Every year for Valentine’s Day my dad gave my brother a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and me a box of candy. My mom got a complementary expensive box of candy and I found my junior version utterly charming.
My candy always came in a heart-shaped box and contained four, (sometimes five on a good year,) pieces of chocolates. Sometimes the box was branded with Mickey Mouse or Tinker Bell and sometimes a couple of long stem roses whose romance was lost on me. I ate the candies when I was little (I also ate chalk and Western Barbie’s left boot so my standards were somewhere between Survivor and Fear Factor) and that one year when I had really bad PMS, but in reality this wasn’t chocolate. Or even food. It was like prop chocolate, if the scene called for ancient unearthed brown gob laced with asbestos. I often thought about sending it to the FDA with a note that read, “Really?!”
Once I learned how to read, the candy was accompanied by a card always having something to do with bodily functions. Runny noses, farts, poop, pee. We covered the whole gamut before I left grammar school. Once my card showed a teddy bear with boxers around his furry ankles, sitting atop a toilet, proclaiming, “Valentine, I love you so much I could shit.” I was eight. Another year it was a cute line drawing of a man and woman. The poem read:
Don’t kiss your honey
When your nose is runny
You may think it’s funny
But it’s snot.
As the years went on I matured, but the gifts never did. In fact, they regressed. It wasn’t just a cheap box of candy. It was the cheapest box of candy. My dad could have bought it at the grocery or drug store, but no. That candy was probably made in the last decade. He was buying this shit in some back ally, two-bit, speakeasy confectioner and then had the nerve to bemoan the price of it.
“I used to be able to get this stuff for $.99!” he said. “Now it’s almost a buck fifty! The same box of candy!”
No doubt it was the same box of candy. Whatever didn’t sell the year before was loaded back onto the truck and stashed in a POD to wait out 3 seasons until it was back on store shelves. Even the dollar store would feel bad selling this stuff.
Every year I held out hope believing he would take pity on me or my mom would guilt him into getting me a proper Valentine’s gift. For someone who has spent the better part of her life single, a Valentine’s gift from Dad would not have been inappropriate. In fact, not going balls-to-the-wall on a Valentine’s gift for your single daughter is a missed opportunity. Raise that bar, Fathers! And hang a banner from it proclaiming Daddy’s #1 so prospective suitors walk right under it. But again, no. He balked at the bait the way my friends’ kids snubbed the candy I tried passing off on them. The teasing and feigned indignation over this shoddy display of affection only fueled my dad’s desire to find the cheapest, most unappealing box of candy. And when he did, he took no chances. He smashed the box to ensure the right level of disgusting.
“You know, cheap doesn’t have to mean inedible,” I told him one year. “If this is all I have on V-day, I’d at least like to enjoy it.”
“You can totally eat that,” he said. “For $1.49, I should hope you do!”
“I recognize your thumbprint.”
“It’s the goddamn post office. And they wonder why they’re losing business?”
And then one year, I thought I had finally rid myself of the sickeningly sweet albatross. Junior year of college, I spent my second semester in London. It cost my mom $33 to send me a spare pair of contact lenses. No freakin’ way was I getting the stupid candy.
“You can have it when you come home this summer,” my dad promised.
“It’s not like it could expire,” I sighed.
But on Valentine’s Day I arrived at my flat to find a package. Inside was a card with a cartoon cupid crop-dusting a restaurant full of star-crossed lovers.
Love is in the Air!
Just try not to be downwind of it!
And of course my dad’s handwritten note.
“I couldn’t let this day go by without show you how much I care.”
The postage paid label said $56. $55 more than the tattered heart shape box with four pieces of thumb-smashed candy inside. Was that a decomposing moth in one of them? A white powder-like substance coated each piece and a pink frothy substance spread across the busted candies. Ah crap. I’ve never been so happy to see a broken heart. I reached for a piece oozing a color not found in nature. I thought it was delicious. I blame PMS.