when valentine's day was the most important day of the year


It went like this. Your name was called on the intercom and you proudly padded down to the front desk of your dorm to claim your delivery. On this day, Valentine's Day,  the holiest of all days for deliveries for a college girl, you hoped for the biggest bouquet of flowers. Of course, if they were sent by a boy, that was ideal. There would be squeals of delight heard coming from the lobby. If, instead, they were sent by a girl's parents, that was still good and this elicited a very sweet sigh of happiness.

I remember watching the girls walking by my room (we all kept our doors open in our girls only dorm) proudly carrying their prizes, holding the flowers or stuffed animals in front of them like an Oscar award. The hallways were full of that high pitched excited girl talk that can completely baffle boys and parents alike. We clutched hands and hugged and admired one another's deliveries and we hoped our turn would come too. There were the girls, (You know them - the shiny haired, clear skinned, ponytailed girls who looked great wearing their boyfriend's oversized college sweatshirts and their own sweatpants hiked up to her calves) who received multiple bouquets. Sure, we were happy for these girls but there was a little part of us that was jealous, especially if we were empty handed.

I didn't receive flowers junior year. I wasn't seeing anyone so I didn't expect anything but still, when my roommate was paged as well as my other close friends, I felt a twinge of sadness.  I didn't realize it at the time but I (along with every girl I knew) had put so much pressure on ourselves for this day to be magical like a romantic comedy.  On Valentine's night, I headed down to lower church so I could study in quiet, while my floormates were on dates. It was hard to watch my friends getting ready when my date was with a political science textbook. Then, the clock turned twelve and it was over, just like that.

Senior year, I was seeing someone and that year I did receive an over the top delivery of roses and a ring. However, the delivery that meant the most to me was a very small, very simple arrangement of mini-carnations in a teacup.  There at the front desk, amid the happy cries and laughter, I heard nothing. Instead I could hear my grandmother's voice in my head as I read the card. It said "Mon petite chou, Pepe and I love you. Be a good girl. Love, Meme."  (Mon petite chou = French for my little creampuff from "chou a la creme." Chou literally translates to cabbage. ). I imagined my grandmother, who was on a very limited budget, calling a local florist and saying to them "Chou, C-H-O-U. . ." No Valentine's Day gift or card has meant more to me since then.

I look back on college and the Valentine's Days and the pressure we put on ourselves and on our poor boyfriends and I wish I could go back in time to tell myself that all that really mattered is that one person loved me. I was lucky. I had a mom and grandparents who were my world, who let me leave the safety of their protective space to go out on my own. And every so often, my sweet, little French grandmother would remind me "Be a good girl, my little cabbage." I can't imagine a greater love.

Happy Valentine's Day! May you know that you are lucky and that you are loved!