That’s me, at age 12, with hair too big to fit into a ponytail and an awkwardly chubby body that few fashionable outfits could cover or even forgive. They called me the weird kid, at school, and they weren’t necessarily wrong. At that age, I collected pins from US presidential elections, would rather talk to horses than people and hid in the bathroom almost every recess to listen to The Doors on my beat-up Sony Discman. I didn’t fit in any of the boxes and at that age — hell, at any age — the people around you can smell the oddity on your slightly panicked breath.
As most kids of my kind, I reacted to the situation by adopting a “screw you” attitude, and that was never as visible as on that dreadful day when popularity and attractiveness was being judged and measured. On Valentine’s Day every year, students would send roses to each other, to be delivered in class on full display to the other students. The popular girls would ooh and aah over the bunches of flowers that landed on their desks, while others, like myself, would loudly declare how silly and obsolete this phony holiday was and how we actively refused to participate in anything from dances to decorations.
Once I reached high school I finally caved, but as the world still wouldn’t comply and my appearance and personality still did not merit any roses, I foolishly decided to send some to myself. The plan was to change how everyone viewed me; to re-brand the weirdo if you will. But the execution did not exactly give the desired result.
On Feb. 14, 1996, I cemented my unfortunate reputation as three red roses landed on my desk for the first time in my 15-year-old life. If it had ended there, things would have been ok, but for some reason I had to get greedy, and add a card to the delivery.
I got held back after class by Eva, my saint of a teacher, who wanted to know if I was doing ok? She had heard the other girls snickering and gossiping about my flower delivery and that rumors had started that I sent them to myself. She picked up the card from my trembling hand and said “you realize none of the boys your age have ever heard of Walt Whitman, much less would send a card with one of his poems?”
And I knew I had been exposed.
I wanted so badly not only to be the recipient of roses, meriting that kind of adulation, but to be loved by someone so perfect that he would know the words of Whitman and place them on that card. As so often before and after that day, I fell victim to my own expectations, and as I stood before my teacher it felt like a horrible price to pay for caring about that thing I had deemed as silly and obsolete.
I see the weird girls around, and I desperately want to tell them that I am one of them. I see their smudged black eyeliner, oversized hoodies and their painted-on pouts and I want to say that the only difference between them and me is that my back is straighter now, all these years later, and that I know it is ok to passionately long for all the clubs that keep you out.
Tomorrow there will be many girls with empty desks, many weirdos without flowers, and I’ll nod and smile as I see them walk back empty-handed from school. Yes, we are weird girls, but that word does not encompass all the things we hold inside. We’re the smart girls, the dark girls, the tough girls, the mushy and romantic girls and all those years of empty desks shape us into the perfectly weird women we are, and for the perfect card to one day find us.