Valentine’s Day was the scariest day of the year when I was a kid.

It was before the Mandatory Valentine Edict went into effect – the rule that requires every student to give every other student in the class a Valentine whether you like them or not.

Liking everybody else was not compulsory year ago. We were free to not like everybody. Consequently, the day of love could be a day of feeling unloved. You might get a lot of valentines, or you might not.

Adding to the pressure were the valentine boxes themselves. Everybody brought a shoebox they had decorated from home. Almost everybody. There were always a few boys who brought unadorned shoeboxes, plopped them on their desks and shot a glare that said, “I dare anyone to put a valentine in here.”

I put my all into the shoebox – all the aluminum foil I could find in the kitchen to wrap the box, and all the glue I could find for all the lopsided hearts I cut from red construction paper. I dreamed of creating a box so stunning it would draw a crowd of gushing admirers around my desk, but the crowd was always at someone’s else desk. Someone who had paper doilies, silver glitter and pink pipe cleaners.

We didn’t sign our valentines, apparently it was all we could do to write our classmates’ names on the envelopes. It lent mystery to the day. If you had 25 classmates and only received 19 cards, you tried to figure out who might not have given you a valentine. 

In those days, I walked to school with a neighbour boy named Big Bruce. He was big up-and-down and from side-to-side. Sometimes on our walk to school, a boy from my class, Mike W., would chase me.

I carried my lunch money in a small coin purse, which I would entrust to Big Bruce while I outran Mike W. Sometimes I refused to run and simply hid behind Big Bruce. If I never gave Big Bruce a valentine, I should have. A big box of candy, too. He was a fine bodyguard.

My mother said Mike W. was sweet on me and I suppose he wasn’t the homeliest boy in the class, but still.

I thought I’d had a good Valentine’s Day at school. I took my box home, dumped it on the floor and found close to a 90 per cent return from my classmates.

I opened the valentines one after another – cute puppy dogs wearing red bows, cupids shooting arrows into hearts – then I saw it. A signed valentine. From Mike W.

How could my arch enemy, my nemesis, give me a signed valentine? I was sure he didn’t like me and now he had all but proposed. What a mess. Second grade was ruined.

I was only seven years old and a boy was already messing with my head. I’ve forgiven Mike W. for the signed valentine, but it was still the worst Valentine’s Day ever.

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