What was the worst Valentine’s Day you were forced to experience? I’ll go first: THE WORST I was in Fifth Grade and the class project for February was to create a “Valentine’s Day Train” where we each would create our own “coal car” out of colored construction paper so everyone in the class could put valentines in our hopper.
The train cars were taped together and placed on an oval railroad track in the middle of the classroom. Our teacher created a giant engine with a bigger hopper than ours for the bigger cards she expected us to make her.
At the age of 10 you would go to the store, buy a giant bag of valentines, write the person’s name on the card where it said “Name Here: ____________” and you were done. Everyone bought the same cards. Everyone wrote a name. That was it. There was no heartfelt feeling. There was no joy in the process.
It was a forced penmanship exercise. When the school day was over we all grabbed our coal cars, took them home, and dumped the entire thing in the trash unread. I decided to create one special card for one special young woman in my class even though I had never spoken to her and she did not know I was alive. Her blonde hair glowed. Her blue eyes pierced you from across the room.
I purchased a Hallmark card for $2.00 at the local drugstore and I decorated the envelope with special red foil hearts and I drew several Cupids with bow and arrows on the inside of the card. I wrote my true feelings of love and of a divine future together and I signed my name
— in cursive! — to make it perfectly clear to her I was of serious intent. I was able to enter the classroom early and I forced my giant card into her coal car without anyone seeing me.
If I had been caught in the act of expressing my love I would never have lived down the day. When class started, we all lined up and traveled around the train in a circle and dropped our cards in the appropriate cars. Then my heartfelt day became a heart attack in progress. When the young woman saw my card sitting in her coal car, she broke protocol and pulled it out to look at it in front of everyone.
All the boys in the class booed her and all the girls cheered her. I became dazed and confused. She took the envelope and played with it back-and-forth in her hands as she made the light reflect on and off the foil hearts. “This must be from Mark!” She squealed and bounced the red foil light reflection into his eyes.
All the other girls squealed with her. Mark, dim, but attractive, I suppose, in a horsy kind of way, squinted away the reflecting red foil in his eyes and immediately defended his manhood and rightly said, “I didn’t give you that.” All the guys took turns winking at him and groaning and punching him in the arm.
“Oh, I think you did!” The girls screamed again as she dangled the valentine in front of Mark’s nose. “Why don’t you open it and find out?” Mark said, glaring at her while continuing to take punches to the back of his head and gut. “Only if you insist!” Before I could shout “Noooooo! You’re violaaaating protocolllll…” she dramatically, and in slow motion, ripped open the valentine and the glitter hearts I stuffed inside the card cascaded out and floated in the air like a fiery snowfall from the depths of Fifth Grade Hell.
She yanked the card from its sleeve with great flourish and the pop-up of two lovers kissing became erect in front of her as all the girls in the class crowded around her to read the card out loud in unison. It was then my vision slowly began to dim. My ears closed. The blood left my head. I leaned on a desk to keep me semi-upright on rubbery legs. I remember the girls crying and the boys pointing at me and guffawing. The young woman I adored cried out, “Nooo, not HIM!”
A great tidal wave of hatred and heartache I had unwittingly created cascaded over me as I stumbled my legs into a run from the room. I faintly heard Mark and his gang thundering behind me. I tumbled into the hallway and down the stairs with Mark yelling… “That’s MY girl! MY GIRL!”… and I was running and running and running… I didn’t go back to class for a week. Fifth grade memories and love affairs are notoriously intense, but brief, and my valentine card quickly became the ridiculous old news of the year as new love blossomed and old loves died on the vine.
I was ultimately able to brush it off with the class by explaining it as a practical joke gone awry. The young woman I adored never spoke to me or pierced my direction again with her eyes. I, of course, would never forget the embarrassment still ringing in my ears today. I still cannot understand how I so wholly miscalculated the interpretation of the card along with the lack of sensing a two-way reciprocity in adoration.
The fact that, for some reason, the entire Fifth Grade class moved on to the Sixth Grade together with the same teacher — always a bad idea
— meant I had to relive the event a year later in the second coming of “The Valentine’s Day Train.”
THE BEST I wasn’t planning on sharing the best Valentine’s Day Ever with you — because they’re never as interesting as the worst — but the best happened five minutes ago when Janna gave me my gift of a bleeding-red t-shirt with the following written across it in scripts from antiquity in the color of bone:
With her thoughtful gift she put her finger on all the major pressure points that pulse through this blog every day. What a wonderful and appropriate memento of Passion and Magnitude as well as intent and purpose.
I guess I better go find some fresh-cut flowers to anonymously put in her coal car.