I walked down to the card shop and joined the other last-minute shoppers standing in front of the racks of Valentine’s Day cards. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one pushing the deadline.
The woman beside me had a stack of cards in her hand. I could tell she went for the more expensive valentines, the big ones with extra pages and fancy trim.
Finally, she must have decided she’d seen enough because she stopped looking for more and concentrated on what she was holding. One by one she looked closely at each card. After she’d been through them all, she did it all over again. Finally, she pulled one card – the perfect love letter? – out of the stack and set the rest down without bothering to put them back.
Watching her walk over to the counter, I wished for one of those balloons that people in cartoons have over their heads that let you see what they are thinking.
Had she discovered, in the hundreds of flowery verses and photographs of kittens and puppies and drawings of red, red roses, a valentine that said exactly what she wanted to express? Was it for someone special? A boyfriend she hoped would turn into a husband or a husband she wished would act more like a boyfriend? Was it for a child, or co-worker or friend? A secret lover?
I would never know. Waving to the girl behind the counter, the woman left with her purchase.
Curious, I looked closer at the others in the store. There was a man, a middle-aged man, standing near me. He was wearing a suit and tie and a white dress shirt that was as crisp as new paper. He shoved both fists into the pockets of his pants and stood there looking blankly at the rows of valentines. He didn’t look like he was up to the task. Unlike the woman who’d picked a handful of cards before she’d selected the one she would buy. His hands were empty.
Farther down the aisle were a teenage girl and boy. They were intertwined, wrapped around one another like summer vines. Hip to hip, arms around waists, each with their fingertips tucked into the other’s back pockets, they snickered and whispered.
I could tell they were shopping for fun, not sentiment. Like school children looking up dirty words in the dictionary, they were picking out the cards that were risqué and full of innuendo and double entendre.
She read to him. He pinched her. He read something to her. She giggled. They slipped the cards back onto the rack without caring where they went.
The businessman hadn’t moved. His fists were still in his pockets. Finally, he rocked back on his heels, gave a great sigh, and walked out the door.
Why, I wondered, could the woman I’d watched find more love than she could hold while the man never reached out for it at all?
Balloons. I thought. I wish they had balloons. I wish I could tell what they were thinking.
The young couple, untangling only long enough to put their heads together and snicker over something racy, had moved on. Now the boy wanted to buy her a stuffed teddy bear in T-shirt that said “Hug me.” I decided that if they had had the balloons over their heads, showing their thoughts to the whole world, that is exactly what would have been written there.
I’d wasted all my time. I had to get back to work and I still hadn’t picked out my own valentines. I’d been daydreaming again. It’s just as well we don’t walk around with word boxes over our heads, I thought. At least half the time, mine would be blank.
And that’s what I finally chose for my valentines: blank cards to fill with my own words. In each one I wrote the same thing: I Love You.
And when I give them out on Valentine’s Day, I’ll tell you what I’ll be thinking.