Monday, February 13, 2012

Blue Roses

Any theatre nerd will get that one right off the bat- it's a Tennessee Williams reference from The Glass Menagerie. Laura, poor, pathetic little Laura, has no life, her existence centering around her collection of glass animal figurines. Her brother sets her up on a fake date with one of his coworkers, a boy who used to know her in school, and they genuinely seem to hit it off for a bit. In the end, though, Laura is betrayed, and left utterly alone with her shrewish mother. I always identified a little with Laura.

I ran into my bully yesterday while I was out shopping with my mother. Perfect timing...because the girl made Valentine's Day of our senior year an absolute miserable hell for me. I saw her from behind and balked, refusing to follow my mother to the charging station for power scooters. Despite the many years over which I've consistently received roses or other cut flowers for Valentine's Day, it can't remove the permanent stain on the holiday made by that one fateful February 14th. Roomsful of roses can't erase it- and I've received dozens of beautiful ones since: red, chrome orange (with purple statice, very striking), mixed pinks with red and white, sunny yellow...but I would've sold my soul to Satan to have had just one crummy, motheaten little rose that day in 1987.

My sister, who is still widely considered one of the most beautiful girls to ever attend our high school, was literally swamped with flowers that day; such was the extent that our mother had to come and fetch us in the car and there almost wasn't room for me in the back seat. I would've been okay- since my boyfriend at the time attended a school sixty miles away and I knew he was sending me something in the mail- if my bully hadn't pulled me to the side and rammed the knife home. "Those are your sister's, and those, and those, oh, and aren't those hers, too?" she pointed out the various cards with her name on them. "Isn't your 'boyfriend' going to send you anything? Are you even still dating? What about Hopkins? Oh, wait, you never hear anything from him, do you? So sad." She cackled and slithered off toward the band room, leaving me standing there in front of the Altar to Popular Girls, mortified. Normally I didn't let her get to me like that, but something in my mind just clicked, and...I was just devastated.

I did the only logical thing that a brokenhearted seventeen year-old girl can do when confronted with this grim reality: I ran to the pay phone and called my mother.

By the end of the day, a small, weedy bouquet of carnations arrived bearing my name. They were pretty enough and I was sort of grateful, but my suspicions were aroused when I read the card: "from your secret admirer". I knew then in my heart-of-hearts that my parents had taken pity on me, but I would have rather died than admitted it. The Bully wasn't finished with me, though. "Oh, some carnations. Isn't that sweet. Are those from your parents?" I rounded on her and spat: "They're not signed, and personally, I think that they might be from Hopkins," I lied. I knew better.

Later that night, as my sister smirked and preened, fluffing the greenery and baby's breath in her various bouquets, she said casually, "You know Mom and Dad sent you those carnations, right?" Stubbornly, I repeated the lie I'd used on the Bully. She smiled sadly and patted my arm, adding, patronizingly, "Well, you just keep telling yourself that." I went down to the garage and for a single moment contemplated taking my father's pruning shears to her little rose parade.

Of course, they were both correct. My father's secretaries routinely opened his mail before sending it home with him, and when a bill arrived from the florist a few days later, I wasn't too surprised to learn that yes, our parents had sent me the carnations. Besides, if I'd really been dying to know, I temped for the florist in delivery from time to time. I could've checked the file while I was working Valentine's evening.

I know that it's a fake commercial holiday promoted by restaurants, and card, candy, and floral companies, but I also know what it's like to be let down on it and annually embarrassed in front of everybody you know. From the day that you first realize that yours is the only empty Valentine collection box in the third grade right up to being stood up from a Valentine's dance in high school, you learn to hate it. A lifetime of reparations can't make that bitterness ever go completely away.

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