Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day: The Early Years

I Have Always Been an English Geek, and Sometimes It Bites You in the Ass

Remember back in elementary school when your class had a Valentine's Day party?  You got to decorate your little box that was going to hold all of the Valentine's from your classmates, and you got to pick out the perfect set of little Valentine's cards -- generally with a cartoon picture on the front and a cute saying on it?  Ah, the good old days!  Guaranteed at least 20-odd Valentine's cards.

I remember one in particular, although I don't remember which year it was.  I think it was second grade in Mrs. Lyons's class, but it could have been 3rd grade with Mrs. Bryant -- that part is a little fuzzy.  The relevant fact is that we had learned how to write a letter, and all of the parts it required.  This was the first Valentine's Day since the knowledge of crafting a letter had been bestowed upon the class.

I had my Valentine's cards, and I was excited about the party.  I was also a freaked-out mess about how to sign the cards. I should have picked the ones that came with the handy "To:" and "From:" lines pre-printed on the back.  Mine were blank on the back, and in my head that meant I had to use a closing before I signed, as that was the proper way to write a letter. 

What closing should I use?  Sincerely?  Yours Truly?  It certainly wasn't going to be "Love".  That was the only thing I knew for sure.  I was a little stress-ball over trying to make this decision.

My mother suggested that I sign them all "Your Friend".  Was that allowed?  We hadn't learned that in school.  Then there was the fact that I wasn't actually friends with all of the kids in my class -- I barely spoke to some of them.  Wouldn't it be lying to say I was their friend when I wasn't?  What if someone thought we really were friends, and I didn't like them?  Suddenly this whole Valentine's Day thing was much less fun than it had been.

I decided to go with "Your Friend", as my mother had suggested.  I couldn't think of a better alternative, and my little rule-following, future-English-major self could not fathom giving out cards that were not signed with a proper closing.

In school the next day we got to distribute our cards, and then we got to open the ones that we had received.  I was so excited!

Some classmates had written "Love" as a closing.  They obviously were not as keyed up about this whole situation as I had been.  I was totally shocked when I realized that some people had just signed their names!  You can't do that -- it's not right!  This is allowed?  My mind was blown.  You didn't have to use a proper closing on a card and you totally didn't get in any trouble!

Oh, but the drama didn't end there, as mind-blowing as that epistolary revelation had been.

I had a crush on a boy in my class.  Of course I never told him this, but I thought he was the coolest -- the bee's knees!  I was a mess about even having to give him a Valentine's Day card, but especially when I had signed all of them "Your Friend".

Everyone was so excited to get their Valentine's cards.  We were checking out the cards, comparing the pictures on them, reading extra little notes our friends had included.  I thought the worst of it was behind me.  Other people had signed their cards with "Love", and no one was making fun of them.  I had been worried for no reason!

And then it happened.

The moment I had been dreading since trying to decide on the proper closing to use, the moment that I thought I had successfully dodged.  I heard someone reading my Valentine out loud to his friends, and then he very loudly said, "Your Friend?  I'm not your friend!" and started laughing.

I was horrified.  If a hole could have opened up beneath me and swallowed me down it would have been a blessing.  I think the teacher told them to calm down or be quiet, I don't actually remember.  I blanked out, froze, shut down.  If I didn't move maybe no one would notice it bothered me.

It wasn't just a random classmate who was laughing about my card -- it was my crush! I was destroyed.

I'm sure he doesn't remember that off-hand remark.  Lord knows I do not remember ever utterance that I made in elementary school.  I'm positive he has no idea how much that hurt my feelings, or how much thought and effort I had put into deciding just how to sign those cards.

It stuck with me, too.  To this day I always panic a bit when forced to put a label on a relationship with another person.  Are we acquaintances or friends? Friends or merely coworkers?  Both?  Don't even get me started on Friend/Boyfriend/Significant Other -- that shit is complex enough on its own.

I realize that it has been many years since elementary school.  I know, rationally, that most people possess more tact and class than a school boy. (You would be hard-pressed to know that by looking at comments on the internet, but I like to think even those people would not be such jerks without the veil of anonymity to hide behind.)  I still worry that I will use the wrong term, and the person will find me later to point out that we are, in fact, NOT whatever label I chose.

So thank you, elementary school Valentine's Day, for the damage that haunts me still.  This is probably why my favorite thing about Valentine's Day is the chocolate.

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