I remember my worst Valentine’s Day ever in Madison, Wisconsin as cold, damp and wintery. The night before, I decorated my shoe box with construction paper hearts, rick rack, and sequins much like the other girls in my 5th grade class. My mother had bought paper valentines which I signed, picking the best ones for my closest friends and a boy that I liked.
Earlier that year, a few of us had been switched from one classroom to another. After taking my seat, I noticed a dreamy-eyed, brown haired boy named Bob sitting at the desk in front of me. He must have noticed me too because later in the week, he turned around and asked, “Hey. Do you want this?” He referred to a new invention at the time, the mechanical pencil.
“Oh. That must have been expensive! I better not.” I realized that my reaction was a mistake when I saw his crestfallen expression.
One of the more experienced girls in the class, Ellen, who had been rumored to have kissed several boys said, “Susie. I think he bought it for you.”
It was too late. The moment was over, but the attraction continued.
Our house was kitty corner from the school parking lot which also served as the playground. Our kitchen gave me ample opportunity to gaze out the window to watch the kids walking home from school. I was usually home before most of them. After class that day, my heart leapt when I noticed Bob walking by my house on the opposite side of the street. I couldn’t believe my luck. “He must live nearby,” I thought.
During those few months leading up to Valentine’s Day, we often exchanged glances and then quickly looked away.
When the day arrived, I was giddy with excitement. We passed out our Valentine cards, placing them into the slots of the makeshift mail boxes we had made. I couldn’t wait to see what Bob gave me. I fanaticized that that he would pick out a card with a gorgeous red heart and would sign it, “Love, Bob.”
The recess bell rang before we could open our envelopes. We formed a line and exploded onto the playground. I’m sure our teacher hoped we would work off some of that pent up energy.
I was playing tag with the girls when Bob’s friend Kevin sauntered up.
“Bob wants to go out with you,” he shouted so everyone could hear.
I felt my cheeks burn and imagined they matched some of the scarlet wool sweaters my classmates wore for the occasion. I turned to my girlfriends who begged me to say yes. “Okay,” I responded, feeling all at once a little bit older. News of our declared relationship flew around recess like a blizzard and soon everyone swirled around us. Bob who was on the opposite side of the playground from me, disappeared as the boys encircled him. All of the girls spun around me in a frenzy of attention and for a few minutes I was the most popular girl in the class.
As soon as my heart had begun soaring, it plummeted back down to earth when I looked over and saw the throng around Bob had begun to push him towards me to give me a kiss. My stomach flipped. They chanted in unison, “Now we know!”
Without asking anyone for emergency advice, I said to one of my new minions, “Tell Bob I want to break up with him.” Right after my messenger left my side, the bell rang. The storm subsided and everyone ran back inside the school. Bob wouldn’t look at me. I blinked back tears. When I slunk back into the classroom, Ellen turned toward me and with an eye roll, said it all. I was such a loser. Greater than my fantasy Valentine card, Bob had put his heart out there for me and I had stepped on it.
Even though I felt like I didn’t deserve it, I looked forward to seeing which card he had picked out for me. When I opened up it up, I realized that like most of the boys, he hadn’t personally addressed one to me. My heart sank again. He had slipped his generic Valentine into the slot of my box knowing that he would declare his love during recess.
The rest of the day crept by. I wanted the interminable school day to end. I was glad it was Friday and I wouldn’t have to face my classmates again for a couple days.
When I arrived home from school, I burst into tears.
“What’s the matter?’ My mom asked.
Between sobs, I explained and then glanced outside. Bob ran by my house, but this time with his head down. It was over. Never again would he speak to me even though I often gazed at him through my kitchen window.
Our love affair had lasted less than one recess and it would be years before I would have another, but I have to admit that ever since the 5th grade, I have had a fondness for mechanical pencils.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Do you have a Valentine’s Day story?
Do you look forward to it or dread it?