Stores have been festooned in pink and red since December 26th. Hearts, balloons and kissy prints have been everywhere. Yes, it’s Valentime again. A younger Hot Damn had no love for Valentine’s Day. Every year it seemed like a mocking reminder that I hadn’t peaked yet.
When I was in elementary school, administrators and teachers had yet to adopt the culture of participation trophies and the belief that all children are special snowflakes. Thus, birthday party invitations were still subjective and no one was forced into making a Valentine for anyone they didn’t want to. Well, you can see where I am going with this. My tissue paper and sticker emblazoned shoebox was never the one that was overflowing with love notes and chalky heart candy by the last bell. I’m sure it mostly had to do with the gawd-awful Sandy Duncan style pixie haircut that my mother insisted was “just daaahling”, and nothing to do with my winning charms.
By my middle school years, the ritual of exchanging cards and candies halted. Then, as a high school freshman I discovered a whole new level Valenshame.
Over-confident and sexually ambitious teens annually organized some sort of school-sanctioned fund-raiser that involved j.v. cheerleaders sitting at a table and selling carnations for $1 to other students. They came in three colors: red for smokin’-hot ninth grade romance, pink for crushes and white for “I don’t like you in that way”. The flower would be delivered to the object of one’s affection during classes throughout the day on February 14. You could attach a personal note. Sounds harmless, right? Ugh. This was just a new, more obvious posture in the contest for popularity. And the celebrated teens would schlep their growing bundle of dyed flowers around school with them, to every class, even to lunch, all day long. For those of us who received a white carnation or two, sent by a friend as a gesture of solidarity, it was a dilemma. Did you proudly tote what amounted to your boutonnière with you, so that you didn’t look totally unloved, or did you gingerly put your carnations in your locker because they looked like a pittance? Oh, and there was always that one poor sad sack who would be exposed for boosting her numbers by sending several to herself anonymously. Bad move.
By college, I made a habit of dating the sort of really cool guys who conveniently liked to break up right around the second week of December, who then later wanted to come sniffing around again after February 15th.
And in the work world? The competition for the ultimate love trophy went off the chain. There was no prouder receptionist than the one with the biggest delivered floral arrangement by clock punch time. The secretary pool looked like a funeral parlor, but all the women were beaming from the outward display of love. It was high school on steroids.
Big Daddy and I had been dating about 2 months when faced with our first Valentine’s Day together. A couple of days before the V-day, he told me to “wear something really nice” on the 14th because we were going out for a fancy date. He was very mysterious about the whole thing. I was giddy about finally participating in the Valentine’s Day of my dreams. I knocked off work a little early, got my nails did and put on my best LBD, stockings, heels…the whole thing. Big Daddy picked me up and took me to dinner at…drum-roll…my favorite Indian restaurant. I had averaged eating there about once a week from the time I was thirteen. I loved that place, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. It wasn’t out of the box. And it certainly wasn’t fancy. It turns out that Big Daddy didn’t think he would need to call and get a dinner reservation more that two hours before our ETA at any upscale eatery on the most dined out night of the year. Even the Waffle House near us takes reservations on Valentine’s Day. Hand to God. As it turns out, before he landed Hot Damn, Big Daddy was the kind of guy who didn’t do Valentine’s Day. Oh, well. The vindaloo was good.
So what sort of gifts were exchanged? I had searched high and low and bought an antique set of poker chips. Because I knew Big Daddy liked to play cards, I thought that it showed that 1.) I knew his interests 2.) I put thought into an atypical gift; I wasn’t just dialing it in and 3.) That there was a bit of work involved in expressing my luv. Big Daddy, it seemed, was hoping to convey the same. Instead of just picking up a heart-shaped Whitman sampler or a roadside dozen of long-stems, he picked up the phone and asked his sister for advice. It was a smart move, except that she didn’t really know me. Through her connections, she was able to hook Big Daddy up with really great seats to Grease: the musical. Does anyone remember this post? I put on my best excited face. A musical? Does he even know me? But the truth is that it was the best Valentine’s Day despite the dinner not being over-the-top or that I got a gift that I was dreading having to cash in. I was with someone who I knew loved me. But then there was our second Valentine’s Day…
Big Daddy and I were married on 17 February 1996. I wanted to be married during the winter, but I am Episcopalian and no weddings are performed during Lent. Big Daddy is a manly man and believed that no weddings should be performed during play-off season or March Madness. Given the e.t.a of my dress, it was going to have to be shoehorned in with Valentine’s Day. On the 14th, I arose with brightness and cheer. Because so much was happening in the next few days, I kept it simple with a CD, card and yummy meal. Big Daddy kept it simple too. He coughed up simply nothing. W? T? F? I kinda went bat-shit. Nothing. Seriously? He reasoned that he was giving me himself in three days. Yes, in three days I was going to be turning myself over to a man who thought that he was gift enough. Does he even know me? I went Diary of a Mad Black Woman on him. But don’t think it didn’t cross my mind to go in another direction and go Silence of the Lambs instead. Ultimately, I would have looked stupid in a man suit. I considered postponing the wedding to a less clashy date. I might have done it if people weren’t flying in from all corners of the world. It never occurred to me that by getting married I would have to forfeit the showiest day of romantic goo known in a calendar year. Forever. Oh, the disappointment! The tears! And maybe a slammed door. Or two.
This week we will celebrate our sixteenth wedding anniversary, which means it will also be our eighteenth Valentine’s Day together. I am pleased to report that not a bare Valentine’s Day has passed again. Sometimes there’s a grand gesture, like a shiny bauble or a sterling trinket box. Or maybe it’s more practical, like speakers for my iPod. There have been no more tickets to musicals, but there have been tickets to see Ben Folds. We don’t even pretend about fancy dinners on actual Valentine’s Day anymore. Tonight we will celebrate our love by going to Hot Tub’s basketball game at 7:45 and listening to Snakebite protest about having to go. Tomorrow night we will go out to a yummy dinner with friends.
I think he finally knows me.