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Open Your Hearts

True love stories from the Niagara Frontier

We asked you, dear readers, to share with us your stories of love found and love lost, and you came through—in spades. It was tough going, choosing just a handful of your submissions for print. Here they are, our finalists for fabulous gift packages. The winners will be announced at on Friday.


She leaned on her elbows, looking from his face to the coffee he made her. “You’re…” she began, and finished by kissing him. And let me tell you, man, we made out. It was brilliant.

GI Joe Surprise

In August of last year, I deployed to Iraq for what I was told would be a seven-month tour. In September, they surprised us, telling us we would be home by Christmas. For the next four months I kept that news a secret from all but my co-conspirators. With a lot of help from my siblings, we arranged to have me wrapped up in a giant GI Joe box, placed into an enormous crate, and delivered to my unsuspecting girlfriend on Christmas Eve. She thought I was still in Iraq. All of the secrecy and plotting was well worth it to see the look on her face and have her jump into my arms. Now the only problem is…how do I top that?

Four Valentine's Days

1. Most women would avoid the personal ad headline “No Self-Esteem,” but it suggested a sense of humor that appealed to Claire. She was ready to turn a page in her life…plant herself somewhere with somebody. Romance bloomed with Dan during that summer of Colorado mountain biking and hiking. Six months later she prepared a romantic dinner and made him a special collage. He arrived with red roses, a handmade card and a heart-shaped box. They were in love.

Instead of a diamond ring, Claire preferred a Mac. It was 1996 and the Performa 6300 was the future. The engagement computer was stationed at Dan’s home on an antique library table that they refinished together. Commitment was sealed with a contract for a new home. They drove past the building site each week to dream over the hole in the ground as it transformed into a house. It was mid-summer when Dan carried Claire over the threshold and they began their shared life without marriage ritual. She had a new career as an art therapist and hopes of becoming pregnant. Dan continued his job as a delivery truck driver and returned to school for nursing.

2. Another Valentine’s Day arrived six months later. That morning Claire found denim overalls flung over the back of a kitchen chair without gift wrapping or card. Dan had already traded sentiment for utility. Still, the partnership thrived as they dug hard earth to plant trees, flowers, vegetables. They adopted kittens. Rainbows and sunsets graced the expansive sky over the open space outside their windows where a world rich with sunflowers, basil, squash, berries, and roses flourished.

3. The third Valentine’s Day was uneventful. Dan had quit school. Playfulness turned to irritation and anger. After months of trouble, they went to counseling, but he was done after just a couple visits. Claire began to dread returning home from work to his unpredictable moods. The gun she reluctantly allowed Dan to keep in the home worried her. She wanted the safety and sanity of her own life back. He returned all the gifts Claire had given him when she left that Fall, but he kept the Mac.

4. Dan did not do well after the separation. Claire tried to be a friend through his darkness. She visited him on Valentine’s Day. He grilled chicken for them on the patio of the home they once shared. There would be no going back, though. Claire never returned there again. She saw Dan a couple more times and finally moved on without him. Living back in Buffalo a few years later, she Googled his name on her Dell laptop one spring day. Claire’s heart sank to read his obituary dated six years after their last Valentine’s Day together. Dan had moved on too. She still wonders about what happened.

Shift Work

One Valentine’s Day my “boyfriend” arrived too early for a romantic dinner I’d prepared, a red rose in hand, and announced he wasn’t very hungry.

Fidgeting, at 8:30 he stood up and said, “I have to go to Home Depot.” I told him not to delay—that my second shift of Valentine’s dates was arriving at 9.

Had I not imagined the front seat of his truck full of single red roses and an agenda of more stops to make, I could’ve said that my humiliation only matched his slick stupidity to think that women would actually fall for early/late shift dating, and on Valentine’s Day!

Ladies, it’s that time of year again—is Mr. Right Now waiting for you or are you waiting for him? Will you be the One (of many)? Blonde? Brunette? Redhead? If he sees you on Sundays and Wednesdays, who gets the other five days?

I gave him a second chance—maybe he did need some screws at Home Depot—but some tigers have no stripes.

What a disappointment.

Secret Crushes

We asked our readers to tell us about the people for whom they yearn in secret. Here are some of our favorite responses:

Bartending Angel

I have the hots for a studly bartender at Gabriel’s Gate. I go there on Wednesdays just to check him out but haven’t had the opportunity to tell him what a fox he is. I wish I had the guts to feel those pecs. Maybe next Wednesday?


That’s right, double secret crush!

