Saturday, February 19, 2011


Worst Valentine’s Day (Becoming Positive): Honorable Mention UNEXPECTED GOLDEN VALENTINE’S DAY

Pamila Jo Florea

“Where is your family? You never talk about them,” Michael asks as we share a bottle of wine. A gay man with family problems of his own, he is in the closet, and I’m his plus one. Ten years we’ve been friends, and I’ve never mentioned my family. “Do you even have one?”

Well, yeah, sort of. The red wine spills on my shirt, and we are thus distracted with cleaning the spot before it sets.
.

***

End of school, 1974. Maybe it was the beginning of the school year, or the middle. Maybe it wasn’t 1974. Does the exact time matter, really? Hot, sweaty from playing, trying to understand death – yet again. Mom. Grandma. The sounds pulls me to the room I share with my sister. Rip. Her posters are pulled down from the wall. The hand pulling down a singing star, left to right, the arc across his face so only one eye looks at me like a ghoulish wink. The watch face stares at me in slow motion. I turn away so my tears of rage don’t show. Sticky circles of tape that she’d painstakingly twirled together pull paint from the walls.

Garbage bags. Clothes, toys, shoes, books. Picking up one, the man swings the bag into the trunk of the car. Something breaks, and we find glass and metal shards in our shirts for days after arriving at. Where do we go? Yet. Another. House. This one… strangers. Sometimes I know the people, usually not. Sometimes a few hours, a few days, sometimes even a year. Point A. Point B. Point whatever. Are these things true? My mind tells me so, but memory is a tricky thing.

Waking up to life, my anger leads me in helping children in Foster Care. I fight for them. Anger is a good emotion when you are a social worker. Anger, tempered with logic and diplomacy.

***

1990-something, Halloween
Hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. Try to forget loneliness in a bottle of mulled wine.

***

Thanksgiving
Turkey with internationals and divorced friends. Fall asleep alone. Thank you, triptophan.

***

Christmas
Rent movies, buy Chinese food. Consider converting to Judaism.

***

New Years
Gay bar with Michael. Lovely men passionately kissing each other. Raw cheeks from all the beards kissing me. Baby, it’s cold outside.

***

February 13
Again? Seriously? Another holiday?

Red hearts, purple hearts, pink hearts. Where are all the broken hearts? Roses, candies, stuffed animals. Drug store, my eye. Can I find a drug for this? Yes, little girl, you too can have the stupor of forgetfulness. A gallon of ice cream will relieve you of all your woes. Just down the street there’s a nice man selling cocaine for a few dollars and an indecent proposal. Or how about this lovely bottle of gin? We have it all here at Drug Stories R Us.

A little package, wrapped in cellophane catches my eye. Unobtrusive. It sits crooked on the shelf. Three or four more packages. All those little cards, 2 inches by 4, that come flooding back from memory. “Won’t you bee my friend” to a gal I was too shy to approach. “Puppy love just for you” for a boy who had been kind to me. “No horsing around, be my Valentine” and such for the generic other students in class. Thirty-ish cards every year, plus one for the teacher – “You get an A+ in my book!” Ah, the struggle to say just the right thing back then. How does an 8 year old know what’s what? Did the other kids just sign them and write names on them? These cards were for me what I imagined my sister’s posters were for her. I could be wrong.

And here they are again. Those cards in a little box with a 50% off sign.

I pick up the boxes one by one, there are only three or four of them. They are leftovers, the uncool cards. No Disney, no current Saturday morning cartoon, no Hollywood movie cards. Those have been snapped up, and it’s 10 p.m. the day before Valentine’s. A few misfits left over – simply “Be my Valentine” cards.

Somehow they ended up in my bag. Did I decide to buy them? All the boxes? Well, they are 50% off. What’s half of a dollar in the scheme of things?

A cup of tea, a black ink pen, and the work phone list. Some 90-odd names. Quick math. Enough, with some left over. I write my name on the back of each one of them – ducks, tulips, automobiles – who knows what all. And then, like so many years ago, I look back and forth between the list and the cards. Oh she likes riding a bicycle, yeah that one is for her. And he’s a gardener – he gets the one with roses…. and so it goes through several cups of tea until the clock strikes 2 (or maybe 3), and the cards are popped into my briefcase.

Early subway train to the office, dropping little envelopes on each desk. Off to get breakfast – a cup of coffee, and a bagel with shmear. When I return, people are gathered in clusters. What’s all this? Laughter, smiles, hugs. What’s happened? And then I hear my name. Jeri Curl slaps me on the back and thank-you-girl’s me for the happy memories. Tommy Tone Deaf whispers Happy Valentines Day in my ear as he walks by, his custom made suit shimmering under the lights. Cindy Secretary waves to me and hands me a little box of chocolate kisses. Big Boss Man calls me into his office and thanks me for bringing up morale in the office. “Valentine’s Day can be hard on people, and you just made them all happy.”

I did? Yes, I did. One dollar to make people happy. Who knew?

I can afford to spend a dollar and a half an hour to make 30 people smile.

The better question is this – can’t we all?

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