I initially met Tom2 my freshman year of college. We lived on adjacent halls on the fourth floor of our dorm, and he was one of the guys I ended up befriending, simply because they all seemed less judgmental and more easygoing than the girls on my hall. This didn’t mean we had common interests—I had zero interest in playing Mario Kart/Halo/Soul Caliber or throwing a ping pong ball at a plastic cup while inebriated—but the general level of acceptance was high enough that I could take my notes into their rooms and feel “social” while studying, even if I was the only one doing it. It felt better than trying to pretend to be interested in “Desperate Wives Club” and painting my fingernails with my own hall mates.
In any case, we remained casual friends through the course of college and, in our senior year, ended up living together in a suite—ironically enough—with three other members of our original freshman crew. Gradually, over the course of our first semester, we grew to become better friends. Not only did we live in much closer quarters than we ever had before, but we also shared a love of sports—both watching and playing them—not to mention the fact that we were the only two individuals in our suite whom I would venture to dub “athletes. ” Our social preferences were more similar to each other’s than to anyone else’s in the suite, thus leading us to spend increasing amounts of time attending functions at bars and bowling alleys. And finally, we developed a mutual interest in watching movies late at night. (Albeit, this was probably his interest; it was more my attempt at cinematic self-education and way to avoid working myself to death.)
With a wince and a grimace, I’ll admit it: by the second semester, I began wondering if there was any potential for romantic interest in our relationship. This is not to say that I wanted to ruin our friendship, by any means, but come on—the guy was spending at least three nights a week with me sitting on his bed with him, in the dark, at ten o’clock at night, watching movies. And on Tuesday nights, our regular bowling nights, he and I would still put on our shoes, get in his car, and drive out to the lanes, even if everyone else who ordinarily came to bowl had backed out. So maybe I was wishing too hard for a reasonable, respectable, good-looking guy to finally fall for me and projected this wishful fantasy onto him. Either way, it made what happened that much worse.
My birthday happens in January, and the next major holiday after that is one of the most dreaded: Valentine’s Day. Personally, I’ve never dreaded it, because I’ve never had a particularly good or bad Valentine’s Day. Typically, my dad has bought me chocolate or jellybeans, my parents send me a cute “we love you because you’re our daughter card,” and the day passes in a whirlwind of red glittery signs and broken flower stems. However, what I do dread is the entire holiday shopping season leading up to this particular calendar day. It seems that the entire season is built to enhance one’s feeling of loneliness, as everyone else frets and dithers over what they should buy their sweetheart and where they should get reservations, or if they should eat at home, etc. The older I get, the worse it gets. When you’re little, everyone gets a little paper Valentine in his or her decorated shoe box, and maybe even a lollipop attached, if you’re lucky. When you’re older and single, you have to buy your own lollipop. And that’s not what heart-shaped lollipops are for.
Needless to say, I must have mentioned somewhere along the line that I had never received a “true” Valentine before.
“What do you mean a ‘true’ Valentine?” I was asked.
“You know,” I would say, “like one from a boy.”
Now, I certainly wasn’t telling people this in the hopes that I would receive a Valentine; this was just a fact that reflected how I felt at that time, and so I said it to whomever I was with. I paid no attention to my company when I said these sorts of things. What came next taught me to start noting my company before I blab away.
Valentine’s Day that year fell on a Tuesday—our weekly bowling night. That morning, as I sat in the common room of the suite to lace up my winter boots before I trudged out into the snow and headed off to class, Tom asked me if I was doing anything that night. Simultaneously, my heart both leapt for joy and sank to my feet. Was he about to ask me out for Valentine’s Day? “When?” “Like, at eight,” he told me. “I’m doing an editing session in the library at six,” I answered miserably. “It’s scheduled for two hours.” “Oh.” He looked a little worried. “Well, we wanted to go bowling earlier, so we were going to try to leave at eight.” Now I was confused. We always left for bowling at nine because Ryan—our other most constant bowling companion—always had to talk to his long-distance girlfriend for an hour (8-9 p.m.) before we could leave. Tom never could have convinced him to skip his precious phone call on Valentine’s Day of all days . . . could he?
I expressed my skepticism, but Tom made it seem pretty urgent that he had to go bowling at eight and assured me that Ryan had agreed. Therefore, I told Tom that I’d try to make it back by eight but that if I couldn’t get back in time, to just go without me. I was supremely disappointed at the idea of missing our bowling night, particularly tonight, when the couple in our suite was sure to be doing something special for the holiday (and they liked to stay in, which meant that there would be no escape for me), but what could I do?
As luck would have it, however, my editing session ended early. I was finished by 7:40 p.m., and I hustled back through our suite through the cold, hoping that they hadn’t left without me. As soon as I opened the door, I breathed a sigh of relief; Tom, Ben and Eric (my three male suitemates) were all sitting together in the common room.
”Awesome!” I exclaimed, breezing in and heading to my room. “I’m going to put my stuff away, and I’ll be ready soon.” Of course, I got wrapped up in checking my email, particularly because I had a few minutes, and the next thing I knew, Ben was in my room, tugging at my arm.
”Come be social,” he whined. “We’re all out in the common room.”
”Give me a minute,” I told him. “It’s not even eight o’clock yet.”
”You never spend time with us,” he insisted. “You’re always being antisocial.” Now Tom was standing in my doorway, too.
”Fine!” I shut the lid of my laptop. “I’m coming!” I grabbed my coat and purse and headed down the hallway after them. Plopping down on the couch in the common room, I looked around expectantly. “So, what do you want to talk about?”
That’s when there was a knock on the door.
Ben opened, and in barged After Hours, the UR’s coed a cappella group. Scanning the room, the leader—a pale girl I recognized as part of the UR Protestant Chapel Community, with a mane of springy bright blond curls and big peach-pink lips—spied me and proceeded to zero in. Her entourage followed, and once they had all formed a semicircle around me, the singing commenced. From this moment on, I proceeded to be serenaded by our college a cappella group, on Valentine’s Day, in front of my suitemates, to the tune of “[When I Think About You] I Touch Myself.” I have never seen Tom look so pleased with himself.
And what do you think happened at the end of the song? The lead singer—who had been crooning straight into my face for all the breathy parts (“I'd get down on my knees; I'd do anything for you….”)—pulled from behind her back a single red carnation. I’m sure by that point my face was fit to match.
So that is why, if any reader out there is ever trying to do something to woo/impress/please me, beware: flowers have had a dodgy history in my life!