Melissa Carter: Bittersweet memories of Valentine’s Day

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I know that sounds very holier-than-thou, and I do appreciate Cupid and the possibility of everlasting love. But regardless of how old I get, I’m afraid the negative images the Ghost of Valentine’s Day Past has to show me are branded on my symmetrical paper heart.

Let’s begin with the torturous tradition of exchanging valentines in the classroom. My fellow Brown Elementary School students and I would spend the first few weeks of February with our safety scissors, construction paper, and glue, crafting a pocket-like device that we taped to the fronts of our desks. Then, near or on the 14th, we would break open those packaged assortments of small cards and bring them to school to place in our colorful creations.

Back then it was not required to provide a valentine for every student in class, so you quickly figured out who was the most popular kid in school. And it was not me. I did get a Minnie Mouse or Hello Kitty card from my friends, but no boys gave this shy girl a valentine. I found myself envious of the pretty girls whose paper pockets overflowed, since at the time that kind of thing mattered to me.

My fifth grade February started off on a good note. I had a friend named Doug who I went to church with, but we never “went together.” That year I realized he wanted to take our relationship to the holding-hands level when he rode his bike to my house to give me a heart-shaped box of chocolates. I was so flattered; that had never happened to me before.

I was also too young to understand why I was more excited by the chocolates than Doug. These bon bons came with no description of their flavors, so I made the decision to try every single one in a single sitting. I might be able to get away with that today, but my nine-year-old stomach couldn’t take it. The next thing I remembered was Mom cleaning up my vomit while I watched “Carol Burnett” through the washcloth on my head. Doug and I never did hold hands.

In junior high school the practice of bringing cards and candy to classmates was replaced with the grand gesture of ordering flowers for your loved ones. Those flowers were not delivered to individual classrooms; instead, the main office made a schoolwide announcement to the girls who needed to come pick up their delivered bouquets.

The alphabetical list blared through the speakers, and the Cs quickly came and went without a Carter being mentioned. If I was desperate enough I could have asked my parents to send me flowers just so my name would be called, but that would have upgraded my relationship status from lonely to pathetic.

Of course, by that time I’d finally realized I didn’t want the boys’ attention, and understood why I had never really done anything to get it. From then on my Valentine’s Day experiences were far more enjoyable, and I had many opportunities to receive cards, candy, and flowers from women. But there’s something about those initial years of rejection that stick with you, and knowing what it’s like to be overlooked.

I may start the tradition of sending myself a valentine every year, but address it to my five-year-old self who first experienced the judgment that she’s not as special as the person beside her. Referencing puzzles she once put together, I’ll tell her that every piece is indeed special and extremely important. She should view those little classmates as the edge pieces that get put together first, and realize that she is simply the final one to get her chance to shine. Once that happens, the whole picture will come into focus.