I remember in the fourth grade it was kind of a competition. Valentine cards were prepared by the box and delivered to classmates on February 14, and the numbers each receieved were openly discussed at recess. I’m not sure what we thought we were doing, why the teacher sanctioned these shenanigans, so obviously exclusionary and non-academic. What were we supposed to learn from this? That it was good to be loved? No, because we never said “I love you.” It was implied, of course — what else does “Be Mine” mean? — but we never said it.
We were keeping our options open, way back then. Just children, not willing to make a choice, knowing instinctively that in our choice we would lose all other choices. What if we picked wrong? We couldn’t see far enough down the road even to know what that would mean, much less how the horrible error could possibly be corrected.
Or could it be that some of us were ready? Ready to make a decision, make a connection, select a partner. Who’s to say that a fourth-grader is any less prepared than the average twenty-year-old bride and groom? If getting older makes us so much smarter, why do most marriages fail?
And what does it mean to fail in your marriage? Of course the ultimate failure must be splitting up, right? My parents did it, and I was traumatized, mostly by the problems of trying to know who I was in the world. Starting at age 12 I had only a mother. This, I thought at the time, made me different from other kids. If only I’d known.
Then Mom and Dad got back together, and that was even weirder. They didn’t remarry, so my self identity became blurrier still. Who was this guy living in our house, and why was this even allowed? They’re not getting married, so are they really together? My own parents conducted their love life like a couple of fourth-graders.
When I was in fourth grade, I thought I had to get Valentine’s cards from all the girls. And I didn’t get them. I want to say “…year after year, I didn’t get them…” but I don’t remember how many years it was, or if it was just one humiliating incident that now seems like a lifetime, lived a lifetime ago, a longing loveless lifetime of no Valentine’s greetings, secret smiles, walks home from school.
I made up the torture for myself. Made it up, sentenced myself to it, and carried out the punishment, cruelly, as a child can do, turning on myself bleakly and tasting the pain. I was crucified for the sins of Cathy S., Sybille G. Mary D., Annette M. and the others who walked on by, talking and laughing, I was sure at me.
The man I have become walks with this little boy’s fear and pain. Sometimes I feel like a cartoon who hides from the threat, the everywhere fear that I won’t measure up, won’t be presented with a piece of paper that makes me real, that stands me up in the eyes of another, the word made flesh, the flesh made holy, blessed at last by your love.
The world is filled with love and beauty. Love that flows into each us from all of us, because no matter how separate, no matter how distant we grow, we only have each other, and we always have each other, all of us, alone together, the billions, the One.
I have burned my cards. I send no letters. And not just for today, but for all of fourth grade, all of our time here, I love you.
Update, February 14, Noon – Turns out I did receive a Valentine card. Here it is: