It wasn’t long after that when the term ended. I got my report card, so I knew that I would get a High Achievement certificate and my coveted 100% Attendance certificate. When Miss Ellis read my name I was so happy. I walked up to receive my attendance award. I was so proud of all that I had done. I had suffered through Halloween and even the surprise horror of Valentine’s Day. I was so happy when I stood in front of the class that I kissed my 100% Attendance certificate. I even held it up for everyone else to see.
I don’t remember the name of the boy who said it. It cut me so deeply that you would think that I would remember his name forever, but he is faceless and nameless in my memory. Maybe the grief and anger blinded me. He said, “Geez, it’s just a 100% Attendance Award.” I tried to say to him that it was hard for me to get that award, but the vision of sitting in the room while all the kids were walking in the Halloween parade struck me on the side of the head. The vision of coming to class when I was sick and miserable struck me on the other side of the head. The vision of all the kids exchanging Valentines while I sat, loveless in my desk socked me right in the nose.
After that, the tears just flowed. I remember Miss Ellis trying to explain to the boy that some awards are harder for some people to get. It didn’t help. It just highlighted the fact that I was different. Getting 100% Attendance next term would be just as much of a struggle. It would be a struggle my whole life. I just let the tears burst out of me while I rushed back to my desk. I hid my certificate so that no one could see it.
I was never able to explain to that kid why my award was so important to me. I’m sure that it was just something that he got every term with no hassle or problems. Maybe he was one of those children who was blessed with eternal health, strong teeth and the socially accepted religion in Utah. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to sit in that room while everyone else was part of the party. No amount of tear-soaked words could have explained that feeling of being left out.
I think I was fifteen years old. Dad had left our lives. When my parents divorced, the divorce decree stated that at age twelve, Stacey and I could choose whatever religion we wanted. I had dumped the Jehovah Witnesses on my twelfth birthday. It hadn’t been a question in my mind. I was cleaning out the bottom cupboard in the kitchen when I found it: Trudy Rushton’s Valentine from fourth grade. It had been six years and the ache was still fresh. I think I’m still angry at my dad for making me hide the only Valentine I ever got for fear that it would be burned. I’m even angry at my mom for not protecting me from his psychosis. That’s why I hate Valentine’s Day.