I don’t really like Valentine’s Day. All those hearts and flowers and candy that everybody else gets. Gross. Even when I was married it wasn’t such a big deal. LtColEx would stop at the grocery store on his way home from work, grab a card, a dozen reds and a box of Esther Price mixed and his responsibility to his valentine was bought and done. I usually baked him a cake in a heart-shaped pan I only used on V Day. I must have thrown it out. I don’t still have it. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about throwing away my heart …. pan after the divorce. Maybe not.
I would be perfectly happy ignoring February 14
if everybody else would shut the hell up about it but Coraline doesn’t see it as a romantic holiday. She first became aware of it when she was about four. When I said I didn’t really celebrate it, she was heart-broken. “Does that mean you don’t really love me?” she asked with tears in her eyes. Awwww. Shame on me. Now I make an effort for her. I dug out a card and bought some dark chocolate Oreos and some mint M&M’s. We’re going to make a trip to our favorite local chocolatier later in the week, if blizzards don’t keep us home. She drew me a red circle on her Kindle with her drawing software. I guess it was supposed to be a heart. It’s the thought that counts. You can’t really buy love with cards and gifts, right?
She’s at her dad’s for visitation today. When he picked her up, he gave her a red rose and gave me a white one. That was sweet and unexpected. I can’t even imagine my dad giving me a red rose on Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure he even gave my mom a rose, although I was probably so caught up in my own V Day kid drama, I didn’t notice if he did or didn’t.
I was born on the cusp of the baby boom and gen X. The first few years I was in school, we decorated our shoe boxes with bits of lace and red construction paper hearts and hoped somebody would put a Valentine in it during the class party. Or better yet that it would be filled with valentines, one from everybody in the class. There was no “bringing a Valentine for everybody in the class” bullshit. You decorate your shoe box and you take what you get and if you feel like shit about your measly score, you don’t let anybody know. And you certainly don’t steal a handful from one of the popular kid’s boxes when nobody is looking.
Yep, V Day was a popularity contest. You knew exactly where you stood in the second-grade pecking order as soon as you opened that dressed-up shoe box and looked inside. I guess it was a good warm-up for adult romance: a mix of giddy hope, excruciating let-down, and gratitude for whatever love you found tucked through the slot in your box.
The metaphor falls apart in my later years of elementary school when we were told to bring participation valentines for everybody. Didn’t matter. Still a popularity contest. In my family we got to choose one box of little sappy cards each at the store, enough to satisfy the requirement that everybody got one, including the teacher, who got the special teacher valentine. Only one problem: all of the valentines in the box weren’t created equal. Each box had one or two that were bigger than all the others. And while some said simply “Hoppy Valentine’s Day” with a picture of a frog, others said “Be mine” or “You’re special” with hearts and a kitten. I toiled for hours over which card should go to which classmate. Give the big one to my best friend? Or to the popular girl I wished were my best friend? The kids who got the most big valentines were obviously the most popular kids. Some kids got to give valentines with a little red sucker stuck through the card or a tiny box of conversation hearts stuck to the card. I guess they didn’t have 5 kids in their family.
Fifth grade. Sweet grilled cheesus, does anybody have any good memories of 5th grade? Is 5th grade simply to prepare us for junior high? I’ve written about 5th grade a couple of times on this old blog. About being best friends with a popular girl for a year and about two boys fighting to square dance with me. It was also the year of my first kiss, which had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day so I’m not going to share that story yet. And it was the year I had my first crush on a boy in my class.
By the time we were 10 we were expected to like like a particular boy, so I told the other girls I like liked Steve A. because we’d been friends since we were about three and had even walked to kindergarten together every day. He was safe because he was like a brother. My real crush was on Clint H. though and it was a secret I carried deep inside along with my absolute belief that Bobby Sherman was my real dad. I never told a soul, not even my best friend.
I did tell Clint on Valentine’s Day though in the most awkward, painful way possible. Not only did I sort through my little box of cards and choose the one that said “Be mine” to slip into the slot he’d cut in the top of his shoe box, I also sorted out the candies with the three most romantic, loving sayings from a box of conversation hearts and stuck them in the pocket of my coat. When we all put on our coats to go outside for recess, I made an excuse to go back to my desk and waited until all the other kids had left the room. Then I lifted the lid of Clint’s desk just a little and slipped those three hearts into the pencil tray inside his desk. Covert love attack accomplished, I ran outside to play.
I have no idea what I expected would happen. That he would somehow intuit that he should “be mine”? That Jesus was watching and would reward me for my loving gesture by making Clint like me back? Looking back, it was pretty passive-aggressive, but those were the times. Girls weren’t supposed to make the first move … or the second or third. I grew up in a time when girls couldn’t even call a boy on the phone, not even when I was in high school, so my brazen act of slipping those three candies in his desk would be an unbearable faux pas if I were discovered.
We came back in from recess, took off our coats and settled in at our desks. I watched as Clint opened his and discovered the three little candy hearts. He looked around and said, “Where did these come from?” Everybody craned to look at the hearts in his hand. I looked too, as if seeing them for the first time, as if he weren’t holding my heart in his grubby 10-year-old hand. “I bet Reticula put those there,” one of the boys – I can’t remember which one now – shouted out. “I did not,” I denied. I’m sure my face was the color of a red construction paper heart. Clint turned and looked at me, expressionless as a 10-year-old boy, and then turned back to face the front. I don’t even know if he ate my little candy hearts. I was drowning in shame and embarrassment. I couldn’t even look at him, probably for the rest of 5th grade.
Two-and-a-half years ago, and decades after I left 5th grade, my mom was dying and Clint was her lawyer. I hadn’t seen him since shortly after we graduated. One afternoon as she lay in her hospice bed, I went uptown to his office to discuss her estate. He’d been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and even though he looked just like an older version of his 5th-grade self, he seemed so tired and worn out, like he just wanted to get through the day. My mom died a few days later, and a year or so after Clint also died, before her estate was even settled.
Here’s what I wish had happened that day in 5th grade. I wish Clint had opened his desk and said, “Where did these come from?” and the other boy had said he thought I put them there and then, instead of hiding in my shame, I wish I’d stood up and said to the entire 5th-grade class, “I did put them there. Clint is one of the smartest kids in the school. He works hard and he never gets in trouble. He’s not mean to other kids and he’s a fast runner. Also, I think he’s cute. I put them there because I like him. There I said it. I like him.” And then I wish I’d sat down and felt not a twinge of shame. That’s what I wish had happened.
Ah, well. I’ve given up on sneaking the sweetest conversation hearts into boys’ desks …. because that would be creepy now. I’m sorry I never got to tell Clint I was the one who put the suggestive candy in his desk in 5th grade. On the other hand, I don’t think I could have stood to see that blank expression on his face again, this time because he didn’t fucking remember anybody putting conversation hearts in his desk at recess. I haven’t really improved in the realm of romance since 5th grade. Maybe if I’d had success that day? But probably not.
I do hope you’re having a good day though. It certainly looks like everybody is happy and in love if my Facebook feed is any indication. So many flowers and chocolates and bottles of wine. If you’re sitting home alone eating chocolate chips out of the freezer like I am though, here’s a soothing video to make your day complete. Click it. It’s my valentine to you, sweet reader.