Well, there’s one woman, and one man.

The woman just recently changed job titles, which I’m hoping turns out to be an improvement. She works so hard for her people…maybe now she can relax a little.

The man is a man that I work with, but I don’t often see...He says he wants to move to California.

But just not with me.


Boss of My Heart

It was late November when you stood me up at the Bruce Springsteen concert. I sat alone in the aisle seat when the Boss told me it was hard to be a saint in the city. You haven’t called me since. Don’t worry; I’ll be at the bar.

Pitchers of Love

I have a WICKED CRUSH on this guy that takes the train downtown every day. A lusty montage to the tune of Motorhead plays in my mind when I see him. His wrists are delectably sexy. We’ll be married seven years this Valentines Day, I’m not the least bit itchy.

Freak For Fran

Your name is Fran and you do consulting. I am just a geek admirer. I see you here and there; Forget the ‘There’, I want you ‘Here’ always! With hopeful love—the man from Michigan.

Dhamon @ Staples

I’m ready to start our very own SVU marathon. I wanna be your peanut butter covered dead rat. Happy Valentine’s Day! Heart, Genny Pounder.

Heavy, Asymmetrical

She resembles a heavier Nicole Kidman in an asymmetrical kind of way. She works in a bar on Chippewa and I love her. She has “bedroom” eyes and no clue that I exist. But I have my way with her each night in my room—alone—in a stupor of alcohol.

Crush on Kosta's Hostess

She has long dark hair and big brown eyes, that girl has me mesmerized. A beautiful smile and dresses to impress, she’s better than all the rest. I would if I could, but don’t know if I should—ask her to go on a date or even be my mate. But until then, I want everyone to know: She’s the best and her name…oh yeah, it starts with an S. Love, the guy that doesn’t want to be rejected.

Dance With Me, Factor

You asked about love stories. Well I have one. A long time ago, over nine years actually, I had a chat room on AOL that I was quite proud to be running. It was in the olden days when it was more Wild West than information highway. Crazies traveled the net, disrupting room after room, night after night. I had witnessed it many a night. But I was determined not to let it happen to my little room. So I formulated a plan. What is the worst person to try to deal with online? One that is wierder than you can handle.

I opened my room at 6pm as always. A regular came in and we typed to each other for a moment or two. Then I received a new visitor. I welcomed him politely, but I felt he was very different. He sat quietly and watched, saying little. Then my room came under fire from one of the mauraders that swooped down on the rooms. He told me he was sent to tell me I was going to die. (Not tonight, little boy, and not in my room.) I started typing as fast as my fingers could type. This was predestined. I was so glad he came. (As I typed, I also typed for my quiet visitor, Factor, to please stay.) I told the interloper that I had 16 cats, many of them with mange and bowel problems. I needed to find them a new home if I was not long for this world. (I would wink at Factor, smile in my typing, asking him to stay.)

It took me a little while of working with this problem, but after about 15 minutes, I won and the annoyance ran off. My fingers ached a bit. But Factor was still there, hopefully laughing as hard as I was now. I took a deep breath. And then I typed to him: “Factor dance with me. I want to feel your arms around me.”

I don’t know where that really came from or why. But he started typing back. And in some magical way, we were waltzing with no music, with no touching, just our words. And we have been together ever since. But for so very long it was still with him there and me here. This last August, he finally came home to me. We waited to be together for so very long. But we have lifetimes, I know, to be together. Lifetimes.

Aces Full of Nines

Green grass and blue sky. Comfy beds. Cereal for breakfast. Being happy doesn’t take much for us. When we have each other, a warm house is pretty much all we need—the rest just falls into place. We live simply and get by just fine for being 23—Jordan, me, and our little dog Sola, a family made of three. We play games to stay entertained and poker is our game of choice. Last summer we started a one-on-one tournament that required the loser to plan a fun day for the winner. A fun day being a surprise 24-hour date that could start at any time. Back and forth our war of chip-stacks raged on, I’d get lucky just after he’d call my bluff…until a full house hit: aces full of nines. I won. The fun day was mine.

I waited, wondering when my fun day would pop up. I told everyone about it—the girls at work, our family, our friends. I was so proud to have won I just couldn’t wait for the prize. On a perfect weather morning, full of tricks, Jordan surprised me by coming home from work all ready to go, telling me to hurry up and get dressed: “We don’t have much time, hurry, hurry, hurry—your fun day starts now!”

