Heart Breaking & Entering
Since Valentine’s Day was last week, I want you to take a peak at the condition of the flowers that your significant-other sent you. We’ll get back to why I asked you to do that in just a moment.
I would have been happy to get a carnation from anyone, but my real hope was that I’d get one from George, the adorable blond in my art class. His passion and talent for art only fueled my crush, but I never had a chance to say anything to him other than, “Have you seen the rubber cement?” Usually, I would blush and run away before George even replied.
I was internally lamenting about my singleness when Tiffany, one of the most popular girls in high school, plopped herself down in the seat next to me. Tiffany had a perfect attendance record, so she was a huge hit with the teachers; she did a ton of charity work so she was a hit with the parents; she was athletic so she was a hit with the cheerleaders, and she developed gigantoid boobs when she was 11, so she was always a hit with the boys. Normally, girls like Tiffany just gave me stink-eye in the halls, but I had one thing going for me: I was good at drawing.
“Your problem is that you’re using your fingers to blend. The oils from your skins are getting all over this thing, and that’s why it’s smearing everywhere.” I handed her a paper tortillon. “This should help in the future.”
“Oh, you’re such a lifesaver. Jeremy is going to LOVE this when I’m done. I’m making this as a part of his Valentine’s Day present. He’s going to be SO surprised.”
“I think it’s totally crappy that guys are always expected to be the romantic ones. This year, I’m going to spoil him – buy HIM flowers, buy HIM candy…”
“…And everyone knows, no Valentine’s Day gift is complete without a handmade card. And maybe a teddy bear. I don’t know. Is that too girly? Are you buying your boyfriend a stuffed animal?”
“Huh, wha? Oh. No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Seriously? Well… got a crush?”
I blushed. My eyes unintentionally darted over to George.
“Oh, my gosh, you like GEORGE?”
“Shhhh, he’ll hear you!”
“You should ask him out. We’re friends. And he’s totally single.”
“Please don’t say anything. He doesn’t even know I’m alive.”
“You need to stop waiting for men to come to YOU. Be a little more aggressive. Woo HIM. It worked for me!”
Tiffany and I took the rest of the period to devise an elaborate scheme to win George’s attention. Tiffany’s first step was a complete makeover. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, and my mother forbade me from wearing skirts in cold-weather months (for fear of “kidney colds”). The entire week, I snuck cute outfits to school and changed in the bathroom. Tiffany would meet me in there, heaving my body into stocking ala the movie “Clueless”, styling my hair, and doing my makeup. Looking at pictures now, I looked freaking ridiculous, but I genuinely felt like I was being fashionable. Of course, despite my best efforts to hussy-it-up for six days, George didn’t give me a second glance.
“Hmm, you need to step up your game,” Tiffany said, as she shoved a piece of paper into my hand. “38-24-34.”
“Your measurements?” I asked.
“NO, stupid!” She whispered into my ear: “It’s George’s locker combination.”
“Something romantic! You should totally go buy some flowers or something and stick them in his locker tomorrow so he’ll have them on Valentine’s Day. He’ll be so impressed in the amount of effort it took you to sneak them in, he’ll go out with you for sure.”
I was fairly confident that this plan would work, since it sounded reminiscent of the schemes I had read in trashy romance novels and those “how to meet the love of your life” blurbs in our local paper. That night, I took the $15 I saved up selling drawings of comic book characters to the other kids at school and I bought a Mylar balloon, some roses, and a dorky little teddy bear. I agonized with the shop clerk over the inscription on the card. Eventually we settled for “Happy Valentine’s Day. This secret admirer doesn’t want to be secret anymore. Let’s talk about art at Friendly’s [Ice Cream] after school? Call me – xxx-xxxx.”
I had 50 cents left over, so as a reward for my bravery, I purchased myself a 50 cent strawberry cheesecake lollipop. It was only after I opened the wrapper that a detail dawned on me – I had his locker combination, but I didn’t know what his locker number WAS. I scrounged around for change to use the payphone (this is before cellphones, people), but I had literally spent my last dime on George’s Valentine’s Day present. I begged the shop-keep to refund my 50 cent lollipop. He glared at me and shook his head. He grabbed the lollipop out of my hand, threw it into the trash, and silently slid the 50 cents back to me.
