There was a time when Valentine's Day topped my list of favorite days. I loved it all--the heart shaped sugar cookies with pink icing and sprinkles, the shoe boxes decorated with red construction paper and white doilies, the candy hearts with pithy sayings on them and, most of all, the crinkly little paper cups holding individual pieces of chocolate that you could never tell what was inside until you took that first bite and discovered you had mistakenly picked another jelly filled one.
I'd start thinking of Valentine's Day in the first week of January as soon as the boxes of valentine's cards showed up on the shelves of the local dime store. By early February, I had made my choice of boxes and began the lengthy process of deciding which valentine was exactly right for which person in my class, almost always saving the biggest one for Paul Hoggatt who was a fast runner and also played the accordion--the height of allure to this eight year old girl.
That was the year that Valentine's Day promised to be extra special. Not only was I confident that Paul was going to give me the biggest valentine from his box, but my Brownie troop was having a contest to see who could make the best Valentine shoe box. It was a contest I was determined to win because the prize was a heart shaped box of assorted chocolates in crinkly little cups.
I worked hard making sure my box was the best. There were hand cut hearts and doilies on every inch and not a single glob of errant paste anywhere. I added silver and gold stick-on stars for some glitz and wrote "My Special Valentine's Day Box" on all six sides in the cursive writing that none of my friends had mastered yet. It was so good that I voted for myself.
Unfortunately, voting for yourself wasn't allowed--a fact I was reminded of when the troop leader mentioned that one particular box had been disqualified because of selfish voting. Even though I wasn't mentioned by name, my crying probably gave me away. Suddenly, I was the Valentine Cheater.
And let me warn you, Cupid must hold long grudges against anyone who messes with Valentine's Day because mine have been nothing but a string of disappointments ever since. It's been a curse.
From that day on, I haven't had a single boyfriend on Valentine's Day. Before--yes. After--sometimes. But on--never. On the few occasions when I came close, it was always someone new. And, really, there's nothing to do with a new boyfriend around Valentine's Day other than to break up because otherwise the day is just too darn awkward.
When I finally got married and took myself out of the dating pool, I made the mistake of not asking how my husband liked to celebrate the day. If I had, I might have learned that he liked to do big showy things like sending pairs of singing cupids in diapers to my office, where I was the only female attorney amid a sea of serious minded men who didn't appreciate frivolity.
"No, no no!" I wanted to yell. "It's the little individual chocolates in the crinkly cups that I want! Or the candy hearts. Or sugar cookies. Maybe a little accordian music. Not this!"
After our divorce, Valentine's Day became just another yearly reminder that I was a single mom whose main love interests bought all their clothes in the children's department. I'd make the effort and draw hearts on their lunch bags and give them cute little red presents. But the day itself felt less like a celebration and more like the "Family Fun Days" at their grade schools where I always felt one member short of the fun.
As I got older and didn't have lunch bags to decorate, I might have been able to ignore the day completely if the spiteful Cupid didn't continue to throw hearts and Hallmark commercials in my path every which way I turned.
Not that I begrudge anyone else of the day. There was a time when I liked it too. But when your one overriding memory of the day is being labeled the Valentine Cheater, and Cupid won't forgive you, it's a little hard to celebrate.
Although I think this year might be different. I've discovered a new best thing about Valentine's Day that Cupid doesn't control. It's called February 15th--the day all those little individual pieces of chocolate in crinkly cups are half price at Fannie Mae.
It just might become my favorite day of the year.