But to be even clearer, Valentine’s Day is my least favorite of the forced fêtes. I am a color-connected guy so maybe my discomfort dates back to primary school with rooms draped in red paper chains of hearts and Cupids. As a redhead, I was told that the color didn’t suit me in terms of clothing. Never wear red was a mantra instilled in me as strongly as Don’t talk to strangers. (Yes, I had a few nightmares about lap visits with mall Santas, but I’ll quickly repress those once more.) While my classmates arrived at school in red tees, I stuck to brown. It was the go-to color of the early seventies, very practical for absorbing the constant grass and mustard stains of a clumsy boy.
Valentine’s Day went on steroids when I moved to East Texas in tenth grade. Everything is bigger in the Lone Star State. Various school clubs raked in their annual operating budgets by conducting competing Valentine’s Day fund raisers. Heart-o-grams. Roses (red for sweethearts, yellow for BFFs). Balloon bouquets. Chocolates. The problem (at least in my eyes) was that there was no competition. If you’d swapped class rings and letter jackets with your Forever Love, then you had to splurge and bestow upon him/her the works: a heart-o-gram, roses, balloons AND chocolates. Deliveries came all day during breaks between classes…and during classes. It was an agonizing spectacle for have-nots like me. The day belonged to Team Taken. Arms filled with these tokens of love, textbooks remained in lockers, keeping pompoms and batons company. (Yes, that first year in high school, my assigned locker-mate was a majorette.) It was up to the sad sacks like me to share our texts if any teacher had the gall to plan anything other than showing a movie on this day of learning.
In university, one of the clubs I joined appeared to combine therapy with fund raising, deciding to sell dead flowers for Valentine’s. Alas, this was still Texas and we failed to make a single sale. I took home a dozen dead flowers, perhaps as a reminder that sometimes misery does not love company. (This episode also confirmed I’d made the right decision in not becoming a Business major.)
The first time Valentine’s Day had real meaning I was 26 and deeply consumed by first love. This was it! Soulmate! Yes, Forever Love! That night, we sat together on his sofa and exchanged gifts. I’d scribbled a half dozen versions of my message of love on notepads before finally professing my love and adoration in the loveliest offering Carlton Cards had to offer. I have no idea what I got him. Presumably, it was some combination of grocery aisle Valentine’s convenience and a stylish clothing item to compensate for his fashion challenges. I held my first ever wrapped Valentine’s gift in my hands, my name on the card which he simply signed. (Why compete with the terms of endearment from the Hallmark pros?) My eyes watered. All these years of slamming the holiday and suddenly the day and this gift meant everything! I unwrapped a framed picture of just John, smiling away in a red and white dress while wearing a Carmen Miranda fruit platter wig on his head. He giggled with glee and I was relieved my eyes were already wet.
Forever Love ended a month later. What’s most embarrassing is that he was the one who called it off.
For the most part, I have managed to duck and cover on subsequent Valentine’s Days. It’s a mere pit stop between the far worthier Groundhog Day and St. Patrick’s Day. Still, I can never wholly forget the occasion, being as I work in an elementary school. It’s still a time of equality and excitement when children must give a card to everyone in the class and the day’s primary objective is to ingest as much sugar as possible without throwing up. (I didn’t have to use the mop bucket even once yesterday!) I was caught off guard the day before, when a boy held the door open for me and asked, “Are you excited about Valentine’s Day?” I repressed a reflex snort and convincingly answered, “So excited! Candy and chocolates! What could be better?” And just like that, I’d obliterated a year’s worth of healthy eating education. Damn VD!
The day will be over soon enough. I’ve got lots of sorting and discarding to do as I prepare for my upcoming move. Tomorrow will be a new day, a regular day where my single status won’t be any more pronounced than I usually make it. Perhaps I’ll buy my own chocolate bar even though I really don’t care for the confection. Even better, the drugstore will surely have those yummy Red Hot hearts on sale for 25% off.
Be Mine? Ack! Be gone.