Today is Valentine’s Day – or, as men like to call it, Extortion Day!” Jay Leno
Two weeks ago a good friend of mine sent me a message asking if she should force her daughter to attend school on Valentine’s Day. According to my friend, this young teen has been in agony over the prospect of facing giggling girls receiving vases of flowers and boxes of chocolates. My friend explained her daughter loved school and never wanted to skip, but she was asking in advance to play hooky on February 14th. My answer was, “Of course let her skip! Take her shopping, get her nails done, and make the day about self love. Tell her how special she is. And tell her next year she won’t want to skip because she will have grown into a stronger, more confident young woman who will understand the silliness of the day!”
Was my response right? Who knows. I have adult female friends who call in sick on Valentine’s Day for the exact reason! If the sight of a stuffed teddy bear will send a professional woman running, imagine how alone and hurt a 15 year old may feel. I started calling Valentine’s Day, “Single Awareness Day” several years ago. I am sure many hopeless romantics will disagree. After all, who am I to criticize the holiday? But for all the 1-800 Dial- a- Flower orders being placed at this moment, I must ask, “Is it worth it?” Think about it. Valentine’s Day is the onlyholiday responsible for bringing awareness to your relationship status. You are either in or out. Even in elementary school there are kid’s who get pretty cards, and kid’s who don’t. When I was young, some teachers forced everyone to give the “smelly little boy” a valentine. Seven year olds are not usually graced in the art of being subtle. Smelly little boy didn’t have a valentine’s box so he got a crumpled mess on his desk with a couple random candy hearts. I remember watching in anticipation to see which girls would get the “best” valentines. The shoeboxes turned into shiny mailboxes sitting proud on our desks as we waited for that “special someone” to visit our desk. My square cardboard mailbox was never very pretty. Because my Mother was ill and I had to share aluminum foil and construction paper with my little sisters, the glamorous box I imagined was always an embarrassing mess. Never mind “Samantha’s box”, a bedazzled conglomeration of pink glitter with actual blinking lights around the mailbox slot. Samantha’s big haired Mother beamed proudly over pink frosted cupcakes while my bag of greasy potato chips went unnoticed. I remember Samantha in all her Valentine’s glory, handing out cupcakes while the second grade boys professed their love. The other girls and I hid in the cloakroom, whispering, “Oh no she didn’t!” while pinky swearing to get even. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I actually considered committing violence on Cupid’s Birthday. But the attention span of a 2nd grader lasts until about recess and we had lots of sugar to burn off. But in years to follow, I would develop deeper issues surrounding a holiday intended to promote love.
Fast forward to 10th grade. Valentines Day at High School! I am convinced this cute senior I’ve been checking out will be sending me a rose. The Student Council is selling single roses to raise money for prom. I watch excitedly from the small window in Geometry Class a posse of squealing girls travel up and down the hall. Finally, the rose parade reaches my class and my name is called out. I rise and gracefully make my way towards the center of the room, picturing the handsome boy taking me to prom. I reach to receive the rose, the ultimate promise of love, and am handed a rose spray painted black. The room explodes in laughter when the card is read out lout, “Never steal my blue jeans again! Love, your sister, Julie.” Julie! What a brat! The rest of the day was spent plotting my sister’s untimely death, or at least figuring out how to get back at her. I’m almost sure the next morning we went to school with black eyes. This is my point. Valentine’s Day is destructive! People get hurt!
For years I was able to tame the Valentine’s Beast within me. I avoided Hallmark commercials. I didn’t wear red. I avoided chocolate at all costs (that last one was a complete lie). Overall I think I did well considering the Valentine’s Trauma I suffered. But just because you have come out of the darkness does not mean the shadows do not continue to lurk.
It happened one cold and rainy Valentine’s Day. The year was 1990. I had worked late and needed milk for my son’s breakfast. That’s when I spotted them. A group of grown men huddled about the Hallmark section, desperately trying to find a last minute card for their significant other. The look in their eye was sheer panic. The clock on the wall said 8:45 p.m. Only 15 more minutes to find their lady something amazing in Rite Aid or it would be bed in the dog house! Some men wondered aimlessly to the cosmetic section, desperately picking up random lipsticks or finger nail polish. One man had diet pills and Adkins bars in his cart and was trying to stuff it all in a tiny gift bag. It was like a Valentine’s Apocalypse! I didn’t know whether to help or run screaming. I was just about to turn and leave when I saw him. My husband. Right there. Most of the men wore the same hunting camouflage so they sort of blended in. I rushed to make my escape. I couldn’t wait to see what treasures he brought home. A gift certificate to Macy’s would have been nice.
At 9:27 p.m. I heard the sound of my husband’s truck pull into our gravel driveway. I tried to act casual. He walked in with (you guessed it!) a Rite Aid bag in one hand, and a six pack of beer in the other. I wondered which was for me. I won’t get into details, because some things should be kept sacred. But failing to disclose the content of the bag would be unfair to my readers. The red and white plastic bag contained:
1. One Valentine’s Day Card. The card was in the envelope but not signed. On the front of the card was a picture of a lovely Black man and woman walking hand in hand on the beach. I secretly wished I could apologize to the couple on the card.
2. One bag of Levi Garrett Chewing Tobacco.
3. One box of assorted “Rite Aid” brand of chocolates, and
4. One battery operated stuffed monkey that sang, “Love is a Battlefield”.
To say I was stunned is putting it lightly. Southern ladies never settle for a last minute gift, and mine was in a Rite Aid bag. Suddenly, the memories came flooding back… tin foil mailboxes, bedazzled Mothers and black roses. I think all those years just built up and the Levi Garrett just pushed me right over the edge. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
It’s taken a lot of time over the years to recover from the Valentine’s tragedies. I have forgiven all the people responsible and like to think of myself in a happy place. In case you’re wondering, “smelly little boy” is now the CEO of his own international company. He married Samantha. Unfortunately, Samantha’s Mother was involved in a nasty bedazzling accident and never recovered. The Father of my amazing son, Michael, and I decided we were we much better off celebrating holidays separately, but we remain good friends and are stronger people because of it. I married Kevin in December 2011 and although it is cheesy to say, everyday with my husband is a day filled with love. The couple walking down the beach on the hallmark card lived happily ever after….
I have devoted my Valentine’s Days to spreading the word about self love. There’s something to be said about loving yourself before you can be capable of loving another. This Valentine’s Day, reach out and give yourself a big hug! Because if there is one reason in the world to celebrate a holiday about love, you will find it by looking in the mirror. Besides, against all odds, I found the kind of love worth waiting for. It may have taken me a lot of tin foil mailboxes to get there, but life is funny that way.
Note: All characters and events in this blog are either true, an exaggeration, or a lie. 🙂
Francie has spent her career as a licensed psychotherapist. She is a freelance writer and is working on her second novel. She lives in Statesville, NC with her husband, Kevin, and their Yorkie, Bella.