February 14, 2010 by
The Betty Ford Center will soon open a wing in my honor – for those suffering from unromantic Valentine’s Day addiction. My bender began in 1974. Mrs. Kessenger, my third grade teacher, engineered a project to get our class excited about Valentine’s Day. Or was it just her way of getting rid of the red construction paper left over from Christmas?
On February 13th, we were given brown paper bags and instructed to create mailboxes for the Valentines we would receive the next day. I cut hearts, I colored, and I put my name on my bag. I was ready.
When I got home, I realized I needed to buy Valentine cards to distribute to my classmates. Mom and I jumped in our Rambler station wagon and drove to the drug store. I found a large box of assorted Valentines with envelopes that would be perfect. There was a bumblebee card that said, “Bee Mine,” a bear holding a jar of honey that said, “You’re sweet,” a tiger growling “Your Grrrrreat,” and several other equally sappy selections that were perfect for 8 year-olds. I spent the evening meticulously signing my name to all the cards, reserving the generic “Happy Valentine’s Day” card for the classmates I didn’t know very well. Everyone in my class was getting a card.
Love was in the air on the 14th. My classmates and I played postman and walked around the room putting the Valentines in the customized brown bag mailboxes. The morning bell rang and we assumed the position, dutifully holding our hands over our hearts while we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterwards, the PA box squawked and the principal wished the school a happy Valentine’s Day. We ripped into our mailboxes and ate the cookies our homeroom mother brought. I soon realized that Valentine’s Day wasn’t that special. I may have been too young to understand it was a holiday designed to boost the first quarter economy through flower, card, and chocolate sales. I could tell that it was a day to receive the same goddamn Valentines that I gave my classmates. It appeared we all bought the same box of assorted Valentines. I received six bee cards and three generic “Happy Valentines Day” cards in additional to other miscellaneous selections.
Since that day in third grade, all my Valentine Days have melted together into one homogeneous pot of low effort attempts. Cards, flowers, and candy – the standard fare. I lived each year to see if Valentine’s Day could get any worse than the last one. I became addicted to bad Valentine’s days. I suppose that is why I don’t remember any details of any Valentine’s day until 2001. I was sitting in my office and I heard it – the “ooooohhhh’s and aaaahhhhhh’s” that are uttered when the flower delivery guy is on the floor. I could see his arrangements and balloons bouncing along the walls above cube-ville like a puppet show. And then he appeared before me.
“Can I help you find someone?” I asked.
“Miss Marrrrrrrna, this is for you,” he said.
My mouth was still open when he put the box on my desk and turned away smiling. I opened it and laughed. It was perfect. I read my pitch forked card and realized Kathy, my 52 year-old divorced coworker – someone who knew me for 28 business days, gave me the perfect Valentine: a cactus garden with a mirror backdrop. It was low maintenance and a thing of beauty. My prickly valentine injected me with a dose of reality. My cactus was untraditional, thoughtful, and unexpected. It was a succulent botanical intervention. One day someone with equal creativity and thoughtfulness will top Kathy’s 2001 gift.
I’m hopeful like a third grader.