If you didn't know me before about 1994, you may not know that I was a pudgy, bespectacled, poorly dressed, dorky, friendless little know-it-all. My childhood was either a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy in those days, mostly through my own invention. Now, my parents have never been into holidays-- if I wanted the house decorated for Christmas, I had to by God do it myself. But for some reason, my dad always thought Valentine's Day was a nice day to give small presents to my mom and me. One year, he gave me a camera, which I mainly used to capture our dog in all her smushed-face Boston Terrier glory, because I had no friends Another year, he gave us a countertop stereo, which he later used to torture us with Pink Floyd. But that's another story for another time.
One year, possibly the most terribly pathetic year of them all, I was caught in that puberty limbo, where hair sprouts in all the wrong places and you can't decide to wear a bra and have it snapped during Social Studies, or not wear a bra and be the butt of pithy itty-bitty-titty jokes. I hadn't quite figured out how to dress yet, and I was growing out a horrific haircut called a "wedge". The thought was that if it was good enough for gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, it was good enough for 13-year old fat kids who refused to take showers and wash their greasy hair. I was mostly wearing clothes from Target before Target was cool, and I had hairy legs and wore stupid fake Keds. I still thought shirts with zebras on them were cool, whereas the actual cool kids shopped at The Gap, which I thought had something to do with teeth.
I came home from the usual torturous day of 7th grade to find that my father had a big surprise for me: he had gone to K-Mart and bought me $80 worth of clothes as a Valentine's Day present. And if you thought I, myself, was unstylish, I can't begin to describe to you the clothes that my father had chosen for me from the K-Mart Misses section. Old Lady Central. There was a teal and white poofy shirt and long, shapeless skirt set with diagonal striping, white piping, and small triangular designs that made me look like a vacuum cleaner. There was also something mauve that even my grandmother wouldn't wear, kinda like a short-sleeved sweatshirt with a waistband, and I seem to remember jeans with stirrups. Even with my limited fashion sense, I was horrified.
If I wore these monstrosities to school, I was totally and 100% going to get my ass kicked.
The true issue became clear: did I wear these clothes to school against my best judgment and allow myself to become the butt of the painful jokes I was finally outgrowing, or did I ante up and break my dad's heart by telling him that the clothes sucked and I wanted to return them, thereby shedding my childhood and becoming an adult?
I had to compromise. And lie. I thanked him, hugged him, told him how great the clothes were, and chose the least harmful ensemble to go out to eat that night, and then I let him know that everything else was the wrong size and would have to be returned. I took my stylish best friend with me for the grand return and had a great time choosing the acid-washed jean shorts, glittery t-shirts, and shapeless gunny-sack dresses that were then in style. My hair grew out, I quit wearing blue eyeshadow, I got some decent razors, and I eventually grew out of my painfully hideous stage, like a large, ungainly caterpillar turning into a slightly less abrasive moth.
The next year, he gave me a clock radio for Valentine's, and the past faded into a haze of Nirvana (the band), Lemonheads (the candy), Pixie Stick sandwiches, miniskirts, and an ongoing string of geek stories that, I admit, continue to this day.
And that was my worst Valentine's Day ever.