I’m a fairly well established public disdainer of Valentine’s Day. But as I was sitting here in the lead up to the big day this year, I was thinking back on the various ways I have celebrated it over the years. When Denisa and I were dating, I made her a card with the picture of a smiling cartoon pig on the front. It said, “This Valentine’s Day, Porky hopes,” and then you opened the card and saw the message “You have a better day than he did.” This was accompanied by a picture of the same pig’s head on a plate, with Xs for eyes. What do you think? Etsy-worthy? But as I traipsed down memory lane, it became clear that the year I did the most for Valentine’s Day had to be 1997. I was 18 in my freshman year at BYU.
At the time, I was living in Deseret Towers, these six story monstrosities that were at the north end of campus. (They’ve since been torn down and replaced with much more aesthetically pleasing buildings. DT had blue lunch trays outside the windows. It’s hard to go anywhere but up when your baseline is “blue lunch trays.”) At the time, I was also dating Kristi Strong who happened to be the roommate of my best friend, Sue Stone. In hindsight, being best friends with your girlfriend’s roommate is not exactly the recipe for a smooth and conflict-free lifestyle, but remember. I was 18.*
Anyway. That Valentines Day, I got both Kristi and Sue a present. For Kristi, I gave her a stuffed teddy bear. Except I tied a noose for it and hung it in her closet. (“Tone deaf” is a very good way to sum up 18-year-old Bryce, I think. He was also a great deal more sheltered than he had any clue.) For Sue, I gave her the Dover thrift edition of Taming of the Shrew. (Both cheap and tacky. I was a treat.) Sue got me what remains my favorite Valentine’s gift ever. She worked at the BYU flower shop, and she hated Valentine’s Day for a much more straightforward reason: it was a day that she was insanely busy as she put together roses and bouquets and corsages for dances, etc. She gave me a dozen dozen red roses. Except they were just the stems, because she’d lopped off the actual roses to make all those corsages. I thought it was perfect.
Not to be outdone, I also wrote a sonnet for Sue. Before any of you accuse me of being even more idiotic than I was (a sonnet for the best friend, and not for the girlfriend? Did I have a death wish?), I’d already written one for Kristi. And yes, it’s horrible, and no, I won’t share it with you, but yes, I still have a copy, because I’m a digital packrat. And actually, I’d already written one for Sue (also terrible, having just re-read it), but she’d challenged me to write a sonnet that was as insulting as possible.
I’m sure some of you are reading that and realizing what a bad idea it was to ask 18-year-old Bryce to write an insulting sonnet. But remember, 18-year-old Bryce didn’t really have brakes on his train.
So without further ado, here’s the end result I came up with:
Did you know that you really piss me off
With your incessantly annoying whine?
At one mere sonnet you can only scoff–
Do you think that I worship at your shrine?
For me to waste my time to write just one
For an insipid little pest like you
Is just enough for me to want a gun
To put an end to nauseating Sue.
But here I sit, composing once again,
This time allowing truth to see the light
For now I have good cause to use a pen:
I gave you praise, but you–you gave me slight.
The next time that I see your face I’ll snap:
In my opinion you’re a piece of crap!
There you go, folks. I somehow managed to even tie in another threat to physically harm/kill a woman. Way to go, 18-year-old me! (As a side note, it’s always interesting to see how, while we might think we haven’t changed that much over the years, and that we’ve always been level-headed and practically perfect in every way, when we’re forced to look at who we were, what we said and did, and how we did it, the truth doesn’t always line up with how we remember it . . .)
In any case, that’s about all the time for self deprecation I’ve got today. I don’t still hate Valentine’s Day with quite the same gusto that I once did, but I also still don’t have any pink or red decorations up. There are no candy hearts in my house. And Denisa and I won’t be exchanging gifts or having a candlelit dinner. On the other hand, I’m also not making fun of suicide and using veiled death threats to woo women any more.
