‘Will you be my Valentine? Please check “YES” or “NO”. ’
I gripped my No. 2 pencil and tried to conceal my nervousness as I wrote the message on a sheet of paper torn from my three-subject spiral notebook. I then drew a perfect—or close to perfect—heart with an arrow through it. Below the heart I attempted to sketch Cupid which finally looked more like a beagle wearing Bermuda shorts and less like a heavenly cherub.
I folded the note in half and then folded it again for good measure. Using primitive calligraphy, I wrote the name “MARY”. What a beautiful name—as sacred as a Sunday sermon and more dazzling than a day at Disney World. Just to hold her hand, I would have marched to the ends of the Earth, climbed the highest mountain, and swam the deepest ocean— and any other action proclaimed in the lyric of a Rodgers and Hammerstein song.
While scribing my Valentine’s Day note, Miss Bliley was giving a lecture on the Louisiana Purchase or maybe the Battle of Gettysburg or perhaps she was providing the details of an upcoming fire drill. Honestly, I had no idea of what Miss Bliley was speaking. I was in Dreamland—that place from which episodes of Fantasy Island and Love Boat were born.
We all can recall a time when someone made our heart beat faster, our vision blur, and had us turning up the AM station when a love song was played. At this moment, my infatuation involved a cute blonde girl named Mary who sat in the front row of my fifth-grade history class.
We could handle the heart palpitations, poor eyesight, and songs by The Carpenters, but too often our infatuation forced us to take drastic measures. And no measure was as drastic as the act of passing a love note to our favorite Valentine during class. Though the deed took mere seconds it often led to lengthy consequences.
A week earlier, Wayne Browning tried to pass a poem written on red construction paper to Carol Feeney during Mrs. Caulfield’s biology class. It read: “Roses are red, Violets are blue. You are real pretty. Will you be my girlfriend?” (Wayne Browning was no Robert Browning.)
As he flipped the note in a cool, casual manner across the aisle in the direction of Carol’s desk top, the aerodynamically-challenged annotation missed its destination and fell to the proverbial tiled floor. Just as high-frequency whistles can only be heard by canines, a love note striking the floor of a classroom resonates like a shot from a high caliber rifle in the eardrum a teacher.
Mrs. Caulfield immediately ceased her lecture on cell division and took notice of the note on the floor. The entire class became as motionless as unfortunate swimmers in shark-infested waters. We prayed the watchful eye of the Great White would fail to notice us and swim back toward her discussion of paramecium.
No such luck.
“Mr. Browning,” she snapped sternly as she approached Wayne’s desk. Oh, man. This chum was surely chum. She picked up the red note which was a perfect match for the sudden flush in Wayne’s face. “Is this something you would like to share with the entire class?”
Why do teachers always ask that? Of course it wasn’t. If it had been something Wayne wanted to share with the entire class, wouldn’t he have added it to the morning announcements over the intercom or maybe convened the entire student body in the auditorium and proclaimed his undying love for Carol from the middle of the stage?
Those famous I-love-you-do-you-love-me notes we all passed in class so many years ago were something we wanted only one person to see. They were something we wanted delivered and returned to us with a big check in the “YES” box.
Unfortunately, the “love police” lead by officers like Miss Bliley and Mrs. Caulfield too often confiscated our passionate notes and shared them with the entire class which ultimately lead to the total humiliation of the sender and the complete disregard of the sender by the intended recipient.
Carol Feeney had nothing to do with Wayne Browning after that day. (Note: Wayne is now a mail carrier in Southwest Virginia. He likely found delivering letters in the snow, sleet, and pouring rain a lot easier than attempting to pass an ill-fated love note in a Fluvanna County classroom.
How many potential couples were never coupled because the “love police” confiscated notes before they could be passed across the aisle? How many more happy relationships might there be today if more of those notes with the “YES” boxes checked had completed their journey?
I recall weighing the pros and cons of passing that note to Mary. I ran my finger over the many initials carved in the wooden desk top of the fifth graders before me who had passed messages of their undying love. Suddenly my first thoughts of unbridled pubescent passion were replaced with second thoughts of bridled adult punishment.
This was a history class, not Camelot. I was a kid in Roebuck jeans, not Lancelot in a gleaming armor. Yes, chivalry was not in my vocabulary that particular Valentine’s Day though it did show up on a spelling test the following week.
I never passed that note in Miss Bliley’s history class. I’d like to think that I failed to do so not because I lacked the courage, but rather because fate had something better in store for me. Sooner or later, one of our notes do get dispatched to the right person, the recipient checks “YES” and things work out in the end. Lucky for us, those are the moments when the “love police” are off duty and enjoying a doughnut and a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge.