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Connections

Being my own valentine

I don’t put much stock in made-for-Hallmark holidays, so I wasn’t particularly blue that I received not one card, phone call, or flower.

Illustration for 2/10/13 Connections essay

Gracia Lam

A FEW YEARS AGO, Valentine’s Day came and went without causing so much as a ripple in my calm world. I don’t put much stock in made-for-Hallmark holidays, so I wasn’t particularly blue that I received not one card, phone call, or flower, let alone a silky cami, like those in the newspaper ads the preceding week. Truth be told, I didn’t send anyone a Valentine’s token either. Even when I was half of a couple, I never understood why it was the man’s job to shower his lady with heart-shaped jewelry, chocolates, or sexy underwear.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in sixth grade, however, I felt otherwise. Not, of course, about receiving sexy underwear but about collecting as many valentines as did the popular girls in the class. In the past, just as today, kids didn’t give a card to only one person, but to several people, girls as well as boys. Some kids gave them to the whole class.

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After raiding your piggy bank, you hiked over to the five-and-dime and bought a packet of 10 or 12 cards for 99 cents. They were simple two-sided cards, sometimes heart-shaped, with basic messages like “Be my Valentine” on the front.

If a boy had a secret crush on you, he wouldn’t sign his name. Instead, you’d find an intriguing question mark after the word “from.” Clumps of girls would huddle to try to figure out who your admirer might be.

Robert was one of my admirers. Unlike other boys in the class, he wasn’t afraid to be seen with a girl. On occasion, he would invite me to his house to show me his etchings. Well, not his etchings, but his neat-o electric wood-burning tool, which looked like it could be the offspring of a pen and a curling iron. We’d trace cartoon characters onto pieces of wood and then burn a trail along the pencil lines. Puffs of sweet-smelling smoke would perfume the air as charcoal brown outlines of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse took shape.

As we walked to his house on one such occasion, a flock of younger boys, perched like crows on a wooden fence, taunted my escort with cries of “Robert’s got a girlfriend! Robert’s got a girlfriend!” Unruffled, and not denying it, Robert continued walking, me proudly at his side. What a guy. I bet he turned out to be a self-assured and thoughtful lover, one who gave of himself and would remember his significant other at all times of the year, not just on Valentine’s Day.

The day after the cardless Valentine’s Day of a few years ago, my friend Cecile and I went to the movies. When I picked her up, I asked her if she’d had a nice Valentine’s Day. She said she’d spent it doing taxes. I laughed. I’d spent it vacuuming and washing my wooden floor from one end of the house to the other.

After the movie and dropping Cecile off, I recalled the sage advice I’d heard a dozen times: that I was in charge of my own happiness. And what would make me happy right then, I decided, was a bunch of flowers and some chocolates. From me. For me.

Later, as I delighted in the velvety beauty of the pink tulips in the vase and savored the creamy truffle melting in my mouth, I smiled.

“Happy belated Valentine’s Day,” I murmured.

My cat, Oshie, opened her eyes and looked at me quizzically.

“Not you. Me,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, wordlessly, and closed her eyes.

Robine Andrau, a writer in Scituate, is working on a memoir about her family’s WWII experiences. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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