The Valentine

by Ivy Berchuck

It’s a week before Valentines Day.  I am fifteen years old. The mirror tells me I am too fat and have bad skin.  I know about the small heart-shaped box of candy that will come from my father,  a  mini-version of the one he gives my mother each year.  She always frowns and I am always delighted, but this year it doesn’t have the same thrill. The memory is great though.  Every year, the  box becomes that proverbial, miraculous pitcher.  Each time I devour a chocolate I replace it with one from my mother’s box, so mine is never empty, and I know she doesn’t want hers anyway.  I’ve saved all the small heart-shaped boxes in a bottom drawer. I look at them and see my life passing away.

At fifteen I am hoping for more but it seems hopeless.  I stop at the card store on my walk home from school and browse through the displays. I linger over the lacy ones, with birds competing for space with flowers and cherubs peeking through the bushes to shoot arrows at a beloved. These marvels also cost the most.  They are not , not for the casual acquaintance.  Wouldn’t it be something to receive an envelope with one of these spectaculars?

I focus my attention on one in particular. In addition to the usual adornments, there is an actual stuffed red satin heart in the center, inviting a caress.  A crazy idea pops into my consciousness. Why not? I have enough money to do it. I can create someone out there who sees beyond fat and pimples.

I walk up to the cash register, looking around furtively  trying to be casual. “ Oh,” says the elderly man who takes the card from me, “some boy is very lucky to have a girlfriend like you.”  I can feel my face get hot and know it must be a giveaway blush.

At home I wrap my right hand in a towel to distort my handwriting and scrawl across the page in what I think looks like a boy’s writing. I pen, ‘GUESS WHO?’  Sealed, stamped and addressed to me, it seems  the envelope  runs by itself to the mailbox.

On February 13th my mother hands me two envelopes, one large and one small. The quality of the paper of my envelope is even more impressive than the size.  I grab them and run to my room, ignoring the look of disdain on her face. I open the large one first and am amazed at the joy I feel from my deception. Then I open the other,  and I know in advance where it came from.

There are booklets you can buy of cheap valentines that, like paper dolls, you snap out of cardboard sheets.  Little kids love them. There are enough to give one to everyone  in your class. This one has a picture of a fir tree on it and the sentiment , “I pine for you!” I flip it over and it had the name Jerry Held on the back.  He is a notorious flirt, but I can’t recall his ever having done more than give me a quick wave of his hand while his eyes scan the hallway for the slender and unblemished.  It is still more than I expected.

At lunch the next day everyone is sharing valentines. Three out of the four at my table have been on Jerry Held’s list. We just laugh but look with sympathy at Joan who is clever enough to say, ”He probably ran out of stamps.” We all giggle as I pull out the other one. My friends stared and Sally screamed out, “Wow!”  The girls at the next table join us, everyone trying to identify the sender. I just keep saying, “I have no idea. It’s just a mystery.”

I recall that as the story circulated through school and I got a lot of mileage from it,  I actually believed people looked at me in a new way.  I was so happy I stopped refilling my candy box., and my mother said, “Well, it’s about time you outgrew that.” It also turned out that it was  the last year my father gave me the valentine chocolates. He said,” You’re on your own now Sweetheart, just don’t ever sell yourself short.”

If I had thought a deception like this could continue to work its magic I might have tried it at some other low moments in my life, but  I grew to know it belonged to that certain time.  I hadn’t liked what I saw in the mirror then, but slowly believed in the possibilities of the years to come.


Ivy Berchuck rediscovered writing  at the IRP and has been creating memoirs ever since. It happily continues to provide an understanding of who she is and what life has made of her.