Cruising down the 219, we ended up at our favorite spot: Griffis Sculpture Park in Ashford Hollow. Three metal birds stand at the top of a field mirroring our matching tattoos and reminding us how good life is, and that it’s never over. Two conditions got me to the park without many questions: 1) Don’t look in the trunk. 2) Just go with the flow. I walked over to our picnic spot and watched as Jordan pulled out a brand new brown blanket to lie on, a full sushi Love Boat lunch from Wasabi, and a bottle of champagne. I had no idea he’d put so much thought into my treasured afternoon. After a cheers moment, I told Jordan that I wished my fun day could last longer. He sat up and said, “How about it lasts forever?” He put his hand into his pocket, and maneuvered himself to face me kneeling, and I realized that the moment I had dreamed of was about to happen in real time.

Marriage. To be together with one and only one person for the rest of your life almost seems silly to believe in today. All over the news there are scandals and cheating, a love child creeps up, another divorce takes place—I was losing faith in the whole idea of holy matrimony. Finding the right person renewed my belief. To meet your perfect match is unbelievable, so unbelievable that you don’t even realize it. You meet, you fall in love, things move so fast you don’t question it and before you know it you don’t see anyone else on the street, you don’t notice anyone else in line at the store—you are completely and entirely taken over by one single being. It’s amazing.

Types Cast Aside

My girlfriend Kim and I met online—twice. The first time was in January of 2006, but it wasn’t meant to be. She was a Gemini, active in a million organizations; I, an emotional Cancer, still struggled to get over an ex-lover. Finally in March, she responded to an ad I placed on She had changed her email address, but not her style—colorful, epic, and punctuated by smiley face icons—nor the warm, positive, down-to-earth personality emanating from each written word.

I received her first email on a Monday; by Wednesday, I was asking to meet her in person. We set up a “blind date” for 7pm that Saturday at Higher Grounds, a huge coffee shop (now a furniture store) near UB that was run by Christian missionaries. I totally had a panic attack while getting ready for our date—and showed up over an hour late. Kim later said that she was worried that I’d stood her up, but remembered me telling her that I had a problem with being on time. (I still do.) In addition, I intrigued her- and she thought I might be worth the wait. (I was!)

When we finally met face-to-face, my first impression was that she wasn’t my type—after all, I was into girls who fancied themselves big, tough butches, and here was Kim, wearing eye shadow and smelling of perfume! In the end, we closed the place down after four hours of deep conversation. As we talked, I felt as though I could see her aura—a strong bright light, a wonderfully intense fire.

We went to our separate vehicles as they locked the doors of the coffee shop. She gave me her number, thinking that I’d never call.

I called the next day. She moved in six months later. Four years after that first date, we’re buying our first home—and hope to close by Valentine’s Day!

There are several morals to my story: 1) that you can meet a great person over the internet; 2) that what you think is your “type” really isn’t; and 3) that the best relationship can completely catch you by surprise. Who’d have imagined that a busy, independent Gemini and an emotional, unpredictable Cancer would establish a relationship that would get stronger with each passing year? Neither of us ever expected to find love that night—but I’m sure glad Kim hung around to wait for it.

The final moral of our story: Love doesn’t grow without continued effort and commitment. Anyone can fall into love, but it’s those who work at it that keep it alive.

The Woman Who Understands

We met at a place I vowed to myself I’d never again date—work. Colleagues of mine attempted to introduce us yet I told them I was sticking to my word this time around. I had too many bad experiences in the past. The three of us went out for margaritas on a sunny Friday afternoon when he strolled by. We invited him to join us, he sat and puffed away on his cigarette, sharing a story which I cannot for the life of me remember because I was too focused on trying to tune him out. I’ll be honest, though: I thought he was adorable.

Two months passed and I invited him to see a friend’s band play. I teased him about his favorite football team and it was that very day that he caught my attention. His binary code made my neurotransmitters go wacky. The night of the concert I stood on my tiptoes to kiss him and I saw sparks, but it wasn’t until my pilgrimage to visit my Southern family that I realized that it was something more.

Over the next two months of my employment I realized his true ability to send my dopamine levels through the ceiling. Despite my reluctance to let down the concrete wall I had built up around my heart, he has managed to begin the remodeling. He has since become my inspiration to become a better individual not only to my family and friends but most importantly to myself. Since he’s come into my life I’ve had so many blessings in disguise that I don’t ever want to lose him, his abilities to make my arrector pili stand on end, and my purkinje fibers twitter with joy.

