On Valentine’s Day

How fitting that on Valentine’s Day of all days I was cast aside in my first college class of the day like a leper. I was literally separated from the rest of the class because I was a whole four minutes late and everyone else was superhumanly early. For whatever reason there are never enough desks compared to the number of students; today I was the recipient of that embarrassing misfortune. I had to sit in a desk-less chair next to the wall, my back aching from being hunched over the notebook and numerous assigned readings propped up on my knees, sniffling and coughing miserably (it’s that time of year here in New York City) while everyone else waxed rhapsodic about concepts of femininity in The Playboy of Seville.

Maybe I’m just mad that I got to class too late to have the Spanish chocolate passed around by our professor. Or maybe I’m too busy dealing with hacking my lungs out into balled-up Kleenex. Either way, seeing the deluge of cordate paraphernalia strewn across every building of the campus has made me feel more ill than I already do. What do all the heart-shaped cookies and jingle-playing cards do for us? I speak as a member of the select group of rarefied people who have not received valentines since the days of elementary school, when teachers forced us to exchange them with everyone, in effect devaluing the cards’ merit.

I recall Valentine’s Day in my senior year of high school, when the young man who sat next to me in English class walked in with the most gigantic teddy bear that I (or anyone else in the room) had ever seen. It was enormous. Despite the fluffy white adorableness of the gift – evidently from his girlfriend, whom he promptly broke up with after graduation – I was annoyed when he dropped the beast down on our table, blocking my view of everything completely. (I’m short, but that monstrous creation would have hindered nearly anyone.) Lucky for me that our teacher asked for the bear to be removed from the work space.

I almost feel sorry for the girlfriend in that couple, who had bothered to spend money, whether hard-earned or not, on a guy who dumped her as soon as high school ended. (I assume that he dumped her and not the other way around primarily because he started dating another girl from our school right away.) It seems a shame when I think of all the goopy love poetry that that young man submitted to our school’s literary magazine, of which I was an editor. Those were some of the most hideous poems I have ever come across, and that’s coming from a person who has spent years taking bad creative writing classes. I always wanted to throw those inexpert “romantic” efforts in the trash, but the other editors – mostly the female of the species – oohed and aahed over the works’ supposed tenderness.

Whatever. Bad poetry is bad poetry.

In ninth grade, back when I was going through a phase of writing on my hands, I wrote something negative on Valentine’s Day about said holiday. One friend of mine told me he agreed with the sentiment, perhaps an unusual admission because I didn’t expect a guy to tell a girl that he didn’t believe in the Holy Day of Pampering Loved Ones with Material Goods. I have often wondered if he thought I was acting out of adolescent bitterness because I was alone, surrounded by hordes of students showering one another with affection, and thus pitied me.

If only I could have quoted the epigraph of Stefan Zweig’s novel Beware of Pity: “There are two kinds of pity. One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart’s impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another’s unhappiness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one’s own soul agains the sufferings of another; and the other, the only one that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond.”

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