When my father retired from the military he decided to move our family smack-dab in the middle of the Deep South. I was just about to begin high school, and the combination of being a teenager (with all that angst) as well as being the "new girl" made my first two years Stateside very difficult.
I was painfully shy and awkward; we had just spent two wonderful years living in Italy, within the loving embrace of my Nonna, and now I was trying to figure out how my Italian-ness fit into our new life.
The first day of school I wore a beautiful blue wrap-around skirt; everyone else was wearing Jordache Jeans. In homeroom a big, black girl leaned over and asked if I were Eye-talian and how long did it take to drive to Italy. I didn't know how to answer her because I was too busy trying to figure out if she was pulling my leg (she wasn't). In an environment where best friends are formed in Kindergarten and social connections are woven through generations, I didn't quite fit in.
No, it wasn't an easy time, but slowly things improved. My mom bought me a pair of jeans, I made some friends, and there was even a boy on the bus who liked me. He was the one who gave me a copy of The Outsiders, and when I got to the part when Johnny dies and tears started streaming down my face he nodded, "I knew you would like it."
In early February of my sophomore year the Student Council did their Student Council thing and began selling Valentine carnations. For $1 you could purchase a red, pink, or white carnation which would be delivered with a personal message written on a pink heart.
On Valentine's day the deliveries started. I was in my fourth period Math class when the teacher came in carrying a fistful of pink carnations. She handed out three to some girls sitting in the front, then she walked to the back of the classroom and stopped in front of my desk. My heart began pounding. Oh my gosh, I was actually going to get a carnation.
But no, she didn't give me a carnation. She handed me the entire dozen.
Today I am still living in the Deep South. There have been many Valentine's Days since those early high school years, and while I remember the tears and insecurities of trying to figure it all out, it is the image of those bright, pink carnations that stand out most in my mind.
Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.