Gulley: Have A Heart

Cindy may still pine for me, but I’m no longer the free love hippie she once knew.
Illustration by Ryan Snook

THIS PAST YEAR, Indiana’s illustrious legislature, carefully considering the myriad challenges facing our state, introduced a bill to rat out young people who might have misgivings about their gender. God forbid a Hoosier kid might join that minuscule percentage of our population whose biological proclivities would have caused my aunt Hazel to faint dead away. I was surprised the legislature didn’t ban Valentine’s Day, given the likelihood of a Hoosier child coming unhinged and presenting a Valentine’s Day card to someone of the same gender.

I hate to start a sentence using the phrase, “When I was a kid,” but when I was a kid, our Danville teachers, whom I now suspect were woke socialists, had us give every child in our classroom a Valentine’s Day card regardless of their gender or orientation. This meant I had to give Cindy, whom I secretly loved, a Valentine’s Day card, then turn around and also give one to Jerry Sipes, who gave me wedgies at recess. The objective, I suppose, was to make each child feel valued and to keep Valentine’s Day from descending into a popularity contest, as if we didn’t already know some kids were more liked than others.

My granddaughter Madeline is in third grade, so I’m aware that the tradition of free love continues in the Danville schools—at least until our legislature gets wind of it. Each child is expected to give every other child in their class a Valentine’s Day card declaring their affection. No one seems to take it seriously, at least to the extent I did in 1969 when Cindy gave me and everyone else in our class a card inviting us to be her Valentine, which I misinterpreted as a singular expression of affection and which led me to imagine she harbored an unspoken love for me for the next several years. I tended to read a lot into Valentine’s Day cards.

Just as I resisted proclaiming my love for certain classmates, so, too, does my granddaughter have reservations about these grandiloquent pledges. Last year while signing cards, she said, “I don’t even like this boy. He’s not nice.”

“Maybe if he gets lots of Valentine’s Day cards, he’ll feel cared for and be nice,” I suggested.

It seemed like the adult thing to say, even though I knew it wasn’t likely to happen. Not an hour after I gave Jerry Sipes a Valentine’s Day card, he gave me two purple nurples and a noogie.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but think the world would be a better place if every Valentine’s Day, we gave everyone else a card proclaiming our affection for them even if it isn’t true, since everyone knows if you tell a lie enough times it takes on the aura of truth. There’s a local man who for several years did everything in his power to make me hate him. For a time, he succeeded, until I decided to hug him whenever I saw him. Initially, it was great fun because I could tell it annoyed him, but after a while, to my great surprise, I began to like him, and today we’re friends.

The prospect of universal love isn’t the only upside to Valentine’s Day. Let’s not forget those chalky little hearts that say “Hubba Hubba” and “True Love” that are only surpassed in deliciousness by the chocolate-covered marshmallow hearts that make my blood sugar level soar into the stratosphere and put me in a diabetic coma, which in my opinion is a small price to pay.

When my wife and I married 39 years ago, my days as a free love hippie came to an end. I stopped passing out chalky hearts as if they were candy and confined my card-giving to immediate family. Every now and then, I see Cindy, but, want- ing to preserve the slim shred of reputation I still possess, I wouldn’t think of giving her a Valentine’s Day card. This summer is the 45th anniversary of our high school graduation, and I hope she doesn’t lose all semblance of self-control and slip me a “Be Mine” chalky heart, thinking I’ll abandon my wife and run off to Reno for a quickie wedding in an Elvis chapel. Maybe I would have done that in 1969, but not now, not even for a chocolate-covered marshmallow heart.