There’s always a point in my life where I can look back and say that “I didn’t know any better, and that’s what did me in.” Third grade was one such time.
I seem to recall that class experience as having been terrible, in general: I don’t adjust well to things, and plopping down mid-winter into cold-hearted, unwelcoming elementary group only exacerbated that more.
A month in or so, as things warmed up, I’d started to manage – kept my head down, clammed up more, gravitated toward the kids who were just less incorrigible and coarse, and learned the “game.”
Back then and at that age, Valentine’s Day was a mere functionary party-vehicle. We didn’t get into the “mushiness” of it — it was just baskets at the front of the desks, perhaps a bit of chocolate, with some added festive decor slapped to the bleak walls of the class in the form of a paper heart or two. Simple. Innocuous.
I should have known better.
My dad enjoyed a bit of bitmap art on MS Paint back in 1995, so he designed and printed Valentines for me to dish out. Pretty cool, I thought. At least it’d be unique, and the pixelated renderings had a certain robotic quality that appealed to me.
I passed out and slipped in each printed, cut Valentine – deft, light, bespoke. Sure, some of the kids sneered, but that’s what they did, as I’d long made peace with the fact that I’d just not be liked, or that their souls would rot in Hell — whatever comforted me at the time.
As we lined up to leave after the “event,” one of my classmates had their sheaf of valentines on hand, rifling through them. Then I heard her read mine aloud, in hilarious disbelief:
“Happy Valentine’s Day! LOVE, Hunter. LOVE?!?!”
I don’t recall where I was in line, but they all turned to find where I was and laugh. Scorningly, blisteringly laugh me to shreds. I don’t know if one can be the butthole of a joke, but I was right then.
In the din of chuckles, giggles, bellows, asinine guffaws, I flooded in tears, my face red hot, my mind racing to backtrace and think of how I could have stopped this. “What was I supposed to do? It’s Valentine’s Day. Of all days, surely this would be the one where—”
I should have known better.
Little autistic H2 didn’t have the frame of reference and self awareness to stop and tell dad, “No, PLEASE, just say “From, Hunter.” Trust me, it’ll spare me an episode.”
I came home miserable, my dad felt awful after I shared the story, and I learned a bit more about self-awareness, perception, and how I was so underequipped to handle this stuff.
At Christmastime, I take out a box of tags – for presents. For my lovely wife of ten years. For my daughters, brilliant and delightful, cheerful girls. There, on each tag, I see two fields.
I still remember this Valentine’s Day from 3rd grade. I think about the one word. The wave of shame. The juvenile idiocy. Not having enough to know to make one key change.
But I know better now.
I cross out
From: and write LOVE.
This post was originally published on February 13, 2020. Thanks for revisiting this with me.
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