Wade remembers crafting a valentine mailbox in school that attracted the attentions of a fellow student who liked him — and a bully who did not.
In my grade school, it was tradition for each student to create a Valentine’s Day mailbox and then walk around the classroom, personally delivering cards to each of our classmates. I took this business quite seriously, as it was one of the few creative outlets I had in the Ozarks. These over-the-top creations probably made me look like the love child of Charles Eames and Edith Head: an aesthetic not greatly appreciated in my rural classroom.
My great undoing came the year I created a Barbie-themed mailbox. It featured shocking pink gauze and Barbie body parts as the foundational decor. At the time, I did not have a Barbie (though I had always wanted one); so, I “borrowed” one from a girl in school, and then I proceeded to take it apart. Then I fitted her torso with pink wings and a little pink quiver filled with tiny pink arrows — à la Cupid.
The pièce de résistance was the mailbox flag that I crafted from Barbie’s disembodied legs. I positioned them sideways so that one of her long, glam gams could be lifted into vertical position to show when I had received a card or lowered to show when my box had been emptied.
My masterpiece received quite a reaction from the girl who had lent me the Barbie. When she saw her beloved doll dismembered and hanging from my mailbox, she produced a scream that still reverberates in my head. This in turn prompted our class bully (who, it’s worth noting, was using an empty cigarette carton as his mailbox) to open my work of art and rifle through my valentines.
That’s how the bully discoverd a lovely vintage card that had — scandalously — been given to me by a male classmate, a boy who loved Garanimals, books and (apparently) me. It featured two cupids kissing, with my name written in above one cupid’s head and my classmate’s over the other.
Thus, the bully tortured us all winter: He called us names. He tripped us when we’d go for milk. Sometimes he took our coats and interlocked the sleeves on the rack in the back of the room, as though they were about to take off on a romantic stroll through a snowy wood.
To spare myself similar embarrassment in future years, I stuck to more boyish themes (like Speed Racer) for my subsequent valentine mailboxes.
Many years later and many miles away, I opened my actual mailbox to discover an invitation to my high school reunion. My first reaction: No way. I’d worked too hard to escape those early years and build a happy life with Gary. Why would I go back? So I wadded up the invite and tossed it in the trash.
But, over the course of the next few months, the invitation did make me wonder what had happened to all those people with whom I’d been stuck for so many years. I was particularly interested to know what had become of the sweetheart who had given me those valentines and the bully who had tried so hard to make us miserable for it.
So I started with some basic Facebook research, and by the time of my next trip to see my father (who still lived in the small town where I’d grown up), I was in full Angela Lansbury–Murder, She Wrote mode.
Ultimately, I learned that the sweetheart had moved away and ended up married, happy and successful. Meanwhile the bully — who had continued to taunt me well into high school — ended up running into quite a bit of trouble and endured a very hard life.
That year, when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I went out and bought two cute cards featuring kissing cupids: one for each of them.
I thought long and hard about what I’d write to these men — the one who’d been brave enough to risk expressing love for another boy, and one who’d seemed to take so much pleasure in making us suffer for it.
Finally, I decided to wish them what I’d been lucky enough to find and signed each card: “Love, Wade.”
Last modified: March 8, 2018