For the first time, I feel as though I’ve found an intimate friendship. I owe so much to this drug I have affectionately nicknamed ZbrenZ. Please say you’ll celebrate one of the many martyred saints of ancient Rome with me. From “The Woman Who Understands” by Everard Jack Appleton.

Breakup, Then Hookup

It all happened on a cold Valentine’s night, when I met my prince charming.

But here’s the beginning: I had broken up with a very mean boyfriend of four months the night before Valentine’s Day. He had gone a little psycho, locked me in his house after the Sabres game we had attended, saying. “You can’t leave, I’m making you food, I know this is the last time I will see you because you broke up with me.” He obviously did not get it when I said, “We could be friends.” I ended up running out of his house as he chased me down the street saying, “No, don’t leave.” The food he was trying to make me was still on the stove. So in a desperate moment, I said, “There’s smoke coming out of your house! You left the food on the stove! Your cats are inside!”

As soon as he ran into his house, I locked my car doors and drove off.

The next night was Valentine’s Day and I was invited to an Anti-Valentine’s Day Party. I went and got very drunk and met up at the Stillwater with my roommate, who was very drunk and went up to a guy she knew from dental school and said, “Have you met my friend?” He was very handsome, wearing a bright green polo, and he asked me to do shots. Of course I said yes, and we have been together ever since. Valentine’s Day 2010 is our one year together, and I couldn’t be happier. They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince and they were right.

The Dance Partner

By the time I was 33 years old, I had been through three major relationships, and I knew one thing for sure: I did a lot of things competently but not boyfriends. I have to say, coming to that realization freed me up to do what I liked and what I was good at. So I focused my time on things that made me happy. I loved my job. I loved my girlfriends, and I loved dancing and music! To be specific, I was crazy about New Wave. I spent my weekends hanging out at McVan’s or the Schuper House listening and dancing like a wild woman to my faves—Pauline and the Perils, the Jumpers, and Electroman. (A big shout out to Mark Freeland!) I was happy and did not need a “main squeeze” to make my life complete.

One night I went to a dear friend’s house for a local fundraiser that she hosted annually. At the door, I turned in my donation; proceeded to the keg for a beer; and then headed straight for the dining room, which had been transformed into a dance floor. Because most of my friends were still grooving on Steely Dan (no offense), I always came prepared with my own tunes. At the cassette recorder (CDs were science fiction then), I popped in “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones and started to dance. At my age, I had ditched self-consciousness and the need for a dance partner. As I twirled around in one of my punk rock whirling dervishes, I saw two feet dancing across from me. I looked up and there was this dashing guy rocking out with me! We danced and talked all night, and he asked for my number. He said he would call. I thought, Yeah, sure. How many times have I heard that before?

Well, he called, and the first time we went out, I took him to the Continental to see MX80. I wanted to make sure that he could keep up with me. We stood in front of the stage, and I rocked out while he stood behind me. Apparently, while I was in punk oblivion, an altercation erupted next to us. Suddenly, I felt his hand and arm wrap firmly around my waist, and he whisked me off to safety. My heart melted. My knees buckled, and I was hooked. I fell head over heels for the love of my life, And, we have been dancing together ever since.

This Too Too Solid Flesh

I once met the love of my life online, my “perfect match,” according to our e-dating service—and he truly was spiritually, politically, and idiosyncratically my cosmic twin. When I read his quirky correspondence, it was like reading something I’d written myself. Amazing. And how rare! We lived in different European cities at the time, but I would have moved anywhere to be with him, so strong was the attraction.

Exchanging reams of email with mounting mutual enthusiasm, we finally decided to break the suspense and meet up. Since I would be in Britain for several weeks anyway, I proposed a whole (but pressure-free) weekend together at a destination he’d once expressed interest in. We’d have separate rooms, and mostly talk and adjust to each other in the flesh, I explained. He was more cautious, though, as my photo had only just arrived by post. I’d warned him from the start that I was neither beautiful nor photogenic, and he’d said he didn’t care if I were a “mauve midget.” But he would only agree to a coffee now. I conceded good-naturedly, “Okay, coffee it is. I wouldn’t want you touring the countryside with me at gunpoint.”

Well. Being British, he apparently didn’t know that I’d merely meant I didn’t want him to do something he wasn’t enthused to do—and, what’s more, he’d quietly concluded that I must be an evil stalker who’d just threatened to shoot him! (Did I tell you he was imaginative?) Meanwhile, I set out for Britain with no internet access—and didn’t know he’d cancelled the coffee out of terror. Imagine his surprise when I arrived on his doorstep anyway. Imagine mine when I saw him freak out and take evasive maneuvers when I tried to shake his hand! We talked nervously on the doorstep for a little while, but it was over before it began. The fates never gave us a chance.

