Walgreens was its own corny planet this time of year, oozing sentimentality all over the place. I combed the aisles in my power chair, looking for the less mushy cards, wondering how the employees stood it. It started right after New Years. Red and pink banners swirled from the ceiling. Rows of cellophane hearts from miniature to jumbo lined the shelves. A stuffed lion held out a cushy pillow that read I’m wild about you. I rolled my eyes at all the commercial fanfare and steadfastly refused to go out to dinner that one night a year, but secretly I used to have high hopes.
When I worked, I’d sit at my desk like every other woman there, and pretend it was a day like any other. You could feel us holding our collective breath when the bells tinkled announcing an entry, and hear it released in disappointment when the spring water guy filled up the water cooler.
Some lucky women already had their declarations of love displayed proudly in their cubicles. I viewed these bouquets like diamonds on a ring finger. They were affirmations. Someone finds me lovable. I have been chosen.
Many years, not dating anyone, I contemplated sending flowers to myself just to avoid the empty desk.
Though not dating someone was certainly preferable to dating He Who Does Nothing. I never understood this. It’s so simple. It requires virtually no thought. And, I never, not once, met a woman who didn’t like flowers. Still, it happens. I know because I have dated several Mr. Do Nothings.
One claimed he forgot, which we all know is impossible if you live in the United States of America and didn’t just wake up from a long coma. Another said he was taking a stand against profit-making corporate giants and didn’t need a holiday to tell him when to express his love. Unfortunately, he didn’t express it any of the other 364 days of the year either.
I broke up with another man on Valentine’s Day itself after eight months of dating and receiving nothing from him but a card with a fart joke on it. I didn’t think they even made valentines with fart jokes, but apparently no holiday is too classy. I’m sure even one of the three wise men is letting one rip in a manger somewhere.
I thought my years of angst over the holiday were through when Rob and I started living together. I hid valentines for him to find throughout the day. I snuck one out to his car and stuck it under the windshield wiper. Another gift waited for him to open his briefcase. A satchel full of silver tokens. Good for one massage, good for one kiss, they promised. His favorite candy bar lay in his sock drawer. His favorite beer chilled in the fridge with a red bow on it waiting for him to get home from work. The card I got that morning would be all I’d receive. The door chimes at work never tinkled open for me. By six o’clock that evening, we both felt stupid. Him, for not doing enough. Me, for doing too much.
“I’m sorry,” I said, unable to hide my sadness. “Holidays were kind of a big deal in my house.”
Yet, here I was again at Walgreens with multiple cards in my basket. There were two from me, one from Bella and one from Frankie. I also had two chocolate roses, Hershey Kisses in pink and red foil and a Snoopy Pez dispenser. I couldn’t resist. But the jewel of all my finds was the Smitten Kitten. When you pressed his paw he announced, “I love you! I love you!” I added him to the pile immediately.
On the fourteenth of February, the knock at the door came early. I could barely see who it was for all the gifts piled high.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom.”
We exchanged goodies. There was a card from Carlito, my mom’s cat. On it, a cartoon cat molded the clumping litter in his box into the shape of a heart. I also received a tacky stuffed bumblebee that sang Be My Baby by The Ronettes when you squeezed it. I loved it. Almost as much as my mom loved the Smitten Kitten. I still get phone calls when I hear nothing but silence. And then the recorded voice, “I love you! I love you!”
I happily munched on chocolate and thought how good it felt to finally have a Valentine who loved giving and receiving as much as I did.
“Oh! I almost forgot.” My mom raced out to the car. She returned with a pot full of a dozen pink tulips. “I couldn’t resist.”