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"How I’ve Ruined Every Valentine’s Day: An Abridged History" by Leah Donnella

When the apocalypse comes and hell freezes over; when Americans decide that Hallmark cards are bile; when gender norms shatter into pieces; when artificial sweeteners are banned and destroyed; when human beings finally get to a point where we, as a species, feel comfortable expressing love to one another, regularly, meaningfully, with or without grand gestures, with or without partners, with or without words; I will still be championing Valentine’s day, lounging on a bed of rose petals, eating a box of chocolate-flavored sugar candies, wearing a pink dress, sipping rosé, and pining for lobster ravioli. I love Valentine’s day the way people love a philandering ex-lover - needlessly, painfully, shamefully, shamelessly, truly, madly, deeply.

Valentine’s Day has decidedly tepid feelings about me.


February 14, 1992: Age 10 months. My mother declines to dress me in a whimsical cupid onesie. Never again will I have the cheek chub to pull off such an outfit.

1997: My grandparents mail me a package full of heart-shaped Whitmans’ samplers. I develop an inflated sense of ego and false expectations that will follow me for the rest of my life. Being 5, I eat all of the chocolates in the same day. I develop a stomach ache.

1999: I spend hours creating handmade Valentines for everyone in my third grade class, as I do every year, and will continue to do until middle school. Each person gets an individual message and a pastel drawing that represents how I feel about them. (Scott Clay, I still think of you as cool glass of lemonade in front of a fence.) My mother, looking over my drawings, says, “They’re all beautiful honey. But I’m afraid this one looks like feces.”*

2001: It is seventh grade, and I am in real complete love with my history teacher. He is also in real complete love with me, which I know because earlier in the year he chose me to represent James Madison in our American Revolution simulation. I get dolled up for Valentine’s day, and stroll into class confidently. My nail art is on point, and I smell like Bath and Body Works Vanilla Bean Noel. I smile at the teacher. He smiles at me. I look down. He says, “Your hair looks nice today.” And I, with supreme confidence, respond, “Oh, well I brushed it.” Then I drop out of school and die a million deaths.

2006: High school freshman, killing it. Spur of the moment, I ask the love of my life, my brother’s best friend, a cool popular junior, to the freshman semi-formal dance. He laughs and agrees. Later that day he asks my brother what my name is again. Then I drop out of school and die a million deaths.

2010: College freshman, killing it. Which begs the question: where are my flowers? Where are my chocolates? Where are my sappy cards? Where are my suitors? Where is the anonymous text message saying “I’ve secretly loved you since orientation”? Where is even just a friend?

2011: Let’s all cheat on each other at the same damn time. Bottoms up!

2012: Making the long distance thing work. Light a candle babe, because this is going to be the most romantic 11am tele-date in the history of Skype. I tell myself not to say anything about the fact that the candies you mailed me are rancid. Not a word. He can’t tell over the internet. I throw up silently, off-camera. Work.

2013: Newly single in Los Angeles. Excerpt from my diary: “Everything is a different layer like my nail polish, the Earth’s crust. We are moving so so slowly. Are we moving so slowly? I cannot but think yes.”

{Prelude to V-Day 2014 – a conversation

Me: I just want you know that I didn’t call a restaurant or buy you a card or anything so don’t get your hopes up because we don’t have plans for Valentine’s Day don’t be weird about it.

Him: Oh…I hope this is all right…I made reservations somewhere a couple weeks ago. We don’t have to go.}

2014: I am an adult now and I am at a fancy restaurant and my date brought me flowers and he is a gentleman and we are ordering an appetizer and why are we arguing about the militarization of the police? People are coughing at us. I am raising my voice. He is nodding. I knock my water over. He passes me a napkin and I begin a sentence with the words “structural racism.” Love is in the air. We don’t order dessert.

I still believe in 2015. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.


*You just don’t get it, Mom! It’s a storm cloud, for the troubled, intense kid in my class.**

**You know who you are.



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