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Signs of Affection

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By Kat Richter

At the age of 17, I prepared a handmade Valentine's Day card for the man that was my boyfriend at the time.  Being 17 as well, however, he was more of a boy than a man and my calligraphic talents failed to elicit the desired response.  A few years later, I found myself dating a man 12 years my senior; although he appreciated my hand painted, red and gold stationary, he reciprocated with a box of cheap drug store chocolates.  Seeing as the majority of these were milk chocolate and not dark, I deemed them hardly worth the calories.

Fast forward to my most recent relationship. There I was, early December the year before last, standing in line at the post office to ship a box of made-from-scratch cookies to London, where, if everything went according to plan, they'd reach my boyfriend just in time for Christmas.  He sent me nothing in return, and found himself added to my list of ex-boyfriends shortly thereafter.

Valentine.jpgOne would think that by now I'd have learned not to waste my time baking cookies and cutting perfectly scalloped hearts out of red construction paper.  But hope springs eternal, which is why not so very long ago, I decided to send a Valentine to a friend who lives in the UK. 

I had the perfect excuse: having decided to send real Christmas cards this year, I collected his address as well as those of various acquaintances scattered across the U.S. and throughout the British Isles.  Unfortunately he was late in getting back to me with his contact details so I was "forced" to send him a card for the next holiday instead.  This holiday just happened to be Valentine's Day. 

"I'm making cards for all of my preschoolers," I informed him, "so I'll just send you one of the extras."

In reality, I had no intention of making cards for my preschoolers.  They're fantastic kids, but between my two creative movements classes I have 30 students and that's not including the 52 teen and pre-teens I teach in the evenings (for whom I'd already spent four hours making pink-and-white chocolate covered pretzels).

I decided, however, that my friend in the UK did not need to know this.  Armed with my trusty scissors, a glue stick and a stack of colored paper I'd deemed sufficiently masculine, I made one and only one Valentine if this year.  I then headed over to the same post office in South Philadelphia from which I mailed my ill-fated cookies a year ago, purchased the requisite airmail stamp and crossed my fingers. 

The following week was a succession of bad days.  My preschoolers were on their very worst behavior the day my boss came to observe my classees. I received a rejection letter from a magazine I'd recently queried. The daily "batch" of potential soul mates that eHarmony sends me every morning went from bad to worse. 

I was sitting at Grindcore House in South Philly, about to drown my sorrows in one of their to-die-for vegan chocolate peanut butter brownies, when a random instant message popped up on my computer screen.  It was him-- my friend from the UK-- and before I knew it he was asking if he could come visit me in Philadelphia.

"I've never been before," he said, "and I have a week of vacation time I need to use up by the end of March."

My fork froze in midair, a glob of gooey chocolate poised precariously on its tines.  It's not often that I let something distract me from my chocolate but this was big: never, in the year and a half since we'd met, had he proposed a visit and never, in that same year and a half, had I dared to think he might fancy me enough to fly to Philadelphia.

"It must have been the card!" I thought, feeling suddenly less foolish for having inflicted my handmade stationary on yet another man.  But he made no mention of my valentine, and when I advised him to keep an eye on his mail box he said nothing to indicate that received anything at all.

"How strange," I mused, finally bringing the fork to my mouth as he bid me goodnight.  It was in that moment that I realized cards and chocolates and all of the other frivolities associated with Valentine's Day (and love in general) are just icing on the cake.

The real gifts are those unexpected changes of heart that occur suddenly and inexplicably--the kind that soften the blows of past embarrassments and give you reason to hope.

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