heart shaped lollipop

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share a personal story from my childhood.

When I was growing up, school was rough for me. I was shy and socially awkward, sometimes clumsy and dorky too. I didn’t play sports like other boys. I wasn’t good at conversation and nobody really wanted to be my friend since I was so “different” from other kids. You could hear it in the way I spoke, see it in the way I moved. I was too young to understand why I was different. All I knew was that whatever I was, it was something other kids didn’t want to accept. So I kept to myself and found solitude in a corner of the playground where I could disappear in a book. In retrospect, I guess books were my best friends when I was in school.

I always dreaded Valentine’s Day. On the day of, children would line up to buy Candy-Grams for a quarter each. Candy-Grams were small cards they could fill out with a message and have delivered to a friend. A heart-shaped lollipop was attached and usually sometime around lunch, they would be delivered to the classrooms.

Each year, I watched as Candy-Grams came pouring in for virtually ever classmate. The popular kids usually received handfuls. My heart felt empty while my peers celebrated with excited glee as they read each card. Their tongues and lips were stained bright red as they gnawed on their symbols of being loved. And all I could do was slink down in my chair, hoping nobody would notice I hadn’t received one. But inevitably some snotty little twerp would take notice and call attention to me.

“Look at Nathan,” they’d say. “Nobody sent him a Candy-Gram. Nobody loves him.” They’d laugh and point, taking pleasure in my pain.

But that changed when I was in the fifth grade. It was early in the morning when the delivery arrived. A delivery woman carried in a large heart-shaped balloon that read, Be My Valentine. The children’s faces lit up. They whispered excitedly, wondering who the lucky recipient would be.

Our teacher took the balloon and glanced at the name on the card dangling from the end of the string. “Nathan, it’s for you,” she announced.

My heart stopped.

Me?

Somebody sent me a balloon on Valentine’s Day?

The chatter in the room grew louder. My peers watched with envy as I walked up to the teacher to accept my gift. The bright red and metallic foil was shimmering as I looked up at it proudly. I walked back to my desk in awe, the balloon floating above me while I held onto its string. I tied it to the bar at the edge of my desk and opened the envelope to read the card inside.

“Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Your Secret Admirer”

I immediately recognized the handwriting and my face felt frozen in a permanent state of grinning.

“Well who’s it from?” one of the boys next to me asked.

I shrugged my shoulders and coyly handed the card to him. “I don’t know. Just a secret admirer,” I said.

Several other classmates examined the card, studying the handwriting and trying to guess who the sender could be. They never did figure it out and I kept up my act of pretending to not know.

At the end of the day, I tied the balloon to my wrist and carried it out to the bus stop. Other kids watched with wonder as I got onboard on with my helium heart bouncing overhead, clinging to the static in my hair.

“Who’s it from?” kids on the bus would ask.

“I dunno. Secret admirer. Look at the card,” I’d say.

When I was dropped off at my neighborhood, I walked down the street that led to my home. An overwhelming feeling swelled in my heart as I strolled up the driveway to find my mother waiting on the rickety old wooden swing that hung from our porch.

She smiled at me, a knowing look on her face, her blue eyes sparkling in the afternoon sunlight. I hurried up the steps and ran into her arms, feeling a stray tear escape the edge of my eye. I remember the sweetness of the perfume on her wool sweater.

“Thank you for being my Valentine,” I whispered as she squeezed me.

***

This remains one of my favorite and most cherished memories from my childhood. Thank you for reading it. I hope your day is filled with love and happiness too.

Photo Credit: Clipart Library