I remember having to decorate a shoebox with red construction paper and cake doilies so my sixth grade teacher could distribute Valentines into our “mailboxes.” These were the days before the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality … before the entire class got invited to a birthday party … before parents sent in heart-shaped lollipops for every child on a list.
By the time the teacher finished calling out names, my carefully decorated Valentine box was pretty much empty … give or take a few sentiments from unpopular comrades like Ginger Snapper, who wore her pet iguana to school as a pin.
That was actually one of my better Valentine’s Days ― saved by a dad who never forgot to bring home mini heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for all three of us kids ― and a giant box for mom.
It was the Age of Aquarius. Peace and love abounded. But not when it came to being the chubby kid with the stretchy old lady pants and the Peter Pan haircut ― the poster child of awkward who saw nothing wrong with proudly donning her Girl Scout beanie and sash to school on meeting days.
As time went on, Valentine’s Day carried even more baggage. It was no longer about who liked you as a friend. It symbolized young love that I never had the good fortune to experience.
How necessary is this day, I wondered? It’s hard enough to make it through Christmas and New Year’s dateless. Must we extend the season to include forced admissions of love through heart-shaped candy and cuddly bears declaring “I wuv you?”
I grew to hate the pink and red aisles at pharmacies, dime stores, supermarkets and Hallmark stores. You couldn’t shop for deodorant or diet soda without walking past endless displays of red ruffled boxes of chocolate … stuffed dalmations that bragged “You have spot in my heart” and stuffed squirrels holding satin hearts that declared, “I’m nuts about you!”
The older I got, the fancier the aisles got. Then retailers like Target popped onto the scene with heart-shaped picture frames, candles and other material expressions of desire. Now you could not only say “I wuv you,” you could say it with home dec.
For years, I dreamed of the day I would be among the chosen few ― that someone would look my way and think me worthy of red roses, Godiva pralines and a note that would send me into a diabetic coma: “Parri, you are my sole reason for living. Without you, life is two-dimensional at best. You fill up my senses, like a night in a forest. Like a mountain in springtime, like a walk in the rain…”
When that didn’t arrive, I lowered my standards. I would have gladly accept mums, Russell Stover and the pre-written sentiment on a Susan Polis Schutz card.
When by age 30 love still hadn’t come knocking, I rationalized that flowers die, teddy bears collect dust, and chocolate just meant another month of paying for Weight Watchers. Plus anyone whose sole reason for living was another person was mentally unstable and in dire need of psychiatric help. Of course, my apathy was no doubt caused by years of unprofitable Valentine’s Days ― three decades without so much as a Rolo.
True love seemed to elude me. As the years passed, I became a one-date wonder. There was the jerky blind date who rolled down the window of his green Fiero to cat call hotties walking by … the angry man who hated his mother, big government, yuppies and anyone not as bitter as him … the preppy who decided to become a Jesuit priest … and the divorcee who confessed on the first date that he was a recovering sex addict.
At one point, I tried taking out a personal ad, with respondees including a rock collector who was hairier than Sasquatch; a mortician of some religious sect that didn’t dance, who bolted when he discovered I was a Jew; and several inmates at a nearby maximum security prison.
And then one day it happened. I got a guy. Not just any guy, but a smart, sensitive, sweet, funny, talented and relatively well-adjusted Renaissance man who liked his mother.
“I’ve arrived,” I gloated to myself. “This year will be different. This will be the year of hearts and flowers, chocolate and an overpriced card with imitation velvet.”
I envisioned a romantic dinner with Rogers and Hart tunes softly playing. I daydreamed of something red and silky in a Victoria’s Secret box.
When the big day finally arrived, this man of my dreams handed me a card with a paw print, signed by his cat, then dryly asked, “Are the festivities over yet?”
Of all the guys on all the planets, I chose one who doesn’t celebrate card-company-dictated occasions.
Almost 20 years into our marriage, I’ve moved beyond the disappointment. My husband signs his own cards now, and sometimes even includes a touching sentiment (the best gift of all, because unlike me, he is a man of few words). I know he would shower me with red roses if I would let him, but I’d rather keep the 75 bucks in our checking account for more lasting purchases.
Last year was the first time we ever even had a date on Valentine’s Day and actually went out to dinner. And while it was lovely, we didn’t spring for the special fixed price lovers’ menu, so we apparently weren’t deemed worthy of a tablecloth or a candle.
But every so often throughout our marriage, this man of mine comes home with a surprise for no occasion at all … a bouquet of tulips … a dress he thinks will look pretty on me … a pair of earrings … an iPod, because mine died and he knows how much I need music in my life. And when he makes these gestures, it means so much more, because he isn’t prompted by Hallmark.
My husband is a man who will zip back and forth to Publix four times, as I keep discovering new ingredients I’m missing for a recipe. He pumps the gas, while I stay warm (or cool) in the car; scrubs toilets, because it’s my least favorite job; and wakes up an hour early to chop vegetables and fruit, so I’m not tempted by the artery-clogging selections in my office vending machine. He hugs me when I walk in the door, cooks fabulous low fat meals, and walks the dog at 11 p.m., when he’s as tired as I am.
He thinks of me every day of the year, not just on those worthy of store displays. And that’s something I’ve come to appreciate.
Wuv is a many splendid thing.
But love …
That’s something you can’t buy at Target.