“Thank yooooooooou!” I called as I bolted out of the front door toward the payphone in the courtyard. I struggled to walk across campus, my heavy backpack, arms full of Valentine’s Day supplies, and tiny skirt posing major hazards in my journey. In the phone booth, I did a clumsy tango, placing the flowers and bear between my legs while I flipping through my trapper keeper full of phone numbers, and balancing the phone in the crook of my neck.
“Ta-ta-ta-Tiffany…?” The wind had started swirling a dust of snow around me, chilling me to the bone.
“It’s Steph. I-
“Oooo! Did George ask you out?”
“Na-na-na. no….I don’t know his locker number.”
“What? I gave it to you!”
“OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! Hold on, girlfriend.”
I glanced down when I felt something warm on my knee. The roses had pieced through their plastic wrap container and were stabbing me in the leg.
I nearly dropped everything and lost the balloons trying to recover. Eventually, Tiffany returned with the magic numbers – 1141.
I threw the phone back onto the cradle and ran to the girls’ bathroom. I dropped all of my belongings to the floor to access the damage. The thorn had stayed attached to the flowers but managed to pierce my skin enough that the entire right ear of the white teddy bear was covered in blood. I immediately dunked the bear’s ear into the sink to scrub him clean. June, my arch-nemesis since middle school, came out of the bathroom and gave me a weird look. I tried to ignore her as I cleaned up my wounds and dried the bear’s head under the hand dryer.
I went over to Locker 1141, looking over every last inch of the Valentine’s Day gift to make sure there was no forensic evidence on it. I entered the combination and…nothing. I tried again and heard a click, but the darned door wouldn’t budge. I pulled and pulled until a kindly janitor walked by.
“Here, let me help you, little miss,” he said with a Caribbean accent. He pulled out his keys and popped it open. A ton of sheet music popped out of the locker. ” If yah keep jammin’ dese tings in the locker, your locker will keep jammin’.”
“Thank yoooooooou!” As soon as he turned his back, I threw the sheet music back into the locker, shoved the Valentine’s Day gift in there, and shut it. I took the late-bus home and didn’t utter a word about my plan to a soul.
That night, I barely slept a wink, imagining the teddy bear and flowers waiting for George in his locker. I wondered what the sheet music was, and if George would ever play me a song. I imagined our first date at the Friendly’s Ice Cream and wondered if he would hold my hand.
The next day, I woke up to what I thought would be my new life. “Go back to sleep, ” my mother said. “Iz a snowday.”
Indeed. Not only was it snowy that Friday on February 14, 1997, but the snow continued well into the next week. I over-analyzed the situation and realized how weird George would think I was for breaking into his locker and putting in some weirdo letter and Valentine. The anxiety was unbearable. I prayed for a snow plow so I could retrieve the items…I prayed a time machine…I prayed for death! It was the end of the day on February 19 when I received a phone call.
“Hi, this is Dawn….um…I didn’t see you at school today…”
“What? We had school today?”
My mom, who listened to all of my conversations from the other room, replied, “Iz still too snovy, I don’t vant no bus getting in an accident and killing my only child, you’ll go to school some odder day!”
“Oh, am I in trouble?” I asked the girl. I didn’t know anyone named Dawn, so I assumed she was school administration.
“No, uh, I was looking for you because you put flowers into my locker.”
I mentally rejoiced for a second. Someone else got the flowers, so I was saved!
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. You can just throw them out, it was a mistake.”
“No, I saw that they were for George S. He has the locker next to mine so I just gave them to him. I…just thought you should know.”
I want you to take a look at those flowers from your sweety again. See what crappy condition they are in? Imagine a flower decomposed far, far worse than this.
Word about “the incident” got all over school; apparently, the flowers exploded all over the locker, turning completely brown, but not before secreting a mildewy goo onto the bear and poor Dawn’s paperwork and sheet music. June was all-too-happy to pitch in with a description of her walking in on me as I was “ritually cleansing the bear” in some kind of bloody love potion as a part of a Wiccan ritual to get George to love me. Not only did George never speak to or look at me again, Tiffany also pretended not to know me.
After high school, I moved to a new city in an effort to shed some of my weird reputation, only to find out that George was coincidentally attending the same college as me (yep, he thinks I did it on purpose, probably to this day!)
So much for romantic gestures, huh?
Photo by Torvald Lekvam