A Valentine Story…
...or Tale of a Fifth Grade Zombie Girl
In elementary school, do you remember the popular, athletic girl with perfect bangs? Of course you do. Everybody does. But wait. What about the girl fidgeting behind her? Yeah, that one. The chunky one in a denim jumpsuit with an overbite-correcting bionator who hasn’t washed her hair in a week. Hello. Nice to see you again. That was me.
Back then, Valentine’s Day was the worst. Sure, we had a school party with cupcakes and sweet tarts and paper hearts with streamers. And there were, of course, cards. From boys. Stuffed in decorated shoeboxes. It’s not that my shoebox wasn’t full. It was. But only because our school had a rule that you had to give a Valentine’s card to everybody. Even to the fat girl with greasy hair. But I saw the other kids’ cards, and they were better than mine. They said things like: “You very pretty girl,” and “You are smart in math,” and “Do you want to go with me?” Kids who got cards like that were significant to the kids that gave them. Whereas my cards just said: “Happy V-Day,” and my name was almost always spelled wrong.
Every year, I wanted things to change. I knew I was a little different (hello jumpsuit). And I was okay with that. But for once, I wanted to be significant. I just didn’t know how.
Until fifth grade.
Each year, the fifth graders had a Valentine’s Day dance contest during gym class. At the end of the dance, one boy and one girl was chosen as King and Queen of Hearts.
I started making my secret plans during Christmas break. The key to winning, I figured, was finding a good partner. And when I got back to school, I picked one. His name was Brad. He was a competitive baton twirling cheerleader who mostly kept to himself. It took some convincing, but he eventually agreed to be my partner on three terms: that I wash my hair, wear a dress, and pay him ten dollars. I gave him fifteen and told him to forget about the hair and the dress.
But a couple of weeks later, I was the one rethinking the whole idea. When I showed him my Michael-Jackson-Thriller-zombie routine, which is what I imagined we would do to win, Brad rolled his eyes and instead showed me the fox trot and waltz. He twirled me around like one of his batons, and not once did he let me twirl him back.
To make things worse, Brad’s mom, who was also the lunch lady and recess monitor, started calling us Fred and Ginger. And when she spread it around to all the other lunch ladies and recess monitors, that’s when I knew it was over. My plan to be the Queen of Hearts wasn’t mine anymore.
I wanted to be significant, but not by being someone else named Ginger with clean hair who had to be some kind of normal.
So, on the day of the dance, I showed up without Fred, Ginger, or Brad. I did wear a dress and even washed my hair. But only because I wanted to. And then I danced like a zombie to every song. By myself.
I wasn’t the Queen of Hearts. That title went to perfect-bang-girl, of course. But I was the Queen of Me. And that was significant enough.