2018 is year four of Spring Break in Manitou Springs. Goodly times.
‘Tis time now to tell the classic elementary school Valentine’s Day horror show of my youth:
In elementary school, as my classmates were distributing their Valentines into the creatively festive and decorated shoe boxes with the little slot at the top, I was full of activity handing out my own Transformers Valentines crammed with candies and cookies and treats and trinkets abound. I took pride and meticulous care putting each Valentine into the appropriate students box. I made, with youngster pride, a special Optimus Prime Valentine, the Transformer leader of the Autobots, for little Sally, a classmate with whom I had a tiny elementary school crush. I wrote her pure poetry in grade school scrawl. She would scoff at my shy smiles. We spent countless hours playing MASH (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) during journal time.
Our special school-day party beginning, everyone sat proudly at their desks and we were instructed to open our shoeboxes and begin reading our Valentines. The paper was flying and there were squeals of delight all around me, candy wrappers buzzing. The clamoring in the room was deafening. I tore my lid open to find one Valentine. My blood froze and my under-developed mind could hardly process the smack down I had received.
“Only one,” I questioned aloud, a defeated whisper really, tears welling in my eyes. But there were over thirty kids in my class! Could this hefty card be from wee Sally? I wonder what words of devotion she scrawled on the card? My hands trembled in anticipation as I slashed it open, tossing the envelope over my head, to reveal a Valentine from my teacher Mrs. H.
My peers had shafted me. I was the fat little nerd who didn’t deserve any Valentines. I was the kid who had to wear the eye patch because of a lazy eye. I was the poor one who ate half a string cheese at snack-time. I can still hear their hateful snickering. At least nobody put boogers on the back of my shirt like they did with filthy Mandy what’s her name!
I was made fun of mercilessly because of the eye patch. Comments like, “Hee hee you’re a pirate,” as I was being kicked down the stairs and “It’s Valentine’s Day not Halloween, why are you wearing an eye patch fatty?” as I was being shoved to the pebbly ground in the play area and “Fat boy, you’re such a geek for wearing an eye patch,” classmate Rudolph would say, “You don’t need this burger,” as he took the cheeseburger from my lunch tray and shoved it into his filthy gob. I remember more than one lunch consisting of just mustard and a spoon.
The pointing and laughter didn’t help me adjust to the eye patch. It only made me withdraw even more into my fantasy world in which I was lord and ruler. My teachers would try to help me in my grief, but they only made it worse with accidental comments, “Yes One-Eyed Russie, the answer to number 12 is 387. Good for you pirate Bloody Russell Rackham. You get a silver sticker star and a piece of Valentine’s chocolate. Arg!”
It was mandatory that everyone got a Valentine but I didn’t raise a ruckus when I got only one. Perhaps my name was unintentionally left off the list. I smiled through it all although inside I was brimming with suffering and torment. Disappointed and ready to nap away my pain, my little tears soaking my custom pillowcases, it was time to beat the piñata. I was looking forward to shoving and battling for candy. My right!
John Paul was the brute of our class, but I was chosen as the first to try my hand at the piñata. Blindfolded awkwardly, my to-tight hand-me-down t-shirt showing my belly embarrassingly, I used the baseball bat to swing aimlessly at the papier-mâché Pound Puppies monstrosity hanging from the asbestos ceiling tiles. “I will now get revenge for the insult brought upon me this day,” said I as my 3rd-grade mind reeled and dreamt of sweet candy falling from the air. Taking my Valentine’s Day feelings and frustrations out on the piñata, I spilt it open with a fury on the third swing. I was alive. Power surged through me. Cheers echoed in the hallways. I had gashed open the piñata like a true sportsman. Gone were the days when I struck out in Tee Ball. Now I could revel in the candy treats like I deserved.
I felt a rush of air. I heard a mob of gleeful youth dive. I felt them pushing me out of the way, my knees bending in unnatural ways, my pants splitting in the crotch. There is nothing more sickeningly grubby than a frisk of kids scrambling for candy.
By the time I removed the blindfold and looked at the ground, all that was left was an unwrapped Tootsie Roll, a rubber band and the mangled head of Cooler the Pound Puppy piñata. I still hear the lips of my filthy peers smacking as they shoved the candy into their greasy, ungrateful mouths, pushing me aside violently to get back to their desks. I was beaten, my child soul stripped away without a second thought.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, “Russie,” screamed my twin sister, smiling uncontrollably as she entered the classroom. She was overburdened with her Valentine shoebox overflowing with goodies and presents and electronics from all of her little boyfriends and pals. Her hair was mussed and she had cupcake mess smeared all over her face and a separate basket filled with other lavish gifties and a new plasticy backpack crammed with stuffed animals and treasures and stickers and cookies.
I showed her my empty box and the rubber band in shame and she felt sorry for me. She shared her loot with me, handing me a cupcake with sweet pink frosting. We skipped home singing and laughing, which was a departure because usually bullies chased me home.
Happy Valentine’s Day to y’all. Be safe today.