Hannah’s Valentine box: perfect creases, no visible seams or glue. Immaculately conceived. Little plastic mice perched on top, holding little plastic hearts. My Valentine box: clearly descended from a shoebox, the way a bird is descended from a dinosaur. The pink tissue paper I covered it with creases awkwardly. It was sort of like wrapping a Christmas present, and sort of not. I cut the top of the box open like a homo erectus would cut open a wildebeast. Then I glued on two styrofoam hearts, and stuck them through with a Cupid on a wire.
I hated Hannah. I mean, as a classmate, she was fine. I hated her Valentine box.
I’ve always loved to make things. And I’ve never been so perfectionistic as to go histrionic and rip up any of my cavemannish products. Maybe not so perfectionistic, maybe too proud. Maybe too impatient to move on to the next thing, and too aware that, well, there’s no accounting for taste. Some projects you slaved over the audience shrugs at, and some stuff you dashed off drunkenly, they coo over. I’ve never had “writer’s block.” I always have shit to say. It might bore me, or flop out in a mess, but I can crank it out.
When I was a kid, we had a giant roll of butcher paper that someone had given my parents. Your kids might like this, someone said. I drew long aquatic murals, welcome home banners, backdrops for photographs. My favorite were the drawings of two musicians, Mike and Steve, that I taped up over my parents’ ten-gallon speakers so that my mom would have a “band” at her graduation party.
The roll itself was unwieldy, almost dangerous. Its core was metal, and it was so heavy that we kids could barely manage it. I don’t remember anyone’s foot getting crushed, as it easily might have. We got older, the roll got lighter, and we got stronger. We might run out of construction paper (it’s expensive), and our markers and crayons could be MIA or dried out or crushed, but we always had football fields of thin, cream-colored paper to work with.
I thought Hannah’s mom had paid someone to make her Valentine box. I don’t know where you would buy a pre-made box, or who you would custom-order one from, but I had the feeling her family was Rich. Either because is was 1982, or because they were too busy, or because we are a pathologically independent brood, my parents would not have dreamed of assisting me with my Valentine box. My mom took me to Pinky’s, our local dime store, and I picked out the styrofoam hearts and the wire thingy and the tissue paper and took it home to do my best with it. I liked that kind of distant support from my parents. They let me do my thing, but they were around when I asked for help.
I hate Valentine’s Day anyway. Some years I’ve had a boyfriend, and have had to endure the stress of planning and enacting a Very Romantic A Plus Date. Some years I don’t, and I want to hide under my sackcloth covers and scratch myself with potsherds. When I was a kid, making the Valentine boxes for the ceremonial Distribution, I thought, someday I’ll be grownup, and this day will be Cinderella romantic, instead of cartoon character sappy. I was looking forward to it.
The only thing I do enjoy, some years, is making Valentines. Some years I take out watercolors and magazines and my wacky pattern scissors and whip up a stack of 10 or so Valentines. Mostly not romantic. Not for everyone in the class, as our ethics dictated in elementary school. The nicest ones to make are for old people or sick people or people you know feel even worse about a romantic holiday than you do. Stick some cheap candy in them. Then deliver whatever I made, however transcendent or earthy it may have turned out.