It will never be put to right on any earthly level. However, I believe in energy. Everything is energy: that’s what makes us talk, walk and go about our day. If your actions give joy to other people, that’s different kind of impact than if your actions cause devastation to others.

What happened to me wasn’t my fault, so it’s not mine to put to right. However, if my actions bring as much joy as possible to others on Friend’s Day maybe, eventually, on some cosmic level, the scales will be tipped into a different position.

That’s what I strive for, because I have already lost so much. I don’t want to lose any more happiness out of my life.

We are allowed to meet one person outside our household for exercise. I meet up with my friend Andrew to go out walking.

Andrew used to be my boss when I did waitressing.

I would’ve given anything not to waitress on Valentine’s Day, but it’s one of the busiest nights of the year. I’m sure Andrew would’ve done his best to jiggle shifts had I asked him but he was doing so much for me already. I had spent the past year and a half seriously ill, and struggled at times to get back into society. Andrew was wonderful throughout, tending to me like I was his own child. I just didn’t want to add to my special requirements.

Still, every young woman I served was me on that day long ago. When pouring wine or putting down plates, all I wanted to do was to lean by the girl and whisper in her ear:

“You don’t need to have sex with him just because it’s Valentine’s Day.”

It would’ve been an easy way to get fired. I know everyone’s situation is the same as mine, but I’m also acutely aware that had me and my rapist sat at that restaurant, nobody would’ve been able to tell either.

There’s no point in asking what if but maybe things would’ve been different had anyone whispered it into my ear on that day.

Andrew saved my life when the police announced they’re not going to investigate my rape further. They messed up every possible opportunity to tell me this information sensitively, even though I was classified as a vulnerable person. I was on my way to work and had Andrew not been there, the officers could have created some more work for themselves by having to come and testify at my inquest.  

As someone with a three-lettered name I don’t have many nicknames but Andrew calls me Edie.

“You can do this. You’re Edie,” he told me as I cried into his shoulder that day. I’m not short by anyone’s standards but he’s so tall that I can only reach his shoulder with a stretch. I don’t often get to feel small.

Our relationship consists of me leaning on to him both physically and metaphorically. I’d often casually lean on him while waiting to get my portion from the chefs. By leaning my forehead on his arm I’d wordlessly tell him I was feeling tired or overwhelmed, like he was a wall I was about to bang my forehead on.

“Ok, darling?” he’d ask me without really asking for an answer, this angel in human form. It’s just our little way of check-up. I see you.

I get us both a takeaway coffee. I make sure to pay for everything when we’re together because the pandemic hasn’t been kind to the hospitality industry and I at least have a job. He has brought me a tin of biscuits to take home. No good deed goes without reciprocation with Andrew.

We walk around town and look at estate agents’ windows. We’re both into interior design and pick houses for each other. He could set up his own guesthouse. I could have that three-bedroom place on the other side of town with a garden. He points out that I’d have to look after the garden and I tell him tenderly to fuck off because we both know he’s an excellent gardener whilst I’m not.

He has asked me to write down my monthly bills so he can see where I could be saving money. The numbers don’t add up. We both know I’m terrible with money, and he doesn’t let me hear the end of it. I allow this because looking out for practicalities and gently nagging at me is his way of telling he loves me.

It’s a bitterly cold day. Little snowflakes are fluttering past us in the wind. He tells me to put my gloves on properly.

We meet up a couple Andrew knows. He introduced them, and is now the children’s godfather. The power of our kind deeds echoes far.

It’s not like we’re doing anything special. Still, I’m having such a good time. It’s effortless, at times wordless togetherness. So safe and normal.

At one point I lean my forehead on his shoulder.

“Tired?” he asks. He can feel my nod.

“This time of the year is hard.”

Like always, I don’t need to say anything.

“We can go walking again on Valentine’s Day.”

“That would be nice.”

Even though it’s different this year, I still have my friends on Friend’s Day and for that, I’m grateful.

I have been fundraising for the Birchall Trust, a charity which helps victims of rape and sexual abuse, and if you found what I wrote above helpful or meaningful, please consider sharing my fundraising page in your social media. Thank you.

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