Valentine’s Day Story #2: The Spitball Valentine

In the 6th grade, I was passionately in love with a boy named Andrew Wright. My love for him had begun to blossom tentatively in the fifth grade, but the sensation that exploded in sixth grade was real love, no more kid’s stuff, and I could sense the difference like night and day. I didn’t love Andrew Wright because he was cute, or because he had a nice way about him and was really funny and would crack jokes in Sunday School, or because he thought I was a good person to have on his baseball team. I loved him because he was the epitome of all that was good and right in the world.

We grew up in the same neighborhood, and had been hanging around since we were little kids. We went to the same church and had made our first communions together. We were on the same school bus, we would play tag or baseball in the summer twilights or the two of us would take turns re-enacting Carlton Fisk’s famous homer from 1975, as our mothers called us impatiently in to dinner, we would sneak into the backyard of the house diagonally across the street from mine and pick the raspberries that grew there, running away at the slightest movement from inside.

It was all very unrequited. We were eleven years old. Half of the fun was just being in love with someone. Nothing ever had to be done about it.

That winter in 6th grade, Andrew and I spent all of our time after school, and on weekends, skating on the frozen pond in the woods near our houses. He would steal my hat, and I would chase him to get it back. We would wrestle for it, sometimes rolling around on the ice, I would get it back, and then he would chase me. It was a private thing we did. We didn’t reference it when we were in school. We didn’t say to each other, “Let’s keep this a secret.” €I guess when you’re a kid you understand these things. We had become very close, in an unspoken way, in an outdoor way. Our true milieu was on the ice, the grey wintry woods around us, chasing each other on skates, laughing, bantering, freezing cold, and the bare trees towering above.

In February of that year, sixth grade, there was a big Valentine’s Day ceremony in our class. In grade school, the custom was to buy Valentine’s Day cards in bulk, the ones with cartoons and silly rubber-stamp sentiments (2 good 2 be 4gotten). Each kid was called up by name, all the cards passed out, with everyone hovering over their pile, pre-pubescent misers, reading the messages, fluttering with sixth grade romantic feelings and alarming hormone surges.

Of course, once I settled down with my pile, I started searching for Andrew’s card immediately, trying to play it cool in case anyone looked over at me, womanly wiles already kicking in. You know, no biggie, whatever, just lookin’ at my Valentines, not looking for one in particular, heck no!

By the time I got to the bottom of the pile, my heart had clenched up into a tiny hard ball bearing. He hadn’t given me a card. There was no card from Andrew Wright in my pile. How could he? How could he … how could he have not written me a card? After all that we had shared? After the frozen pond?

It was my first taste of that particular brand of dread, something that I perceive now as adult in nature. My feelings were clearly not reciprocated. How could that possibly be? And what will I do now with all of this feeling?

It was an entirely new sensation, startling to me in its relentless clarity.

I thought I might have to get up and leave the classroom, which was abuzz with conversation and laughter and gossip, everybody wandering from desk to desk. I had a pile of cards in front of me, but not one from the boy I loved. I needed to get away and just be really really sad for a minute, maybe even cry, away from my classmates. Nobody must see my grief. Andrew must never ever know how much I had hoped for a Valentine from him.

But then, suddenly, Andrew Wright, on his way somewhere else, walked by my desk and, without stopping or saying a word, dropped what looked like a tiny spitball in front of me. He kept going, didn’t look back. Nobody looking on would have perceived what had happened. It was a sly gesture, meant to appear invisible, a camouflage.

Disbelieving, I opened up the spitball.

It was not a store-bought card. It was not a rubber-stamp Hallmark that he had signed his name to. It was not generic. It was not, in short, like the card I had given to him. (Even then, the intensity of my emotions was such that I felt the need to hide it, to protect people from it, even the boy I loved. It would be “too much”, right?)

What he dropped on my desk was a tiny piece of white construction paper that he had clearly ripped off the corner of a larger sheet, and he had written his own message on it in smudgy #2 pencil:

Dear Sheila
Youre a good kid and a good story writer.
Andrew

Even though I was a child, I knew what had just happened and the enormity of it:

— He couldn’t have just given me a cutesy Hallmark Valentine. It wouldn’t have been right. In his young boy’s heart, he knew we were closer than that.

— He needed to express how he felt about me privately. It would have been a disaster if other kids in the class had seen that message. Our frozen-pond twilights were in that card.

— In the note, he didn’t talk about how cute I was, or how he liked my freckles, or any other “part” of me. He talked about my qualities and my talents, and how he liked those. We are on the cusp of young adulthood here, still little kids, but with adolescence breathing down our necks. In the years to come, much of the attraction of another human being would be pheromonal, and chemistry-driven, based on the overwhelming desire to roll around on a couch in a clutchy-grabby way with that person. All awesome stuff, but Andrew’s note pre-dates those desires. He probably wouldn’t have written such a note a mere year later, when we were in 7th grade. But here? He likes me because I am a “good kid”, and he likes me because I am a “good story writer.” I did not realize at the time what a gift that would be, to have someone perceive ME, in that way. Or, let’s say, I didn’t realize how much I would yearn for such a note in years to come.

— A generic flirty note would not have been right either, he knew that, so he made the bold move to go personal. He addressed me. Directly.

