Valentine’s is that holiday I always forget. Then, on an after-work power shop at the drugstore, foraging for emery boards or Pond’s cream, that rack of greeting cards reminds me. Oh! right. Valentine’s Day. Again.
I want to snarl at all that pink and puce, while my inner adult tells me to get over it, that there’s no need for the V-Day attitude.
And there isn’t. I’m married to a man, who, for the past 27 V-Days, has propped a card against my morning coffee mug.
So grow the heck up.
Mind you, I’m not a total Valentine’s Grinch. Here in America, I love how it’s a sort of all-age, intergenerational love fest. I love how Hallmark retails cards for Mums, Dads, grandparents, children and grandchildren. Young parents tell me that, from Kindergarten to fifth grade, their kids craft or buy a card for each little boy or girl in the classroom. If I searched long enough through that drugstore display rack, would I find a non-romantic love note for the family pet or the cable-installation girl?
The psychologists would tell me that this isn’t about forgetting, but remembering. Or it’s about memory triggers—those sights, smells, anniversaries or holidays that make us re-feel a past loss or hurt.
In my native Ireland, Valentine’s was strictly for grown-up, romantic love. So it coincided with all those other adult things like bras, acne, hormones and girl-cliques.
I attended an all-girls’ secondary school where our religious and lay teachers would program our every creed and deed. As well as the French subjunctive clause and Shakespeare’s sonnets, we got regular lessons on men and their carnal intent.
Carnal intent. Sigh. A gal could only hope. And daydream. And spend those first two weeks of February on her knees praying that surely, across town at the Christian Brothers’ School, there was that one boy with a thing for Pond’s cream girls who could recite from Macbeth? In my prayers and daydreams, that boy sneaked away from school to the town newsagent’s shop. There, he selected a card that, later, he finagled his sister or sister’s friend to slip into my coat pocket or satchel. Sigh again.
More important than actually getting a V-Day card was getting the word out that you got a V-Day card.
There was our Alpha girl who slowly opened her envelope (and the winner is …) while her posse of pack girls squealed with vicarious titillation.
There were those sly girls who pretended to hang on the teacher’s every word while there, atop or between the textbooks in their open satchels, sat those pink envelopes.
There was that day when a girl named Breda wasn’t quite sly or furtive enough. Half-way through a lecture on Simeon, our French teacher spotted a lavender envelope in Breda’s satchel. It had S.W.A.L.K. (sent with a loving kiss) written, in bold letters, across the front.
Dirty little slut. Thwack. Pregnant before you’re 16. Thwack.
I can still hear those words. I can still conjure the imprint of the teacher’s hand across Breda’s flushed, stunned face. Worse, I can re-feel my own conflicted loyalty, my girlish confusion between envy and pity.
Most of us would edit out those parts of our youth that can still make us cringe or cry. Here are the parts that I would delete: I would exempt myself from all that classroom and school group think. I would protect myself from those teenage plunges from hope to hurt. I would give my young self the chutzpah to question and argue against that concept—still so pervasive among our young girls–that boys can woo and pursue, while girls must bait and wait.
Aine Greaney.: I am an Irish expatriate living north of Boston. Previous placements include, Salon, Boston Globe Magazine, The Manifest-Station, NPR Boston and others. My Twitter handle is @ainegreaney.
I remember being the most insecure little girl in elementary school but on Valentines Day we all got cards from everyone and I thought. Wow how special is this.
Thank you for visiting and your memory of elementary school cards. My American friends describe similar experiences. It sounds so fun.