my pink heart
The top level of my consciousness remains on vacation, or perhaps hibernating, but now I think I know why. I’m going through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (determined to finish the process for the first time, despite 3 or 4 previous attempts), and in this first week, some stuff has already surfaced that my conscious mind would not want to write about publicly. The parts of me that are left are not unanimous either, but I know their resistance is significant.
I know I need to do this.
So, where to start? I attended public school only for half-day kindergarten (I had mornings; my best friend had afternoons), and first grade. It was bewildering and overwhelming: our school had first-graders changing classes; we brought all our books and supplies with us in large plastic tubs. I kept losing track of my things, and where I was supposed to go, when. But at least for reading, I got pulled out to read with older kids. That was my favorite part. Also, the library seemed good (to my 6 year old self — I think it was actually quite small), and there were no restrictions on what I was allowed to read.
There was an excellent playground, with many things to climb on and around. I couldn’t quite get the hang of playing with girls at recess. My best friend was a boy, and climbing trees was my favorite past time; the girls talked about dolls and other stuff I didn’t know or care about. In first grade, I remember I had a crush on Matthew Agnew, a second grader (but I didn’t much care for his twin, John): one was willing to play with me at recess; one wasn’t.
I don’t remember having any friends in kindergarten or first grade, but I don’t remember feeling deprived either. There were so many interesting books to read! My sense of the world was expanding! I was reasonably content.
And then my mother came to visit school one day. And didn’t like what she saw, which she always described later as “everyone ignoring Pqw”. So I was taken away from Arbor View, where I was reasonably content, and didn’t realize anything was missing, to be deposited at St. James the Apostle. A Catholic education was going to solve everything! Instead of walking a block and a half, I had to take a school bus. There was no playground; just a big parking lot. Instead of a mostly one-level building, St. James had multiple floors, so lots of stairs, lots of hallways. The place felt like a maze (not in a good way). Now we had church during every school week, plus more during holy days. Most teachers were nuns, in habits. We had to wear uniforms, which were uncomfortable, and kind of ugly.
Girls remained incomprehensible. But boys weren’t any better. The most popular person in our class was John Webb; his father owned a car dealership, so his family was rich. He was a bully, and even the teachers deferred to him. He didn’t have any use for me, so no one else did either. Which was bad enough.
But one day, fairly early on, I made some faux pas. I think it had to do with movement. Maybe I tried walking around the room; maybe I asked when we would change classes, because I was tired of sitting. Or maybe I just needed to go to the bathroom at an inconvenient time. Whatever it was, to me, it was a normal, ordinary thing. I was bewildered by the uproar, which included my second grade teacher, Mrs. Marciniak, screaming at me, in front of the whole class. I tried to explain myself, to no avail. Apparently I should’ve groveled first thing, but that was something I hadn’t had to learn yet. Mrs. M berated me until I cried. Then she was satisfied. But she hated me ever after. And so did everyone else.
I tried telling my mother how miserable I was, how much time I spent holed up in a bathroom stall, crying, but she didn’t care. She’d decided this was going to be good for me! It was going to get better; I just had to give it a chance!
It didn’t get better.
Even escaping at recess didn’t do much good, since there was no playground. I found myself wandering the grounds, usually over by the church: lots of trees and bushes; flowers in season; and a statue of Mary, with kind eyes. I talked to all of them, but She was the only one I thought might be listening.
My favorite art project was something I did outside of school: every year, since I was 3 or so, my mother and I handmade valentines. Which we gave to people in our family. I spent a lot of time coming up with the prettiest designs for my favorite people.
It was disappointing how none of them ever made valentines that they gave me in return. I thought store-bought valentines were kind of dumb, and definitely pointless. There wasn’t anything personal about them, and they weren’t nearly as pretty as the ones I made. My mother probably tried to explain how some people just aren’t artistic, but back then, I wouldn’t have had any idea what she meant.
I do remember doing art projects at Arbor View, which I enjoyed more than anything but reading. I would totally lose track of time, space, everything outside of what I was doing. It turns out, those were the last art projects I would do in school until college. Catholic schools don’t have money to spend on “extras”, like art. When I was in fourth grade (still at St. James), we had a unit on art. Every month, one volunteer mother of a student would learn about a famous artist (all men, of course), and do a class-long presentation on their life, suitably filtered for the minds of 9 year olds. My mother did Toulouse Lautrec. (The book she used as a reference contained much information she did not mention. I goggled as I read it, not understanding most of it, but already knowing not to ask my mother.) But we kids didn’t actually get to do anything.
