Thursday, February 14, 2013

My sick Valentine

It's Valentine's Day, 1970 and I'm in third grade at McKay Elementary School in Chicago's Marquette Park neighborhood.
I wake up that day feeling queasy. I'm sure I didn't know the meaning of that word when I was 7, but it's how I remember the feeling today. My dad worked nights, so mornings were typically very quiet in our wee little two-bedroom apartment as my parents slept late. My mom typically got up at last minute to see me out the door. I avoid telling her that I threw up just a bit that morning. Instead, I remind her that I'm —rather she's— responsible for bringing the pop to the school Valentine's Day party.
"You look pale. Do you feel alright?" she asked.
I told her I had a bit of a stomach ache, but thought it would go away. I was a sickly kid so she probably believed me. There was no way I was going to miss the school Valentine party. There were rumors that one boy, a very ostracized boy with the odd name of Arunus (really!), was going to be giving out whole boxes of candy to each student. He needed to buy some love.

Because I had vision problems I had recently been moved to the front row of the classroom so I could see the blackboard better. Always a mediocre student, it was thought my vision was keeping me from high achievement. But really I was just a daydreamer and a "social butterfly" according to my report card. I remember my mom explaining to me that being a social butterfly wasn't a bad thing so that became ingrained in my personality. Forever. Valentine's Day was a big deal for the third-grade me. This was in the pre-politically correct days. You handed out your store-bought and hand-signed Valentines only to the kids you liked. Numbers were important to me: There were 32 kids in my class and I wanted a card from each one. Including Arunus. 
Sitting in my front row seat my stomach begins to roil. I start watching the clock. I  just need to make it to 2:00 for the class party. I had to be there to pass out my own Valentines. Some kids would just toss their Valentines on every kid's desk then sit down. Others, like me, would make a BFD out of it. Girls who were especially bitchy would stop by a desk, rifle through the envelopes, and ceremoniously bestow one upon your desk. And, if they weren't going to give you one, they'd stop anyway, rifle through their cards, and then move on without leaving one. At least that had been my experience in second grade. My third grade teacher may have nipped this behavior, but I wouldn't find out.

Somewhere around the first hour of school I start to get dizzy. I know I'm about to throw up, but I try to will it away. I'm sitting in the front of the classroom by a door and a very large garbage can. I cook up a plan to quietly throw up in the garbage can while the teacher is not looking. Or, I think I can dash out the door and make it to the girl's room. But my stomach doesn't wait for my scheming and I lose it all over my desk. Before I'm even escorted to the nurse's office, the janitor is there spreading the pink sawdusty stuff all over the mess.

I will have to go home. My mom picks me up and drops off a couple of 8-packs of bottled Pepsi for the party I will now miss.

I won't remember the rest of my sick day. I'm sure it was filled with ginger ale, Saltines, trips to the bathroom, and watching soap operas that were unintelligible to me. But I will remember that when I returned to school, my teacher have me my Valentines. I only got 19 and missed out on the full-sized candy bars Arunus passed out — my popularity already waning. In an instant I go from "social butterfly" to "girl who threw up in school on Valentine's Day."

No comments:

Post a Comment