In 1998 I was in eighth grade at Churchill middle school. I was five feet tall and weighed eighty pounds. I had gold braces and long brown hair I didn’t know what to do with until a decade and a half later when my brother married a hairstylist. My woman curves were barely detectable until well into my twenties.
I hadn’t gotten much attention from boys since my glory days as a playground all-star and renowned capture the flag champion. As a result of some unknown catastrophe during the summer of 1996, every boy I knew was no longer impressed by my extensive knowledge of professional sports or tenacity on the soccer field. It seemed sarcastic wit and a love for the 49ers were no match for the allure of big boobs and well-tamed hair.
Junior High is tough on “late bloomers.”
My mom did her best to remind me that I was still smart, funny and academically accomplished. She told me I was pretty, that boys were stupid, and that some day I would be every man’s dream come true.
Big boobs were overrated anyway.
In February, the school student government advertised a carnation sale leading up to Valentine’s day. Spunky, well-developed, popular girls came bouncing into English class to describe the romantic details of the sale. I hunched my shoulders and sunk down behind my desk. I prayed I would disappear until the whole thing was over. Maybe I’d be reincarnated as one of my confident female classmates.
I dreaded every day leading up to February 14th.
In Junior High, I rode to school with my Dad. Our morning drives were a departure from our otherwise disconnected existence. We listened to morning edition on NPR. He referred to it as “the commies” and it wasn’t until years later that I understood what he meant. I don’t have many specific memories, but looking back now I know it must have been a special time for both of us. A unique moment of father-daughter normalcy in an otherwise unusual relationship.
Somewhere between high brow talk radio and the three mile commute, I must have mentioned carnations.
On Valentine’s day, in sixth period science, the bouncing student government girls appeared again. This time they were rolling one of those plastic carts that resentful teachers used to haul cumbersome audio visual equipment between classrooms at public schools.
It was spilling-over with carnations. I cringed.
And just when I least expected it, a delicately tied ribbon with three carnations plopped down on my desk. I felt my face flush and my palms sweat.
I peaked at the attached note.
It was simply signed, “Martin.”
My best friend looked about as shocked as I was. We spent the remaining forty five minutes of the period trying to decide who they were from. Was it a code name? A secret admirer? Some squirrely, scraggly P.E. classmate who was inordinately impressed with my seven-minute mile?
I was part ecstatic, part terrified.
On the way home that day it hit me.
Martin. “I’m an idiot.” “Duh.”
The carnations were from my dad. He must have used his first name to save me from humiliation. I was, of course, humiliated.
The sixth period mystery never came up with my friends. I’m ninety five percent sure I never mentioned it to my Dad. But about three years ago, on Valentine’s day, I flashed on the memory. I felt immediately overwhelmed by tears as I thought about the tenderness and love that moved my dad to buy me the carnations. I mentally scolded my fourteen-year old self for her lack of gratitude and appreciation. I reflected on all of the ways my dad told me he loved me that weren’t always easy to recognize.
I thought about how sometimes we miss the opportunity to receive love because we don’t understand it.
At five o’clock tonight I was standing in tree pose, in my kitchen, pouring over products liability note- cards when I heard a knock at the door.
A less than bouncy, elderly Asian woman handed me a delicate bouquet of vibrant summer blooms. The richest, most lovely colors bursting out of a rustic glass vase.
I swelled with joy as I read the card. “Congratulations on Making it to the Home Stretch.”
I was reminded of so many years ago when my dad felt like a stranger. When it took me three hours to connect his first name with his face.
Tonight, I feel gratitude and appreciation.
For my dad. For our relationship. For healing and forgiveness and possibility. For new beginnings. For unique and conventional expressions of love.