I don’t actually remember Valentine’s Day at Arbor View. For me, the big treat was the homemade valentines. And a perpetual hope that someone would give me one that they had put some effort into.
But there’s no forgetting Valentine’s Day at St. James. There was a class party. I think I remember cupcakes. There were store-bought valentines. There was great merriment as they were written out, and addressed, then passed out. Did you get one from your secret crush? Whose valentines were mushy? Whose were funny? How many did you get?
I loved the excitement. For once, I felt part of things, not like an outsider. I couldn’t wait to see who liked me. Maybe someone had a secret crush on me!
But no. I didn’t get any valentines. I thought it was some kind of weird oversight, so when Mrs. Marciniak asked if anyone hadn’t gotten any, I raised my hand. Everyone pointed and stared. It wasn’t a mistake, or an oversight. Mrs. Marciniak asked people who had “extras” to donate them to me. The most popular kids then haggled over which ones they could bear to part with. So the ones I ended up getting said things like, “Hey, Suzy, I really like you! Will you be mine?” The Suzys who gave them up sneered at me pityingly when they thought the teacher wasn’t looking. But of course, her smile was just as mean, as she handed them over.
I didn’t really feel like celebrating. I put on as brave a face as I could manage, but the day seemed endless.
When I got home from school, my mother wanted to hear all about it. I cried. It was terrible to talk about it. Especially when she insisted that it couldn’t have happened like that. Nobody would be that mean. I must’ve misunderstood. I must have friends, admirers.
That was the first year that my father bought me a heart shaped box of valentines candy from Fannie May, inscribed with love from Dad. Most years, that candy was the only valentine I got.
But it wouldn’t do for just me to get something special from my father. That might go to my head. So he got a box for each of his kids. Every year. They all got valentines from friends too. I didn’t.
I still loved the idea of making valentines, but now I understood there was no one to give them to who really appreciated them, so I stopped making them. My mother often encouraged me to make more, since they were so pretty. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t. Why I found those conversations upsetting.
My first boyfriend took me out on a real date — dinner, at a restaurant! A first! — on Valentine’s Day, 1987, to tell me he was in love with someone else, that he’d been two timing me with, and to dump me. He said he’d never liked Valentine’s Day, so he thought I shouldn’t like it either. If only he knew.
I had a job when I was in my 30s where everyone in the office exchanged valentines. Even though the office was 95% men. And I didn’t get any valentines. I came home from work that day, curled into a fetal ball, and sobbed. Spouse couldn’t understand why I was so upset.
When I married Spouse, even though I was in my mid-20s, my father was still giving us kids those Fannie May candies every Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I held onto the heart shaped box until the next year. Because every year I wondered if I’d ever get another one.
And then my father started getting a heart shaped box for Spouse and me. Like I wasn’t special enough on my own anymore. As far as I could tell, my father did like Spouse better than me, although that wasn’t a high bar. So after that, instead of the candy from my father making me feel like at least one person cared about me, once a year, I felt terrible again. I refused to eat the candy; couldn’t bear to look at the box.
Spouse doesn’t really understand celebrating. His family has no birthday traditions even. I’ve never seen any of them act joyous, no matter what the occasion was.
So he doesn’t quite understand why I would want to make a fuss over things like birthdays, holidays, etc. He just doesn’t have any frame of reference.
We had to stop ‘celebrating’ Valentine’s Day, because he just couldn’t get the hang of what I wanted.
I still remember the prettiest valentine I ever made. I feel like I could reach out and touch it in my mind’s eye, except of course I can’t. I should have kept it for myself. If I had, I’d still have it. I never kept any of my own valentines.
I’ve repeatedly read that it’s more satisfying to give to others than to receive. That has not been my experience. The best feeling in the world for me is giving something to myself.
My artist’s date this week is going to be making valentines for myself. I will really appreciate them.
For Valentine’s Day, I’m going to buy myself candy and flowers. INFPs put their heart and soul into everything — who better to benefit than me? Finally, I come first.