Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

A Cootie Girl Valentine’s Day

VD Card
            Valentine’s Day is a hard day to be a Cootie Girl. Last week, some friends of mine from Los Angeles sent me a Valentine’s Day card. But instead of the usual greeting card format, it was a larger version of the one-sided Valentines that haunted my early grade school years.
            Even though it has been more than 50 years, I still remember those grade school Valentines. After spending several days decorating a box with crepe paper and construction paper to hold our greetings, the elaborate Valentine’s Day receptacles were displayed around the classroom, each labeled with the name of its owner. Like all of my classmates, I spent the night before the holiday signing and addressing Valentines at home for all of my fellow students. You never gave one that said “love” on it to a boy, because in second and third grade, most boys were still icky.  I had a crush on Richard, so I had to make sure that the Valentine that I selected for him gave no indication of my true feelings.
            On Valentine’s Day, after distributing our little envelopes to each other’s decorated red and white boxes, we got the chance to look at our holiday mail. And that’s when it sucked to be a Cootie Girl. For those who don’t know, a “Cootie Girl” is a girl who doesn’t fit in. She is too big, too smart, too awkward, or too unattractive. Or just too different. She is ridiculed and teased. She is the girl that no one wants to sit near on a bus or at a school assembly or social event. Her name is used as an insult. No one in their right mind would ever want to be seen being friends with her. In my three-grade, two-room elementary school, I was THAT girl. I was dark-skinned, uncoordinated, smart, and quiet. I had a funny last name and funny looking older parents that had adopted me when I was a baby.  I was an only child in a working class community where almost everyone had siblings.
            I looked at my Valentines. All of the ones from boys had the friendly, light-hearted sentiments altered by the sender. Instead of “Be My Valentine,” it was “Be My Hog.” Instead of “I love you,” it was “I hate you.” When I took my box home that afternoon, I only showed my parents the Valentines from the girls in my class, most of which weren’t changed to reflect my outsider status. I don’t remember that I did with the rest of them, but I probably threw them away.
            At my job at work, we have “Valentine Grams” which are sent to raise money for department activities. This year, I got four of them, three of them from supervisors, which is like getting a card from your parent, and one from a co-worker that I rarely saw, since she worked in another office. Nothing from a guy, even though pickings are pretty slim in my office. I imagined getting one from a secret admirer, but years ago, I reconciled myself to the fact that my life did not resemble a rom-com.
            For most of my work life, I watched co-workers get beautiful bouquets from husbands and boyfriends on Valentine’s Day. Many times, I thought about buying myself flowers and pretending that they were from a paramour, but as I stated before, I don’t live in a Hallmark Lifetime Movie. One year, I sent my best friend a dozen of roses for Valentine’s Day without a card. Apparently, I scared her to death. She called me in a panic – “Did you send me flowers?” When I admitted my actions, her sigh of relief was audible, even though we were 3,000 miles apart. She was afraid that some crazy guy had sent them to her. Unfortunately, crazy guys were the type that we always seemed to attract. For five long years in the 90s, I lived with a boyfriend who rarely remembered Valentine’s Day. But one year, I came home from work to the surprise of a box of candy, a card, a present, and even flowers. Maybe I was finally getting my rom-com moment! Not long after that, a postcard from a local motel arrived in the mail addressed to him. “Thank you for your recent visit! We hope that you enjoyed your stay! We look forward to seeing you again!” He was having an affair and the unexpected Valentine’s Day haul was nothing more than a diversionary tactic. I was still a Cootie Girl, the one who never got a sincere Valentine from a boy.
            This year, I will try to ignore the flower deliveries, try to detour around the restaurants having romantic Valentine’s Day dinner specials, and not succumb to the cheesy relationship movies that will dominate the television airwaves. Since Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day, I will fast and think of Lent, instead of concentrating on the lack of love in my life. In the rom-coms, the awkward girl grows up to become the successful beauty queen and lands the most desirable hunk in town. In real life, the awkward girl stays awkward, grows old alone, and never tells Richard that she loved him in second grade.

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