Fourth grade, 1968. Ohio. It’s February and my hands are dry and caked with that elementary school paste we all love to smell and eat. Piles of red construction paper. Scissors. Scraps are all over the floor. We are making valentines for the whole class and a stack of crudely cut hearts was growing atop my little desk which doubled as a Duck & Cover shelter in case the Big One ever dropped.
Love and death. Later we will discover taxes as that other inevitable fate. But today we are making valentines. The boys have to make one for every girl and the girls in turn, make one for us. This means I have to make one for critical Heather, who probably grew up to be a Dominatrix. I make one for one-eyed Sally who wears an eye-patch which both scares and excites me. I make one for retarded Ethyl whose retarded brother, Frank, is in the same class. I’m doing a slap dash job for these girls but I’m throwing my inspiration into the card I’m making for L., the most beautiful and perfect girl in the world. At night I fantasize that the bomb drops while we are in class and that L ducks beneath my desk with me and we die together in a brilliant and blinding flash of oblivion. That was my fourth grade idea of romance I suppose. Unfortunately, in real life, L did not register my existence.
This does not stop me from putting 1,000% into her valentine, a card that will be so cool she will have little choice but to collapse in adoration for me. I’m using a multitude of crayons and even breaking out my reserve bottle of Elmers’ so as to apply some metallic sprinkles. L’s card stands alone in my otherwise pre-fab pile of hearts. Perhaps it will be the one valentine she will keep throughout the years, taking it out of her scrap book for a peek every now and then – even when she is in her eighties. She will marvel as she admires it, while wondering whatever happened to that nice boy who made it. L will regret not falling for me when she had the chance and review the trail of grief her life had been without me.
By mid afternoon we are done and we begin to circulate to deliver our handiwork into the proper crude cardboard mail boxes we constructed for ourselves the day before. I make sure L gets hers pronto. After we finish with our postal mission, we return to our desks and peruse our bounty.
Everyone’s opening their valentines but me. I’m watching L so as to see her swoon when she discovers my card. I anticipate her reaction and then her searching gaze to find me with a look that says duh, why didn’t I ever notice you before?
Finally, after a few sweaty moments she plucks open my card and I see her brief delight as she opens it. The joy vanishes as she sees who sent it and she discards it instantly like a candy wrapper before moving on to the next one.
I am crushed. I look through my pile to find hers which turns out to be the most stripped down card I received, a quickly hacked out heart, barely symmetrical, with her name written on it and nothing more.What a sucky valentine! In fact it is so bad that my feelings of hurt are quickly replaced by a wave of pity for a girl who could make such a shitty valentine. My best valentine turned out to be from retarded Ethyl who I noticed, was watching me as I opened it. It was pretty snazzy even though every word was mis-spelled and a few letters were upside down. Ethyl, the Mad Artist, seemed to have my best interests at heart. I gave her an embarrassed smile and quickly opened my next one. Valentines Day was a bitch.
I wonder whatever happened to L and Ethyl. I think of them every year as February brings its winter gloom or see a pile of construction paper or remember the smell of school room paste. I hope they are getting valentines every year, good ones, but probably never as good as the one I made that year.