There’s a shame in me that I can only face in moments of my deepest truth. It’s confronting a monster inside vicious and treacherous and wholly evil, one who waits for me in the dark recesses of my being, who will only reach out and touch if I am strong enough to fight it. Always, I must initiate contact, but then after that, its all about the monster.
The monster of me is my own fear of intimacy, and the monster was born from the packages of Valentine’s Day cards forced upon me as a third and fourth grader, ages 8 and 9, so therefore in the very thick of childhood, that seemingly endless period between recognition of the wonder of being alive and then realizing that disappointment is a major part of that experience and then ending with your period, when the fun/not fun really starts.
At that age you just don’t want anyone to see you, or maybe it was just me, but if I could be swept under rugs it would have been a great relief. Existential crisis isn’t what children are supposed to have, but I had it, like a cold that never went away, infecting and reinfecting me, the virus growing alongside me into the monster, coming to be my exact height and weight. The forced giving of these valentines was a way to feed the monster, because the monster thrived on chaos and insecurity, psychic pain and doubt, fear and rejection and betrayal. This is what the monster brought to school in a wrinkled paper bag. This is what the monster was served in the cafeteria on Valentines Day, along with the chalky candy hearts and chocolate kisses.
There were never enough cards in the package to give everyone, and so there were always going to be some left out, and the possibility of buying an extra set was out of the question for struggling immigrant families like my own. At least my mother saw the importance of buying at least one of these packages in an attempt to make me seem like slightly less of the freak that I was, that I appeared to other children, but the fact that I didn’t have enough to go fully around threw my inadequacy into relief. I had to pick the people I cared for to give cards to, and this was the original wounding, for to reveal my own heart at that time was dangerous and vile, an exposure that felt intolerable. To show my affection was to flash an honesty that once seen, could never be unseen, and it kept me up at night with worry and dread.
When you don’t have friends and you have to give your not friends cards which denote love and ardor and write their names on a paper that you would rather curse than bless and then walk around during class handing these insincere and inexplicable envelopes out in a mock baby version of an adult cocktail party, everyone out of their desks and crossing their arms and standing around, it causes problems later in life, in particular, with love.
When I gave a girl a card, it was the worst, because I knew I had to do it in the most blank way possible, as if I was giving the card under doctors orders or under the gun or at least throw it at her as if to say, “this is out of my hands.” Kids know when there’s something about you that is different. They smell it and sense it and it sickens them because they recognize it in themselves and if they don’t attack someone will soon do it to them. Bullying starts, as it is a form of self hatred expressed outward, and since the cruelty towards ourselves we are capable of knows no bounds, it can be bad. Insanely so.
Lies told about me from the giving of Valentine’s cards were common.
Once, I gave a Valentine to a girl I did feel a deep awareness of. I couldn’t go so far as to say I had a crush, because that would make my feelings seem like they were pleasant. Her name started with a ‘J’. they always seem to have ‘J’ names. J could sense a temperature change whenever I came around her desk. J enjoyed that power. I gave J a card and she told the rest of the class that I had leaned in to ask for a kiss on the cheek and then turned my head fast to trick her into kissing me on the mouth. I was embarrassed beyond belief that she would spread this absolute lie and that everyone totally bought it, easily visualizing me pulling a common child molester’s trick, a pedophile shell game, three card Nonce-y. Fuck you J. I hope you are dead now. You just might be. We are all getting to that age.
The monster was pleased. The monster had a growth spurt every year about this time. The monster, made of red paper hearts and cut outs of bubbly lace and doilies, snails and whales and puppydog tails, equal rights and spice and everything nice. However those rhymes go, they were all about the monster.
Because of the monster, and because of those cards, I can’t love without tremendous duress and medication and processing and counseling and unavailable people and fights all night for no good reason and so of course insomnia. Because of the monster and because of those cards, when I send a text that may not even be romantic in nature, just somehow plainly nakedly affectionate, and I don’t get a response, I feel as if the world is ending. Because of the monster, and because of those cards, I am me, and that doesn’t feel so great sometimes.