When I was in seventh grade, our middle school had this "fun" thing where you could send flowers or candy to your friends on Valentine's Day. It made for a very stressful day. That year, I got a sad carnation from a friend, but what awaited me when I got home from school made a much bigger impression: a gorgeous bouquet of exotic flowers of all colors. I was shocked; who would send me, a boring 12-year-old with no discernible skills or special qualities, such beautiful flowers? My secret admirer, that's who.
I became a junior detective in The Case of the Mystery Flowers. My only clue was that I knew the florist that had delivered the flowers; it was in calligraphy on the note. I called and begged them to give me the name of the young gentleman who had bought the flowers. When did he come in? What did he look like? Could they give me his credit card information? The answer was no on all counts.
The next day I went to school, looking particularly spunky for a girl who literally wore the same baby-blue vinyl coat to school for the entirety of sixth grade. I mentioned my secret admirer in classes, hoping that someone would bite, or that at least I could catch a sideways glance given to me by my future boyfriend. I daydreamed about who it could be. If it were this guy, I'd be over the moon. If it were that guy, well, I'd still be excited. But god forbid it be the other guy, gross!
I got home; no dice. My suspicion turned to my parents. Would they have sent me the flowers, concerned that their young daughter's self-esteem had taken a hit in the harsh environment that is seventh grade? I quizzed them, I squinted my eyes at them, I begged them to tell me if they knew anything. They knew nothing. I walked away from the investigation defeated. Whoever sent those flowers didn't want to be found, I thought. Still, they nagged at me.
A year went by with no romantic prospects on the horizon. Then, Valentine's Day. Again, I sweated through those petty school "valentines," only to come home and find another overwhelmingly beautiful bouquet in front of me. My secret admirer had struck again! My entire friend circle had changed in the past year, yet the flowers remained as tasteful as they had been in the previous year. Could the same wayward 13-year-old really still be pining for my affection? Again, I found no prospects, and again, I was confused.
The following year, I received yet another bouquet. At this point, my worst suspicions were all but confirmed. I didn't want to believe it; I couldn't. It would mean there never was a secret admirer. I was so afraid to admit it to myself that I didn't tell a soul.
The year after that, more flowers. I finally looked my mother in the eyes and told her I knew it was her. She denied it, but year after year, the flowers continued to arrive.
My senior year in college, again bombarded with flowers, I told her I knew it was her, I begged her to stop, that this charade has done irreparable damage to my psyche. Finally, she admitted it. She said a neighbor had seen it on Oprah. Oprah Winfrey had betrayed me! On what planet did Oprah think this was OK? Did she understand that parents would actually take this advice and trick their children like this? This simply couldn't be the work of Oprah. It must have been Joy Behar or Ricki Lake.
Regardless, my mother sent the flowers one more year. If you think getting flowers from your mother on Valentine's Day is sad, wait until you get flowers from your mother delivered to your desk at your fancy new internship on Valentine's Day. Imagine your new bosses floating by your desk all day asking "Who are the flowers from?" in a suggestive voice. The more you insist that they're not from a romantic interest, the more they assume you're lying.
I finally put the kibosh on the Secret Admirer Flowers. Seventh grade was a particularly hard year for me. I've been told this is the case for many of my peers, but it's a year when you feel particularly alone. I was awkward, both socially and physically, and I felt invisible. It meant so much that someone would not only see me, but like me.
Now, when Valentine's Day rolls around, I wonder if the experiment wouldn't have been better if my parents had limited it to one year. Perhaps I never would have caught on, and I just would have lived out the rest of my life wondering about that bouquet. Regardless, the flowers are still a symbol of love, just not the kind of love and attention I thought I wanted at the time. I love my mother for loving me so much that she found a way to make me forget about the pain I was going through, if just for a day.
Update: My Mother's Response
It started as a lark. Our neighbor heard Oprah talking about women's self-esteem. It sounded like a great idea at the time. The kids in school were handing out random flowers and having the school office deliver a "rose" to special valentines in class. It was embarrassing and terrifying having you and, frankly, your brother NOT getting one. Our neighbor actually sent roses to her kids through the school program, and I opted for the home-delivery method.
You were so happy to get them in the beginning, you walked taller. After a few years, I really assumed you knew, like Santa Claus wasn't real, right?
My first job was at Orchard, and they taught me to do flowers. I wrote the cards for them. I never received flowers myself until your dad sent me 12 white roses for New Year's Eve. The card read, "Just so you don't forget me." I kept the tiny cardboard card in my wallet for years. But I walked taller that year after the roses, and each time I reached for my wallet and saw his scrawl.
I never meant to make you feel ashamed, Maggie — I still am your secret admirer.