On a Valentine’s Day Tower

12Feb09

In which The Gay Recluse remembers subtle forms of fourth-grade terror.

It’s not hard to remember a phase we went through in elementary school, specifically fourth and fifth grade (and possibly sixth, although even now it pains us to think about this) when each Valentine’s Day, we took it upon ourselves to make increasingly elaborate boxes for the obligatory exchange of cards that occurred each year. My memory of this exchange process is that it was quite rigidly democratic (in the way the 1970s could sometimes be, and to their credit); if there were twenty-three kids in your class, you were obligated to present each with a card, regardless of gender or — more important — how ostracized a particular student was, in the case of _______ or _______ or _______ (one of whom, incidentally, kinda freaked us out by recently “friending” us on FB, though s/he seems to be leading a relatively “normal” life, while another one of these outcasts died at a very young age; for years in elementary school we had shunned him, after the fateful day our mother somehow arranged with his mother for us to walk to kindergarten together, which we later feared — i.e., once he had been established as an untouchable — would obligate us to be ‘nice’ to him at a political cost that seemed altogether unreasonable).

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On Valentine’s Day, most students would simply bring in a shoe box with a few stickers or doilies attached to the outside, along with a few cut-out hearts of red construction paper. (Some of the girls made somewhat more elaborate designs.)

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We dreaded Valentine’s Day, with its heterosexual implications and the horrible likelihood of receiving something “special” — given (and we don’t say this to brag) that we were intelligent, conventionally attractive and “good at sports” — from one or more of the suddenly cloying and detestable girls (who minutes earlier might have been a friend); it might have been something as simple as an extra sticker or a stylized signature  or a tiny piece of candy crushed into the envelope, but whatever the case, the end result was to inform us that we were officially “liked” by the girl in question, which filled our soul with a gloomy sense of obligation and doom that would later — in the cauldron of our adult depression — become the diamond of pessimism through which we would look so longingly at death.

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A more rebellious child might have expressed disdain for the entire procedure, or ignored it like some of the other boys who just “went through the motions” without giving this dumb exercise a second thought. We were not inclined to such rebellion, however, and somehow — though without being at all conscious of this at the time — decided that the more subversive (and clearly the gheyest) option was to make a spectacle of the entire event, which in our case meant constructing an elaborate Valentine’s Day “skyscraper,” a six foot tower of intricately wrapped (in alternating shades of red and silver) boxes, complete with distinct inner passages that would allow a card pushed through a slot at the top to fall down and arrive in one of two containers: “Hot date!” or “No luck!” (Or something to that effect.)

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We worked on this for a week or more with our best friend ____ (who didn’t even go our school) helping out on the weekend; he was a Lego/Star Wars geek, so the idea of building the “death star” of Valentine’s Day boxes held some appeal.

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We brought it into class in a huge garbage bag — “huge” not an exaggeration either, given that it was procured from our father’s industrial supply company — and can still remember the shame and excitement we felt as we hauled it into the classroom and assembled the pieces to an audience of children (each in front of his or her pathetic little shoebox), a few of whom were genuinely excited and perhaps awestruck while most of the others were nonplussed or most likely ambivalent. As with so much in our unformed years (i.e., the first 30 of them, at least), we could often “get away” with even the most outlandishly ghey gestures because so much of the rest of our life was so hopelessly str8. In effect, this was our one day to really show everyone what we wanted to do — i.e., make something that had nothing to do with any of them — and for this reason we loved it and desperately wanted to prove ourselves somehow capable, but we also hated ourselves for possessing these compulsions that were odd and somehow self-destructive, if not quite self-destructive enough (speaking psychologically).

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The disassembled boxes remained in our parents’ attic for quite a few years, probably at least until we left home in tenth grade for boarding school, by which point we had become more athletic and a lot more “straight,” to the extent that we “acted normal” and limited our non-heterosexual outlandish gestures to bedtime fantasies and the accompanying clouds of unfathomable guilt that hovered about us at all times. But we remember going home and seeing the silhouette of the garbage bag in the narrow crawl space, knowing that it was an indelible part of our past and praying that it would not be the key to our our future, which of course is one reason we are now happier not believing in a Christian god (except when we are feeling really sick and feverish).

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One Response to “On a Valentine’s Day Tower”

  1. 1 c.

    Beautiful moonrise.

    We’ve touched b4 on the dissimilarities between our childhood public-school realities, as contrasted against the strangely similar emotional damage they wrought.

    These troubled reminiscences, along with your self-analytical asides, fascinate, and humanize my own, sad memories.

    (I don’t know that I was more “rebellious,” but I did start rolling my eyes over Valentines Day not too long after making my own, requisite, grade-school Valentines. I think on a level I sensed the day would never have any practical relevance to me. Still, nowadays, for this particular weekend, I do sprinkle red sugar crystals, with a smile, on my famous brownies.)


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