Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Real Massacre of Valentine's Day

Long before I was born, Al Capone of the Chicago South Side Italian Gang slaughtered seven members of Bugs Moran's North Side Irish Gang on February 14, 1929, which became known as The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. This was truly a brutal act. Even though it does not involve murder, the personal toll of Valentine's Day has left its mark on me.

Every year since I was about six years old, I have had a knot of fear that starts to develop about a week before February 14th because I have come to associate it with rejection, rejection of gigantic proportions over years and years. Yes, I know this is just my imagination, but the knot in the pit of my stomach seems real enough, and on February 14th I usually feel like staying in bed with the covers up over my head.

It all started in preschool. On the night before Valentine's Day, we had to punch out pre-cut Valentines from a Valentine booklet of cards for our classmates. Even then we were targeting the ones we especially idolized. Everyone else was doing the same. On the morning of Valentine's day we would exchange our Valentines, but it was clear from our choices who we really wanted to be our Valentine. I never connected with any of my first loves. In fact, I would get messages that were the equivalent of "get lost" ...

The worst part of this was that this Valentine ritual was so ingrained as part of the school culture that there was no escape. Every year I dreaded making those Valentines, creating messages with hidden meanings, and putting names on envelopes. Of course as we got older, it became more sophisticated with chocolates, flowers, and fancy gifts, and the stakes were even higher. The distress and defeat was even greater. As we approached junior high school, I tried being sick on that day, but that was even worse as I became a pariah and was generally ostracized. I guess these defeats could be traced to bad timing and poor choices, but in general, Valentine's day came to be anticipated as supreme, unequivocal disappointment.

Even though now, it shouldn't matter, I still get that feeling and a general malaise sets in as I realize Valentine's day is approaching. I envy all those happy lovers and wish them well. Wish I could be them, but I have other triumphs and destinations, so I guess this once a year trauma is something I can endure. It is something like an old war wound that acts up whenever the weather is about to turn bad.

This year, I have an out that can lessen the pain. The Asian New Year begins on February 14th this year. I can tell myself it isn't Valentine's Day, it is the Year of the Tiger.

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