Fast-forward several years to January 2010. Now living in Buffalo, I’m perusing The People’s Republic of South Devon, a socially responsible British newspaper akin to Artvoice, when I instantly recognize one of the respondents in a man-on-the-street interview, pirouetting around the reporter’s question in a Pythonesque style like verbal mashed potatoes. Colin! Warmed to the toes just “hearing his voice,” I couldn’t help but laugh and realize how deeply I still love him.

I wish there was a way to tell him what a precious addition he is to the universe—if knowing so could somehow help him. I don’t want to be so intrusive as to contact him again, but I feel a lot less alone in this world knowing that my cosmic twin is out there somewhere (and I say this being in a relationship now). I just hope he’s happy and well. By the power of St. Valentine, Colin Austin, I’ll love you till the day I die.

Evenings in Paris

It was a Sunday evening in November 1964. The front page of Le Monde newspaper read, “Mike Jagger est arrive!” and his huge open mouth took up half the page. I was a student in Paris, helping an American woman to unpack things in her new apartment in the Latin Quarter. There was a rap on the door.

“Open it! It’s the guy from Montreal,” she said and my heart sank. Now I’ll be stuck trying to speak French with a French Canadien, I thought. I opened the door and a tall, svelte man with long sandy-blond hair, red beard, and ocean blue eyes stood there, giving me the once over twice.

“Hi. I’m Maurice. I hear you’re from Ireland. Eh!” he said. God. The man who looked like a Viking spoke English! I was delighted. We spent hours unpacking Libby’s packages of ready-made foods.

“Let’s go an’ see the movie My Fair Lady, eh,” he offered.

“Is it in English or French?”


“If it’s in English, I’ll go.”

We sat in the dark and watched Rex Harrison teaching Audrey Hepburn about the rain in Spain. Things sped up fast between the man from Montreal and me and our evenings in Paris were exciting. We went to see Goldfinger and other James Bond movies. While walking hand-in-hand down the Boulevard Saint Germain in the rain one January day, he stopped and looked into my face.

“Will you marry me?” he asked me. I was speechless with surprise.

“We could get married here in Paris, eh,” he went on.

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “I will. But not yet,” I told the man who lived like a hippie.

In May, he went to Houston. He wrote almost every day. I never had a wish to go to the USA. He sent me a one-way ticket. I arrived in December. When I saw him at the airport, his beard was gone and he had a crew-cut.

“I’ve joined the reserve army,” he announced. Within a week, he was gone to boot camp for six months. In September we were married in Houston and he got a job with a steel company.

“We’re being transferred to Buffalo!” he shouted one day when he came home.

“Buffalo! Where’s that?” I asked.

“It’s in New York, near Canada,” he said.

The Bekins truck came and took our things. We drove up to Buffalo. It was January 1968. Parts of downtown were burned out. We couldn’t find an apartment anywhere.

“Only people who are evicted move in January,” people told us. We stayed in the Lord Amherst Hotel for six weeks.

We finally found an apartment and our first child was born. I was lonely being home alone with a baby, no family around, and it snowed endlessly.

“We’ll be transferred outta here within four years,” Maurice assured me.

“Let’s go an’ see a house,” the hippie who now wore a business suit every day said one Saturday morning.

We arrived at a big, old house with shimmering windows in the City of Buffalo. By nightfall, he’d bought the house.

“We’ll only be here four more years an’ then we’ll be transferred somewhere else,” he said many times.

The next year our twins were born. I was home all day with three babies. I gazed out at the snow and wondered how I ended up in such a Siberian place.

“We’ll be transferred within the next couple of years,” he said when I felt down.

But within another year, he started his own business. We were in the Aud Club for dinner before hockey games twice a week. He played hockey two other nights. There was no more talk about the five-year transfer plan. I became active in the women’s movement. When he came home at night, I standing on my head doing yoga. One by one, we blew out all our fuses, then got divorced. Maurice still looks like a Viking. He now has four wives living in Buffalo. His 10 children have four different mothers.

The Aud is gone, the steel mills are cold, but the Lord Amherst still thrieves. My three children and four grand children all live in Buffalo. Forty-two years later, I still live in the old house and love to watch heavy snowfalls through the shimmering windows. None of us have a five-year plan to leave Buffalo.

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