Bygone Valentine’s Day Disasters Provoke Lingering Trepidation

Commentary By: Dean P. Johnson

Like many rationally thinking individuals, the advent of Valentine’s Day always gives me a feeling of uneasiness or perhaps even terror. 

My reasons for my trepidation about Valentine’s Dar are many, and while I could go as far back as to third grade and the Donald Duck Valentine card incident of 1973, for brevity I’ll start a little later. 

On Valentine’s Day, 1979, I decided to write a poem to Candy for Valentine’s Day.

I was in high school and had developed a deep crush on Candy. Her parents owned a small arts and crafts store down the street from where I grew up.  Many evenings, as she sat behind the counter in the mostly empty store, we’d sit and talk about many profound and meaningful subjects.  We spent much time together, talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company.  And while I saw her as the love of my life, she saw me more as a little brother.  You see, she was a senior, while I was nothing but a lowly freshman. 

So, on Valentine’s Day that year, I decided to write Candy a poem that would put it all out there.  I opened an emotional vein and bled such anguished adolescent sentiment that it couldn’t fail.  

I nervously handed her the folded piece of loose leaf that held my heart, and stood next to her watching as she read, studying her face for any reaction.  At first she looked confused and maybe just a little concerned, but then a huge smile grew across her face.  

Oh, what joy I felt. She liked it. She liked me. I pictured our future together walking hand-in-hand down the high school hallways and sitting across from each other in the cafeteria sipping from a half-pint carton of low-fat milk with two straws. 

Then she looked at me straight in the eye and said, “This is really good.”  She looked at the poem and then back at me. “Do you think I could use it to give to my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day?”

I eventually recovered from the devastation of that episode, but it has served as a touchstone for Valentine’s Day ever since.

Avoidance had become my coping mechanism of choice when it came to Valentine’s Day.  It worked pretty well for a number of years, too.  The holiday’s winter placement made the flu, actual or contrived, a perfect out.

It wasn’t until I started dating Cheri, the girl who would end up becoming my wife, when I was roped into…uh…did I begin to celebrate the day.  But it was not without a lot of trepidation and a little tragedy.

Valentine’s Day had fallen on a Friday when Cheri was a sophomore at Temple University in Philadelphia, and I was living down near the Jersey shore.  When I got off work at four that afternoon, I stopped at a florist and spent what little money I had on a dozen roses.  I planned to stop home, take a shower, and then head up to Philadelphia.

Just before I pulled in my driveway, it started to lightly snow.  I gently lay the roses in the trunk and went in.  Less than a half hour later, I stepped out of the shower and peered out the window at blizzard conditions. It seemed Mother Nature had given me the perfect out when I finally didn’t need or even want one.

Much to Cheri’s chagrin, I called to postpone our Valentine’s date.  I decided to keep the roses in the trunk. I figured the florist stores them in a cooler, what harm could it do.

The next day, late in the afternoon when the main roads were clear, I drove up to Philadelphia.  I told her how sorry I was that we had missed our first Valentine’s Day together, but, if she would come out to the car with me, I was sure all would be forgiven.

I led her outside and proudly opened the trunk.  There we stared at a dozen roses fit for Morticia Addams.  They were practically black, wilted, pathetic.  Apparently a cooler at a florist is not quite the same as a subfreezing trunk.  I would have told her to forget about the roses, that I was taking her to a romantic restaurant in the city, but I had spent most of my money on the now dilapidated flowers. The best I could offer was some ice cream from the convenience store and maybe some M&Ms to sprinkle on top.

Since then I have improved — somewhat — when it comes to Valentine’s Day. While babysitter problems, car troubles, and sick children have disrupted carefully laid plans at one time or another, we have had wonderfully romantic dinners, surprise romantic gifts, and many memorable moments. 

I have discovered that all the pressures I had felt about creating the perfect Valentine’s Day experience, I had really put on myself. I have learned that it is not chocolates, flowers, or jewelry that are important, it is time with the ones I love that is the riches of my world.

Even so, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I still get a bit flushed, and the whole situation makes me feel a little feverish.  Maybe I’ll luck out and it’ll be the flu.

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