By Jordan Che
Each year I become a victim to the elaborate scheme that is Valentine’s Day propaganda, getting unreasonably self-conscious when the day never goes as planned. But my friends have made me realize that I can be loved without romance involved.
A few years ago, candygrams had your entire eighth grade class buzzing with unconcealed excitement the moment an upper termer would walk through the door with a plastic bag. A spotlight was cast on your teacher as she would reveal the names of the lucky students excruciatingly slowly, like a host at the Grammys. Your classmates teased and cooed at the chosen ones, who would brush them off with a sheepish yet prideful grin, rereading the few sentences written by their prepubescent suitors. You left empty-handed, too busy laughing fondly at your seatmate in Global Studies, who had just been asked to “hang out during lunch” by her longtime crush, to worry about yourself. But once your homeroom class split up for their respective Foreign Language classes, you wondered if you would ever get the chance to own a personal message scrawled beneath a piece of Starburst.
Each passing year made candygrams seem less exciting and more childish. If someone had something to say to their significant other or a confession to make to a crush, they took to Facebook Messenger like normal people. The one candygram you ever got was in tenth grade, one out of a total of five in the entire bag. It was a premeditated decision by you and two other friends, who had planned to participate in the event at least once for the sake of friendship. The message was one word, affectionately dubbing you a “fatty.” It had no signature on it but you knew who it came from—you sent him one back with the same phrase on it. When your name was called, you scanned the room for reactions as if assessing everyone else’s faces was more important than the candygram itself. Nobody seemed surprised, like they were thinking “Finally she gets what she deserves after all these years of being empty-handed!” Not a single person seemed vindictive or jealous, like a secret admirer worried that someone had gotten to you before they had the chance to make a move. You hid the card and its platonic message in your folder, choosing to bite down on the enclosed butterscotch droplet while watching the other four people in the room receive their own candygrams. It was bittersweet.
You know better than to expect a candygram, especially as a senior. But like tradition, you can’t help but get your hopes up for no reason. Maybe somehow your secret admirer, who had stayed hidden for the past five years, realized that he had to take advantage of the last Valentine’s Day we would have as high school students before it would be too late. Your teacher would call your name and everyone in the room is suddenly paying attention, mouths dropped and eyes wide. “Who gave her a candygram? Her?” But you float back to your seat, walking on air as it sinks in. Someone gave you a candygram. You. “Meet me on the roof at 3pm.” There’s no signature. “You should go!” Your best friend eggs you on, even prouder than you are about finally getting the romantic validation that you had been waiting for. But I have ninth period, you think for a split second until you realize. You’re graduating in four months, screw ninth period, you have a Valentine. You skip class to meet your Unidentified Lover on the roof and he confesses like the Peter Kavinsky to your Lara Jean, complete with a single red rose and the sky is unnaturally blue even during the middle of February because you have a Valentine, why wouldn’t it be nice outside too? And you forget to actually respond to your now Identified Lover because you’re too busy thinking “holy shit yes I’ll be your Valentine,” so you say it out loud and the two of you hold hands on the 6 train but you have to let go because he probably doesn’t take the N to transfer to the 7 (you know everyone who does well enough to know that they probably aren’t your Lover). You still feel the warmth on your hands as you bury them into your pockets and they’re still warm when you text the rest of your friends how your candygram adventure went and why you weren’t in class during ninth period.
You’re so deep in your daydream that you barely notice the pink cardstock heart being handed to somebody that isn’t you. It’s given to some boy on the math team, who, after opening it, immediately punches his friend who punches him back. The term council member leaves with an empty bag. Your friend is already out the door, one hand scrolling through Instagram and the other hand outstretched behind her, waiting for yours. She doesn’t look back because she expects you to sidle up behind her. You do exactly that, still riding on the high of your fantasy. Both of you are distracted for different reasons. It isn’t until you reach the second floor that you snap out of it. But your hands are still warm.
Jordan Che is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Queens, NY.