Valentine’s Day isn’t really my holiday. In fact, I developed a fear of the holiday when I was eleven when I had my first crush.
Just weeks prior to Valentine’s Day, I had a skating party for my birthday. Confident in my speed skates, I was quite the athlete. I had been less concerned about spending time with the party attendees than I had been skating fast around the rink; sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards, sometimes on one foot. It didn’t matter, I was happy to skate.
But then when a slow song came on, it was implied that you were supposed to couple up just like you would at a dance, which for most eleven year old girls IS the fantasy and purpose of skating at all. But for me, an incredibly tall and pudgy girl who was just as awkward as eleven as she is at 27, I skated off the rink and went to hide in the bathroom. I’d like to report I outgrew my fear of standing on the periphery, waiting for someone to ask me to dance, but I am afraid that has never gone away.
When the slow song of choice, “Wonderwall” by Oasis was nearly over, I emerged from the bathroom to find him waiting there for me: Paul. He spent the first two verses looking for me and he had finally found me. Paul always picked me for his kickball team first at recess, even before the other boys. Looking back, he probably had a crush on me, but I think he really chose me for my kickball prowess: I could kick the ball far, I could run, and I wasn’t afraid to throw the ball directly at someone’s face if it would keep them from scoring. Moxie has always been my strong suit.
Paul kissed me. My first kiss, actually…leaning back against the Simpsons arcade game, with the Gallagher brothers playing in the background, and the disco ball spotting the skating rink.
And from first kiss, I knew that I was in love with Paul. Well, as in love as an eleven year old girl can be. I just wanted to be near him, tell him my secrets, and swap Handi-Snacks from our lunches. So when Valentine’s Day rolled around two weeks later, I knew I would have my opportunity to tell him how I was feeling the best way I knew how: in writing.
Thinking back, I do not really remember what that note said. I’m sure it was short in subject matter with too many filler words, just like every piece I have ever written. But I scrawled his name across the front in pink marker, and tucked it into the bag with the rest of the Valentine’s cards for the rest of my classmates.
While I had been in math class, struggling to comprehend that day’s lesson (my love for math and statistics did not happen until college), I glanced into our adjacent home room to find something horrifying going on: the teachers were distributing the Valentines for us…and in her possession was the Valentine I made for Paul.
Now, the Valentine was sealed in an envelope, so that was not the issue. The real problem? I had just written Paul on the front and we had two Pauls. With any ordinary Valentine it would not have mattered, but this was a special Valentine in which I poured out the deepest emotions I had felt in my simple eleven year old heart.
Of course the teacher gave the letter to the wrong Paul.
The other Paul was short, popular, and a loud-mouth. And when he got the card that was intended for the other Paul, my Paul, he read it aloud in front of the 22 other students in our homeroom. Mortified, I spent lunch and recess in the gymnasium with my only ally: the gym teacher who was greatly interested in my athletic ability. His goal of the school year was to teach me to throw a mean slider. I stood near the foul line on the basketball court, him analyzing every nuance in my pitching delivery. Thanks to him, I am confident I could pitch overhand better than most of the guys in our small Wisconsin town playing Varsity baseball.
And the embarrassment of the Valentine to the wrong Paul never wore off. Valentine’s Day has always seemed liked a cursed holiday, even when in relationships.
In my four year relationship, I only spent two of those with actual Valentine’s Day plans. I had to work on our first Valentine’s Day. He had to be in Italy for work our second holiday. The third year we spent in the emergency room after he came home to find me passed out on the bathroom floor from dehydration after a bout with the stomach flu, instead of dressed up to go to the Oakroom in Louisville as we’d planned. And our fourth and final Valentine’s Day together, I spent locked in our bedroom crying because he had promised that we could spend the evening together, but he had clearly forgotten the promise when I came home to find that he was not there.
And though the highest of commercial holidays has very little bearing on relationships, happiness, or on being single. As most would rationalize: it’s just another day. It is just another day in which there is overexposure to caring, overexposure to emotion, and a certain contrived nature that the men will buy flowers, the women will wear dresses, and just for one day love is explicit and shoved down the throats of everyone, whether they are in a relationship or single.
I used to rationalize it was just another day until I had one Valentine’s Day that erased the embarrassment and disappointment I had experienced in the past. It went from just another day to just another day in which something wonderful happened that just so happened to be Valentine’s Day.
We had met months earlier, but our progress in knowing each other was slow, methodical, and calculated. We met during baseball season, and I was always relieved to come home and find him waiting for me, leaning against the fence in my courtyard. He was at his cutest in a Montreal Expos hat, perched on the fence reading a book about pitching mechanics. In the warmer months we spent time in outside, opening new packs of baseball cards, playing catch, and kissing quietly in the courtyard.
I had not talked to him in weeks; I had not seen him since the weather turned cold. So when my buzzer rang in the middle of the afternoon on Valentine’s Day, I was hesitant to answer. I used the call button to see who was at the door, but no one responded, I went back to my desk. When the buzzer rang again, I was annoyed and walked across the apartment, tripping over my dog that was less than thrilled about loud noises interrupting her nap, and blindly hit the button that opens the door.
And when I peeked out into the hallway, there he was. This time in a Chicago Cubs hat carrying a box under one arm, and a reusable shopping bag in the other. Dumbfounded at the mid-afternoon visitor, I just stared at him as he ruffled the hair on top of my head and waltzed by me into my apartment with the confidence of someone who actually lived there.
And while I sat at my desk working, he baked Funfetti cookies (his specialty) in my kitchen. And while the cookies baked, he insisted I look in the box.
The box contained the following: A Valentine’s Day card that played music, four packs of baseball cards, a plastic flask filled with brown liquor, two books about baseball, big league chew, and a worn out VHS of Rookie of the Year.
He told me that I could be his Valentine if I wanted to be, and I decided I would be when we compromised that the whole purpose of Valentine’s Day was just to rekindle a relationship with a close baseball buddy on a cold Chicago afternoon just before baseball season. So instead of working, there we sat: eating cookies, drinking bourbon, trading cards from our packs, watching Henry Rowengartner pitch for the Chicago Cubs.
And there was a longing for baseball, a longing for catch in the courtyard, but mostly it was a day to erase the anxiety of Valentine’s past. And more important than a commercial holiday is the realization that good things happen unexpectedly with little effort. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s baseball involved.