My locker was the place to be in middle school. Giggling groups of girls gathered there. Boys played it cool, casually leaning against the wall, hiding surging hormones and the accompanying acne behind baggy pants and Nick Carter bangs. None of it had anything to do with me. The buzz of activity and angst was all because Kristina Lau was in my home room. Her locker was next to mine.
She was (maybe still is- we’re not Facebook friends so who knows) the rare type of girl who was popular not merely for looks (though she did have boobs before a lot of us) or athletic ability (though she was on the basketball team) but also because she was a genuinely sweet person. The combination of boobs, basketball, and sweetness caught the attentions of the one or two boys who hit puberty in 6th grade. Once they took an interest, peer-pressure and the herd-mentality of tweens (though “tween” was a term yet to be coined) meant she had a steady stream of admirers. Thus for all visits to my locker, I was escorted by the clichéd green-eyed monster.
I was a late bloomer: shy, unsteady self esteem, uncomfortable with my body (I didn’t wear a bra until high school), and still wearing clothes my mother (who has not given a damn for fashion since her 1969 mini-skirt wedding dress) bought me. My mantra was decidedly “No one understands me!” and I was not attracting the attentions of anyone, let alone boys. (Maybe with the exception of the guy who played trombone with me in band. I was convinced I hated him, a fact I dedicated many a diary entry to, and we all know what that means.) Show me a person who went through their teenage years without some sort of cliché, does such a one exist?
Pink balloons bobbled from her locker as I dragged out the books for my first period class. It wasn’t even 8AM and the madness had already started. I couldn’t believe it. Yet today was not a day for envy or feigned “whatever” indifference, today was a day for hope. It was the first Valentine’s Day of the millennium. This was going to be the day some secret admirer of mine revealed himself.
The fact is, until I moved to New York at age 21, this is how I functioned. I lived in my head, concocted elaborate day dreams, and made wishes. Never did anything to help them come true. Passive was my middle name. What started in middle school continued through college. Every February 14th I would fantasize about a flower left on my desk, a singing Valentine from the choir club, chocolates sent to my dorm room. At the end of each day I would swallow disappointment down with a spoonful of whatever-I-don’t-care denial.
“Um…sorry, can you move? You’re blocking my locker,” I said to the boy, one of the givers of the sixteen Valentine-grams Kristina had received in homeroom that morning. Swinging my locker open, blocking the sight of balloons and roses, my eyes fell upon the back of a pink envelope. Some one had slipped it through the cracks of my locker. My heart skipped a beat, a smile began to spread across my face. I picked the card up. Scrawled across the envelope in red pen the words KRISTINA met my eyes. My smile vanished and jealousy burbled up in my throat. I slipped the card in a book and, not saying anything, headed off to my next class.
I think you’re so cute. I hope you liked the flower. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Bad move, Bobby, you got the wrong locker. I never gave her that card, ruined your one big shot. You got my hopes up Bob, for that my 13-year-old-self had to punish you. She was way out of your league any way, girls like her don’t date boys who play Pokemon.
This year I had a date for Valentine’s. With my boyfriend no less, albeit my gay boyfriend. We would take each other out to dinner, no bitterness allowed, not even smarmy remarks about couples at adjacent tables. I should have known that morning, when we still didn’t have a time and place locked down, that he was going to bail on me; but it wasn’t until a 4PM text that I realized gay boyfriends are just as unreliable as straight ones.
Faced with a free evening, the thought of getting some sushi and taking myself out to a movie sounded like just as good a date, Valentine’s Day and all. I’d let myself forget it when a boy was in my life and my apartment, but I’m happy on my own. Cliché and all. No fake bravado, no “if I say I’m a strong, independent woman enough times, I’ll actually start believing it.” I am strong and independent: it’s fact.
Yesterday was the first time since puberty that I spent V-day with a clear head. No wishing on dreams or hating the romantic antics of others. I didn’t end up taking myself out (rain check) but instead made dinner and watched Center Stage with my roommate. It felt like back in 5th grade when you got Valentines from the entire class and your teacher baked cookies. Carefree, as sweet as a candy heart. Who would wish for anything more?
Happy Valentine’s Day ♥