The note from Andrew, written before I wore a bra or knew about things like cramps or heartbreak, written during the bleak tail-end of the 1970s, is still the most romantic I have ever received.

andrew.jpg

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25 Responses to Valentine’s Day Story #2: The Spitball Valentine

  1. Diane Randall says:

    This is so beautiful–the writing, the sentiment, the memory, the insights. Love it.

  2. Kate Poulter says:

    That is beautiful, and it reminds me of those wonderful last lines of Charlotte’s Web: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” So, certainly, are you!

    Kate

    • sheila says:

      Such a nice comment, Kate!! How did you know that is one of my favorite endings of a book ever? I really appreciate your comment.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Love this story. And that you still have the note and that he didn’t write “your”!

    • sheila says:

      I can’t tell you how happy I am that he didn’t write “your” – you totally get it. It is the most satisfying detail of all!

  4. John Vail says:

    Dear Sheila,

    What a lovely, wonderful series of Valentine’s stories-they have put a smile on my face and made my day/evening (almost as much as my dad, who’s staying with me at the moment in the UK, slipped me a tenner this morning as I went off to my lectures, and told me to go buy some Hershey’s kisses -his idea of a Valentine’s consolation). The second perfectly captured my NJ childhood in Catholic school when spitballs were the preferred mode of conversation (and the most efficient way of getting around the nuns) but I never did work up the courage of your suitor. And I am in awe that you somehow understood at the time as an 11 year old that this was likely to be such a profoundly transformative moment in your life that you managed to save the original spitball-how many of us read this and regret all the missing spitballs, scribbled notes, crumpled post its that have gone astray. And the first is a marvelous depiction of the all too confounding workings of love in that you can have the absolute best date of your life and not a shred of a spark. Finally, thanks for warning us all off Winters Tale. Like all the other books in my pantheon that Hollywood has either made (Fugitive Pieces) or is threatening to make (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay; Let the Great World Spin; Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), I prefer to have them live in my imagination rather than on screen.

    • sheila says:

      John – Ha, I love that story about your Dad – great!!

      Thanks for the kind words!! I kind of can’t believe I still have that Valentine – it’s in one of my hat-boxes somewhere with old love letters and mementoes – and I do cherish it, in a way. I remember the moment of him giving it to me, and how he did it so as to seem inconspicuous – like it was yesterday. Funny how memory works.

      He’s read the piece, by the way – one of the great things about the Internet!!

      And yes, Winter’s Tale. Ugh. I now need to re-read the book just to remind myself that the book is still there, it’s still amazing, and the horrible movie takes nothing away from it.

  5. anne wright padula says:

    Hi Sheila!!! This was the best story ever! So much fun reading it —-lots of great memories–we had the best neighborhood, school, and families! My brother Andrew is still a great guy! Keep writing! Anne (Wright)

    • sheila says:

      Anne!! What a total treat and surprise! We totally did have the best neighborhood to grow up in. Heaven, really.

      No surprise that Andrew is still a great guy. He came from a good family, obviously. :)

      Hope you are well!

  6. Andrew Wright says:

    Sheila:

    Although you are no longer a kid, you are still a good story writer.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Andrew Wright (San Luis Obispo, CA)

    • sheila says:

      Andrew! The man himself. :)

      Always happy to hear from you! You’re a good egg.

      • sheila says:

        Also: I love how other members of your family have found this.

        Go Rolling Acres 4EVA.

        • Anne Wright Barbour says:

          Hi Sheila, What a fun read!! Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope it was a good one!! Anne Wright Barbour

          • Jen Wright says:

            Loved reading your story about Andrew, my husband for the last (almost) 24 years! He is still brief with his words and feelings, but continues to be a man who values character and integrity. Happy Valentine’s Day!!

          • sheila says:

            Anne – so good to hear from you! I love that the Wrights are showing up here on my site. :)

            Hope you are doing well!

          • sheila says:

            Jen – what a nice comment! 24 years! Congratulations!!

            It’s so interesting, isn’t it – that who a person is when they are an adult – their values and character – is clearly evident from when they were 11, 8, 15 … Of course we change and grow up, but the essence remains the same.

            Thank you so much for reading the story.

  7. carolyn clarke says:

    Lovely, sweet and romantic.

  8. MaryLou Wright Gannotti says:

    Sheila,

    Each year I look forward to this story. It is so sweet. It has become my “Yes Virgina, there is a Santa Claus,” for Valentine’s Day. Thank you. Who knew how special our neighborhood was back then?

    MaryLou

    • sheila says:

      Mary Lou –

      We definitely had such a special neighborhood. And that POND. How lucky were we to have a pond in the woods we could skate on? I had no idea how lucky we were.

      Hope you are well. I am so glad you like this tribute to your brother. Very good 6th grade memory!

  9. Brooke A L says:

    I love this piece of writing, Sheila. Your descriptions of your time with Andrew and all the changing feelings of someone in the sixth grade are so beautiful. He was right about you, even then: you ARE a great story writer.

  10. Sarah says:

    This, coupled with the hilarious following Valentine’s Day anecdote, have inescapably led me to the conclusion that you are, in fact, a baller. ;)

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