Now that nearly a month has elapsed since February 14th, I’ll venture to say that I don’t know why anyone bothers to get worked up about Valentine’s Day. I measure holidays by the variety and amount of candy that you are encouraged to eat on them and the amount of work or school they get you out of. It’s a poor excuse for a holiday that fails you on both of those accounts. (Arbor Day, I’m looking in your direction.) I know Candy Conversation Hearts have their devotees, but I for one am not impressed by a candy that comes across as emotionally needy, although it is true that Conversation Hearts have become much less effusive in recent years. Hearts from not too long ago said things like “SWEET THANG” and “MARRY ME,” which are a far cry from “FAX ME,” which is what this latest, more guarded generation of Candy Hearts would prefer us to do. And as far as I can tell, no number is given, making even this impersonal, perfunctory contact impossible.
I don’t even know much about the origins of Valentine’s Day. The part of my brain which heard and remembered the tale of St. Valentine (and everyone has had the story explained to them at least once) now stores the lyrics to Fat Bottomed Girls. I thus find it impossible to reflect on the true meaning of Valentine’s Day and why it is important for us to show our devotion to loved ones and Hallmark executives.
I suppose that your feelings about Valentine’s Day often stem from your earliest encounters with it, and mine were always fairly innocuous. Until I reached the age where I was supposed to have found someone else to love me on February 14th, our parents gave my sister and me candy, taking advantage of an opportunity between Christmas and Easter to shower us with affection and chocolate that they would have to help us finish.
Then there were the Valentines. Since the Law of Kindergarten stated that you could not give something to one person unless you had “enough for the whole class,” I was generally forced to make Valentines not only for my very exclusive group of First Best Friends, but for the kids I hated as well. Not to mention the many children I felt nothing for. Sometimes I made them by hand, sometimes I bought them pre-packaged and signed my name at the bottom in cursive, but either way, my seemingly magnanimous gesture was often fraught with subtle details which indicated, in my judgement, the social status of the recipient. Mary, my spelling partner, got the heart trimmed with lace and covered with glitter that said, “Love,” while Lucas got the misprinted Care Bear card in which Tenderheart Bear looks as though he has a fishing-pole sticking out of his head and six eyes. Lucas was a mouth-breather.
My family did host a Valentine’s Day party one year when I was about seven, which was a glorified excuse for my mother to put me in patent-leather shoes and a party dress. She liked doing that. As usual, the entire class was invited. The only memory I have of that party is that George, one of the kids who wouldn’t have come had I been in charge of the guest list, showed up with his dad and an extravagant (at least in my mind) present for me. It was a small candy-filled mug with “I LOVE YOU” printed on the side. I assumed from it that George did in fact love me, and treated him with nothing but scorn from then on. I knew how to play the game.
When I was younger, I looked forward to Halloween with all of the eagerness of a shy, awkward kid whose insecurities vanished for one night a year behind a cat-mask. For several years my costume was a hot pink, leopard-print body suit with a pendulous black tail pinned to the rear. In my mind’s eye, I looked fantastic, sleek and mysterious, though the effect was somewhat lessened by my Velcro sneakers. Pictures of me in that costume, however, have not well withstood the passage of time—in fact, I wish there weren’t any. I would much rather remember that costume the way I saw it through the round feline eyes of its pink cardboard mask which made my face sweat and my breath echo in my ears. The feeling of anonymity that costume gave me was a drug more potent than Hershey’s. When I was decked out in full pink leopard regalia no one knew that I was the only person in my class who still couldn’t tie her shoes without making two bows (thus the Velcro). The fact that my sister was three years younger than me yet always got to be the Barbie who didn’t have a homemade haircut, became immaterial. Nothing could touch pink-leopard me.Unfortunately, my Halloween spirit has waned through the years. Perhaps this is because dressing up when you are young is more than dressing up; you assume another identity, and, rather than telling you that you just can’t wear your sequined tutu to school, for one evening every adult around you only encourages your fantasy. I believe the low point of my Halloween enthusiasm occurred during my freshman year at Bard, when I wore an orange shirt to a party and claimed to be a carrot. The shirt had writing on it, but I hadn’t bothered to turn it inside out. Several friends eyed me skeptically when I told them what I was, and asked why I hadn’t at least said I was dressed as a pumpkin. I lowered my head. That hadn’t even occurred to me.I can accept the fact that my indifference toward Halloween as of late is mainly because it is a holiday geared toward younger children and petty felons. However, it can also be argued that my decreased interest in dressing up coincided with my enrollment in a college where many choose to do so every day of the year.