A Rose Isn’t Always Just a Rose

We’ve all survived another Valentine’s Day – the day when our love lives and lovers are put to the impossible test of proving this isn’t just another Hallmark Holiday. Although the stress of this year’s love celebration was compounded by the more logical need to zip shut our wallets, men – and women – still understood the importance of saying ‘I care’. Love bloomed for SR Hogue Florists, Montecito Flowers and Gazebo Flowers & Plants. For me, the tough economy provided the ideal denial in case my existence on this planet wasn’t recognized by a man. And other than my usual psycho-pneumonia outbreak and temporary resurgence of childhood ticks, this V-day came and went better than most because I did receive flowers and was once again reminded that a rose isn’t always just a rose.

As a child, my parents gave my brothers and me little cinnamon hearts that would burn our mouths. Later on I wondered if the burning hearts were my parents’ subtle way of warning us about the pains of love. But since I went to a private girl’s school ‘til age fourteen, I had no idea that boys came in shapes or forms other than brothers or cousins.

In grade eight, I was expelled for writing an essay ‘unbecoming of a young lady,’ so my father decided it was time for public high school. I’m not sure whether he’d run out of private schools to pay off or whether he’d just given up on my chances of blooming into Audrey Hepburn.

I had been changing schools every year since kindergarten so I was an expert at being ‘the new kid.’ I quickly assessed ‘the groups’ and tried to choose the easiest fit. There were the ‘Druggies’ who idolized Susan Sarandon in Rocky Horror Picture Show, smoked marijuana and put safety pins through their ears. And of course, the ‘Cheerleaders’ aka the ‘mean girls’ (no, Canadians aren’t all nice) who were pretty, popular, and always smiling – at least at each other. Finally, the ‘Bookworms’ and the ‘Jocks.’ I wasn’t particularly pretty, smart or athletic and would have been grounded for life if I’d used drugs, so that left me as one the ‘Loners,’ which by definition wasn’t a group since we were always alone.

By the time February rolled around, I had well established myself as a misfit and took great pride in surviving one tortuous day after another. The ultimate challenge presented itself on February 7th when I walked into the cafeteria, feeling the usual stress of ‘where will I sit,’ and saw the biggest horror of my pre-pubescent years. Behind a large rectangular table sat the senior class president, Wang Chong, and his band of Bookworm buddies. Huge signs on the table announced ‘Have Cupid Send Your Love’ and ‘Valentine Roses for Sale.’ A long line of Jocks, Druggies and even some Loners were filling out cards and forking over 50 cents. Beside me a sophomore whispered:

“Oh no! It’s Valentine’s Day.”

I prayed the situation wasn’t as bad as I envisioned. “What’s everyone doing?”

“Ordering roses. To be delivered on Valentine’s Day.”

This was the most bonding I’d done with another kid all year.

“To our houses?”

“No. The classrooms…It goes on all day.”

The morning of February 14th I developed my very first bout of psycho-pneumonia. The stress of public rejection or even worse – invisibility – had driven my fever to over 100 and by 8 am I’d sweated through two undershirts even though my parents, both born in post-depression England, set the thermometer at a mere 58 degrees. My father felt my forehead – definitely hot - and went and fetched the brandy, which can fix anything from the flu to an ingrown toenail. And sure enough, after three tablespoons of hard liquor my perspiration had ebbed to a glow and my dad announced that I was well enough to go to school.

The first two hours of school passed uneventfully. I stared at the clock as it ticked towards recess and thought: ‘It’s going to be okay. That sophomore had it all wrong.’

Then there was a knock on the door and my heart raced as our teacher, Miss Langford, a forty-something spinster with pinned-back hair who had long ago given up on love or Valentine’s Day, declared: “I wonder who that could be?”

In pranced Cupid Wang, not the least bit embarrassed to be wearing a red dress, white stockings and pointed green felt shoes. I quickly counted up the number of long-stemmed roses in his basket and then the number of girls in the class. Twenty-four roses, thirteen girls. Those were very good odds. Wang held out a rose “Is there a Heather in the class?” Well of course there was. Heather L – head cheerleader, perfect teeth and the quarterback’s girlfriend. Heather accepted the rose and read her card out loud. “A secret admirer!” she squealed. holding the rose against her heart.

Heather, Patti, Anne, and the rest of the cheerleading squad amassed a small florist shop until there was one rose left. Cupid squinted at the name: “Zane?” Everyone looked around. No Zane. “Wait a minute. It’s Jane.”

Suddenly the whole class was looking at me and I felt my legs wobble as I walked past all those losers whose names hadn’t been called. I grabbed the rose so fast that I pricked my finger and the class laughed as a spot of blood appeared. I opened the small envelope, praying there hadn’t been some mistake and Zane was actually in another class. The card simply read: ‘To Jane from your secret admirer.”

I returned to my seat, clutching my prize, hoping my legs wouldn’t collapse. That was when I noticed Mary Beth S dabbing a tear from her eye. She had no rose. Mary Beth forced a congratulatory smile as she handed me a clean tissue for my bleeding finger. She had known to come prepared for Valentine’s Day.

At lunchtime, Heather invited me to sit with her and the other popular rose-bearing teens.

A couple weeks later, while rifling though my brother’s desk, I came across a receipt – for a rose – Jane Wood, Room 9B. For fifty cents my brother, a senior, had purchased my salvation.

I recently looked up Heather and Mary Beth. Heather, now a bit too curvy, is head cashier in a Toronto supermarket. She still has a big smile and perfect teeth. Mary Beth is a QC, the highest honor for a Canadian lawyer, married with two kids.

I hope they both had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.