I don't like Valentine's Day.  Well I don't hate it exactly, but it's not one of my favorite holidays, despite the fact that I'm in the greeting card business and Valentine's Day is a huge money maker for many industries, including greeting cards.  So you'd think I'd like it a lot, but I don't.  I wonder if it's because of that date I had in high school way back in the 60s… 

I actually had a date for Valentines Day, which in and of itself was a miracle as I almost never had a date, so having a real live date on the most romantic day of the year was astonishing.

When my Valentine's Day date called to tell me what time he would pick me up, he told me he had a surprise for me. "It's turquoise and white," he said with his deep, dreamy voice.  My mind raced through all the possibilities.  Then I was suddenly struck by the thought that I had nothing for him,  so after major badgering, my mom agreed to take me to Grossmont Center to get him a card and a gift.  "He got me something," I implored.  "I have to get him something too!" 

Oddly enough I don't recall now what I got him.  I know I got him a card that was probably inappropriately mushy,  but I had such a huge crush on him and he was, after all, getting me something:  it was turquoise and white!  He even said so! I recall agonizing over just how to sign the card.  Love? Love and Kisses? Sincerely?  I settled on drawing a small heart and just signed my name. I thought it was subtle but was sure he'd get the point.  At least I hoped he would.

When he came to pick me up that evening, I got in his car and handed him his gift and the card, both of which he accepted with a kind of blank expression on his face. Or maybe it was more of a guilty look…I didn't see my gift anywhere. But with an optimism only a love-struck teenager could summon, I decided maybe my secret wish was true:  he had gotten me a romantic and Valentine-y turquoise and white teddy bear.  Probably with a big red ribbon.  It must be in the trunk, I thought.

Driving to The Helix Theater from my house in El Cajon, my date said he needed to stop for gas.  And use the restroom.  He reached across me to the glove compartment and grabbed a pen and what looked like a card and headed for the men's room. While I sat there in the glare of gas station's neon lights, I rehearsed what would be my surprised reaction to the plush teddy bear I  just knew he had gotten me.

When he came out of the rest room, he was indeed carrying a card, a card without an envelope.  I began to get that sinking feeling that my Valentine's date was not going to be everything I'd hoped for. I couldn't have been more right.

He walked around to the trunk.  Be still my heart.  Maybe it was going to work out after all. Then he hopped in the car and handed me the card.  I noticed he had taken off the Pendleton jacket he had been wearing. That's why he opened the trunk: to put his jacket there.   Now I saw the surprise he'd hidden under his jacket: he was wearing a brand new tee shirt with wide turquoise and white stripes. 

"Like my shirt?" he said with a grin.  "I thought it was so cool I bought it for myself.  It's the new surfer style."  And without even looking at me, he said,

"I knew you'd love it!"

Now, I was, ( as people often say, but not until it's happening to you to you get why they say it) choking back tears.  I could have sobbed.  Really, really sobbed. Big sad stinging tears.  His Valentine's day surprise for me was him in a new shirt. No teddy bear, I thought.

This is the worst Valentine's date ever.  

(But it's "worst-ness" wasn't over.)

I looked at the card in my hand through a blury sheen of tears.

I think it had a dog on it.  Or a bear. It might as well have had a picture of him in his new shirt on it. I really don't remember.  I only remember what it had in it: his enormous signature.

He had signed his name in large block letters, written with a broad-tipped black marker pen. The pen he had grabbed from the glove compartment.  It read simply, "DAVE."

No Love, no xoxo, no Sincerely.  Just DAVE.  In letters four inches tall and one inch wide.  As I stared at it in disbelief, I could see in that bright gas station light that he had signed his name over someone else's signature, over someone else's name.  And while I could not make out the name, I knew he had given me a valentine another girl had given to him.

He gave me a used Valentine.


The funny thing about moments of heartbreak when you're young is that you almost never forget them.  We may forget some of the details of the event, but we never really forget the event itself nor the way it made us feel.

So I guess that's why, even though I'm in the greeting card business, I pretty much leave the Valentine's Day sentiments to Hallmark.  Although there might actually be a market for cards with a friendly disclaimer on the back:

"This card came with an envelope.  It you did not receive one, please hand the card back to the person who gave it to you and have a good cry. You'll never forget it, but you'll get over it!  Happy Valentine's Day."

Maybe I'll have some of those for sale next year...












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Comment by steve sund on February 14, 2011 at 7:50am
From a turquoise and white tee shirt to a Tiffany box and from a red velvet covered chocolate box to a velvety red Cabernet...growing up is divine!
Comment by Karen Pearlman on February 13, 2011 at 9:02am

What a heartbreaking but wonderfully told story, Chris.


i share your sadness at the reality of that very harsh young heartbreak that happened to happen on a day of expectations.


This has stayed with me since i was in my 20s (never mind how long ago THAT was!):

"Those who expect nothing are never disappointed."

Kind of passive-aggressive but it's a core belief now and has saved me a few times!


i am a fan of LifeSighs greeting cards, by the way!! i LOVE your work!!


And just as an aside... for me, Valentine's Day (and Earth Day) is EVERY day... We gotta love and take care of one another (and our home planet) 24/7/365 ...


Great read... i was with you every step of the way.

Comment by La Mesa Today on February 11, 2011 at 7:53pm


So much depends upon,

What exactly you mean

by gift.

We men get 'em.

We just weigh them on different --



All the best,

Chris Lavin, Editor


Comment by chris shea on February 11, 2011 at 4:53pm

Don't get me wrong, David.  I love getting a Valentine as much as the next guy does.  And I have never been a woman who stands on ceremony where gift giving or getting is concerned.  I think guys enjoy getting valentines and "just because gifts" too.  And Christmas is my favorite time of the year, as is somewhat reflected in the products I produce during that wonderful time of year. The last thing I wish to communicate is that I have grown to be a Valentine or Christmas or holiday cynic.  While it's true my little company does not make Valentine cards, and while it's true I was the "lucky" recipient of a used card from a date with a boy in a turquoise and white tee shirt, it's also true that I will be the woman in my neighborhood on Monday morning putting valentines in everyone's mailbox from me and my dog Ben. I love an excuse to show my appreciation for people I love and who mean the world to me.

(And as for my 1963 yearning for a valentine in turquoise and white, perhaps what that was was actually early dreams of Tiffany boxes!)

Happy Valentine's Day, David.


Comment by David Stanley on February 11, 2011 at 3:49pm
Chris, when I was a wee lad I thought Valentine's Day was something special. My mum always helped me buy a large packet of the cards to exchange with classmates. Growing up its importance diminished as I continued to look about each year. Nearing the holiday, EVERYTHING advertised Valentine's Day and screamed BUY THIS, BUY THAT! It occurred to me that the only real importance about the day was how much money you spent. Girls and women were conditioned by this bombarding advertising and became accustomed to receiving gifts whilst boys and men knew it was only going to cost them money with little or nothing in return, certainly seldom are gifts given to the man in the relationship.  Consequently I become very aggravated each year when radio, tv, news papers, literally everything screamed SPEND MORE MONEY! Sadly, all other holidays, particularly Christmas, are exactly the same. Childhood memories are happy ones until the greed finally takes over everything and dashes them to wee fragments.  David Stanley

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