Valentine Hearts and Hippopotamuses

She lived on the hill; I did not. There was also the problem of peer pressure (most of my buddies still thought that girls had fleas). Age was also an issue (we were both 12).

Whatever the reason, our love seemed ill-fated, unrequited, and, to be perfectly honest, one-sided. Oh, sure, Cindy paid a little attention to me once in a while – like the time she shoved me on the playground and I fell and sprained my wrist. I’ll never forget how she stood above me, looking at me as I tearfully knelt where she had pushed me. I was trying to decide if it was more cool to act tough or to play the pain to the hilt. Before I could do anything, she laughed and ran away with her friends.

But the important, as far as I was concerned, was that she pushed me. Which meant that she had actually touched me. And then she had actually looked at me. Life was good.

As Valentine’s Day approached I began fretting about how to make the day special for Cindy - and for me.

Finally I found the perfect card. It had a picture of two cute little hippos – one boy and one girl – and it said, “Valentine, you’re the greatest!” Just right. I carefully signed the back: “Love, Joe.” Then I quickly added “Walker” – just in case.

I picked through two bags of heat-shaped candy, settling on three suitable messages: “Be Mine,” You’re cute,” and Hot stuff!” I really, really, really wanted to use the “Kiss me” candy, but I just couldn’t bring myself to make that kind of long-term emotional commitment. I put the candies in the envelope and sealed it.

Meaningfully.

When the big day arrived I hurried off to school a half-hour early. I was the first one in the classroom and the first to deposit cards in the special Valentine boxes we had made the previous day in art class.

Cindy peeked in her box and saw my envelope inside. She reached in and took it in her hands.

I trembled with anticipation. This was the moment for which I had been waiting, when she would read my declaration of love, look up at me, and say…

“Drop dead, Joe!”

It wasn’t exactly the response I had in mind. I looked at her blankly.

“Oh, don’t act so innocent,” she fumed. “You think I’m a big fat ugly hippo like you! Thanks a lot!”

“But Cindy…no, that isn’t…I mean…”

“Don’t ever talk to me again!” she wailed, crumpling the card into a multi-colored ball and throwing it at me as she ran out of the room, tears streaming down her cheeks. I learned a few things about loving communication that Valentine’s Day.

I learned that if you’ve got something important to say to a loved one, you need to say it clearly enough that you cannot be misunderstood. I learned the Five C’s of Successful Relationships: Candy Can’t Compensate for Crummy Communication.

And I learned that while it may be true that you can “say it with flowers,” you can’t expect to say it with other stuff.

Especially not hippos.
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