Picture it : 1966 in Arlington Heights, IL at Our Lady of Perpetual Angst Catholic School.
Mrs. Ludy’s third grade class had been designing their special Valentine mailboxes all week. Snippets of red construction paper cut with blunt-nose scissors speckled the classroom floor. Tatters of paper lace doilies and glitter stuck to clothes and jackets while the aroma of Elmer’s School Paste permeated the air. The would-be pretty girl with matted hair who sat in the back of room was peeling dried paste off her fingers and eating it. Linda Conover was her name. She could really put away the paste.
Finally, the big day arrived. The fancy, red mail satchels were securely fastened to each child’s desk with masking tape, awaiting the many cards and heart-shaped candies that were sure to be delivered. It was a class of fifty-two kids, so most of them fashioned their paper satchels extra large.
Row by row, Mrs. Ludy allowed the students to deliver their Valentines. Of course it was mass confusion; much squealing and giggling ensued.
One little girl sat quietly at her desk with a perplexed look on her face. Her chin quivered and her eyes welled with tears. She fought them, though. She’d be damned if she’d let anyone see her cry. She was a quiet child who got along with everyone but wasn’t extra-chummy with anyone. Perhaps that was why there were only two Valentine’s in her satchel. One was from Mrs. Ludy, who pretty much had to give a card to everyone. The other was for another child that was mistakenly put in the wrong satchel. The little girl got up and delivered it to its rightful owner.
One Valentine? And from the teacher!
“How can this be?” she wondered. “I’d brought Valentine’s for everyone—even the yucky boys— but they all forgot me.”
It didn’t seem real.
Why would they do this? Was it a conspiracy? Do they hate me? But why?
She watched in confused silence as her classmates ate candy, chattered and read their cards. Mrs. Ludy was grading papers or reading a magazine at her own desk and wasn’t paying attention.
The little girl could just as easily not have been there, or even existed. She felt invisible.
After about ten forevers, the school bell rang and it was time to go home. Fifty-one students packed up their Valentines and satchels and headed home. After they left, the fifty-second student ripped hers into quarters, then into eighths, and deposited the pieces carefully in the waste basket by the door.