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It looked like a child’s Valentine, a square of red construction paper glued onto a round, lacy, white paper doily. I noticed it on the floor, one edge trapped under the leg of a chair in the coffee shop.
I picked it up and opened it expecting to see something like “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…signed with X’s and O’s and written in a looping childish scrawl.
But that’s not what I saw.
Instead, I read the words, “You can bite me” printed in ink – by an adult hand - and finished with lots of exclamation points.
At first I assumed it was a kind of naughty little note. A homemade come-on left on the breakfast table, propped against a glass of orange juice or coffee cup. Or, perhaps it had been meant for a co-worker, a secret message left on a desk or handed off under the table in a meeting. A tease to after-hours fun, or a little corporate groping in the elevator.
But the more I looked at it, the less sweetness I saw. The words, “You can bite me” had been practically carved into the paper. I got the feeling they were written by someone who was angry. Someone whose teeth had been clenched when she wrote it. Someone who might have preferred to carve the same message on the forehead of the recipient. And I was sure it had been written by a woman.
Whoever she was, she was mad. And she had a point she wanted to make. So, as befitted the day, a lover’s day, she dressed it up in lace and red paper.
I sat there, holding the little bomb, and tried to imagine who sent it and for whom it had been intended. What on earth had he done to deserve it? And how did he feel when he opened the card?
Did he sit there, nursing a Venti double-shot and read the words over and over again, mulling over how much trouble she was and how tired he was of her theatrics? Or, did he mentally kick himself, making a promise right then and there to shape up and show the love.
And what about her? I would give anything to have been a fly on the wall when that card was made. I could imagine her furiously rummaging through drawers looking for a pen that wasn’t out of ink and a glue stick that wasn’t dried and useless. Opening and closing kitchen cabinet doors, searching for those ridiculous doilies she bought last year when she had that baby shower for a friend. Then, after scratching the words across the paper, folding the card and slipping it into an envelope. An angry Cupid, locked, loaded, target in sight.
Everywhere I look I see Valentines. Most are syrupy and trite. I can’t help but wonder how many are given under false pretenses. Pretty poetry and sentimental schmaltz when what the sender would like to say can be summed up in two little words: “Bite me.”
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org