It’s 1992, and I’m in the fourth grade. It was a time when parental law reigned supreme and everything was black and white. I’m a good Jehovah’s Witness, I bring tracts to school and invite kids to our Kingdom Hall and deep down, I believe that God has given me “The Truth.” But deep within my concave chest, my heart secretly beats for John, the coolest (wears name brands!), cutest (green eyes!) boy at Red Apple Elementary. I know it’s wrong to have those feelings, but I can’t help it. I think he likes me, too; we tell each other jokes and he lets me sit at his lunch table.
For Valentine’s Day, everyone at school has a little mailbox made from paper bags and covered in construction paper hearts attached to their desk for the valentine swap. Everyone except me. The faculty knows the drill, so my homeroom teacher Mrs. Wee (no joke) sends me to the A.V. room with the rest of JW kids — this has become a routine. When I come back to class, I see a small, red envelope on my desk. My skin feels hot, and my heart races. On the walk home, I make my cousin Lea take a different route with me. I need to open the card, but I don’t want the other kids to see; they might tell my parents. It was a Garfield cartoon, surrounded by candy conversation hearts signed, “From your Secret Admirer.” It must be from John, I thought. I felt sick. I thought I was a terrible Witness for liking a boy so much that now he’s giving me valentines. What’s next? Boyfriend-girlfriend? Oh no, this will never do. Horrible pangs of guilt attack my guts. I swear Lea to secrecy (cross your heart, hope to die, stick a needle in your eye) and stash the valentine in my mini lock box at home.
My boyfriend and I moved in together last fall. While preparing for the move, I realized that I still had a lot of “keepsakes” in my possession that are (a) leftovers from relationships past, (b) useless crap or,(c) objects that I don’t want to bring into my new living space, lest they curse my current relationship with bad mojo. So, one afternoon I set out to clean up my life, starting with a large travel trunk that was packed to the gills with god-knows-what. Among the notable things that I found in the mountain of junk: two table-top Christmas trees (huh?), the lease to my first apartment, one petrified running shoe and dozens of letters. Then, under a stack of notebooks a hint of purple silk caught my eye and sent me into hysterics. I’d found a panty rose.
I’d gotten them ten years earlier when I was a junior in high school. Across the street from Walden III High was a shabby market that sold junk food to the middle school kids and loosies to the teenagers. The place was absolutely lurid — the floors were perpetually sticky; the dilapidated shelves were covered in dust; and the fluorescent lights cast a yellowish tinge over everything. One day, while buying loosies (four Newports, please. No, the 100s.) I noticed a bin of silk roses sitting on the counter.
Excuse me, a bin of silk PANTY ROSES.
The idea that someone might purchase a panty rose as a sexy gift, much less from that infested armpit of a store was more than I could handle. “Happy Valentine’s Day, L-O-V-E-R” (seductively reveal panty rose, Red Light Special playing in the background). As a joke, the boy I was seeing bought one for me that Valentine’s Day. At least I think it was a joke, but it was a long time ago. Apparently, I’ve kept it with me for nearly a decade (and must have taken great pains to keep it hidden from my parents’ room inspections back in those days). The sight of the creepy, unusually small pair of silkies tucked away at the bottom of that trunk (as though they were evidence) still makes me laugh. I trashed a lot of the items that day, but Panty Rose made the move with me, for posterity if nothing else. My old man will understand.
In the winter of 2006, I broke up with my live-in boyfriend of almost three regrettable years. I was recently out of the JW’s when we met and especially vulnerable, completely detached from reality and desperate for a sense of security. A few years, broken bones and $10,000 later, I regained my senses. I was disappointed in myself for not acting sooner, for wasting the best years of my early adulthood and for limiting myself so greatly after I’d sacrificed so much in the name of personal growth. I told him to leave. I don’t love you; I don’t know if I ever did. I just wanna forget that this ever happened.
He wouldn’t leave right away, saying he needed time to find a place of his own. I gave him a month, and moved into a hotel, then my car, then my aunt’s house. I couldn’t stand to be around him a minute longer. Every day he’d call, pleading with me to reconsider. In his duress, he’d forgotten about the mental abuse, the physical intimidation and the manipulation that kept us together all that time. He was a walking, talking episode of Cops. It was (and is) embarrassing.
At one point during that final month, I stopped back at the apartment to grab some things. When I got to the apartment, he was waiting silently in the living room. We did the obligatory Hi, how-are-you’s as I packed a bag. When I was leaving, he asked me to wait because he had something for me. I did, reluctantly. It happened to be Valentine’s Day weekend; I’d forgotten about that. He came around the corner with two packs of marshmallow Peeps, a dozen red roses —complete with baby’s breath — and a GIGANTIC plush teddy bear with hearts for paws. All I could think was that, whatever he paid for this sappy shit could have been better spent on his new apartment. As I stood there, my kitty Mr. Jinx started gnawing at the baby’s breath, which made him vomit (violently, the way cats do) on the kitchen table. I remember wishing that, at that moment, I could have elicited the same response.