*This was also the year I went on three dates in one evening. Which, again, was not the wisest choice, since I had to come up with reasons to end one date so that I could make my next date in time, and even I was sane enough to know telling your current date you had to go date another girl was just asking for trouble. And while you might be able to get away with that once in one night, you’re really spitting in the face of fate to try it twice. And if that doesn’t sum up who I was at 18, then you’ll be relieved to hear I also broke the leg of not one, but *two* girls. Who were roommates. Apparently I had a thing for roommates and destruction.**
**Because I’m sure you’re going to ask how it is I, a generally non-violent person, ended up breaking the legs of two young women, allow me to elucidate. The first happened on a swing dancing date. It was my first time, and my date (Jessica Franciose) and I were learning various moves. Jess was a much more adventurous dancer than I was, but I liked her a lot, and so I was pretending to be more daring than I had any right. We were working on this one move where I would grab her across her stomach and then flip her in a somersault over my arm. (Clearly I didn’t yet have back issues at age 18.) We had just gotten to the point where we felt like we could do it pretty well, so we decided to show off to her friends. It went off without a hitch . . . until she landed on my foot instead of the floor. My foot was fine, but she fell, badly hurting her leg in the process.*** We found out the next day that she had a hairline fracture in that leg.
***Because Jess was an awesome person (and still is, I’m sure), she insisted I keep dancing without her while she walked off the pain. So I then danced with her roommate, Tiffany Ensign. At this point, I had come to the sound conclusion that perhaps the world wasn’t ready for a Bryce who flipped girls in somersaults over his arm, so we tried out simpler moves. There was this one where you held onto each other’s hands and spun in circle, offsetting each other’s weight in a perfect balance. Whee! That seemed pretty tame, so we tried that. It all went well for the first turn or two, but then I maybe turned a bit too fast. It’s a blur. All I know is that Tiff’s legs kicked out from under her, and instead of us twirling around in a happy little dance move, I was holding onto her hands while she stared at me in wide-eyed terror as I swung her around in a move closer to pro-wrestling than dancing. She was pretty much in the superman pose, horizontal to the floor. I had no idea what to do, so . . . I kept spinning. Unbeknownst to me, there was another couple happily dancing behind me. I used my new dance partner to literally sweep the girl behind me off her feet. She went flying into the air. I was shocked, and in my shock, I let go of Tiff. She went sailing off in the other direction, leaving me staring at the other girl’s date . . . I didn’t go swing dancing very often after that.****
****Keen-eyed readers will note that I didn’t actually break Tiffany’s leg in that story. That’s because it was a different girl whose leg I broke. One of Jess’s other roommates, whose name escapes me at the moment. Tracy, maybe? We’ll go with that. In any case, Tracy came into their apartment one day wearing a T-shirt with cow spots on it. I, in my 18-year-old naïveté, cheerfully blurted out the obvious: “You look like a cow!” Yes, in hindsight, telling a young woman that she looked like a cow was not, perhaps, the wisest move for a lone young man in an apartment full of girls, but I didn’t yet have the same experience with tact that I hope I have today. In any case, I got in no small amount of hot water over that statement, and Tracy didn’t forget it. Days or weeks later, I was sitting on that same couch in that same apartment, minding my own business, when Tracy took a glass of water and dumped it over my head. Vengeance for the cow comment. Anyone who knows me well, though, knows that while I’m generally cheerful and polite, I also come with a few basic instructions. First, never feed me after midnight. Second, limit my exposure to sunlight. But the most important is to never ever get me wet. You know how Bruce Banner hulks out when he gets angry? I get sort of the same look in my eyes when someone purposefully dumps a glass of water over my head. I leapt from the couch and raced after Tracy, who had the good sense to run away from me as fast as she could. This being BYU, there was a hard rule about being over at a girl’s apartment: no men in the bedroom. If Tracy could make it to her bedroom, she would be safe. (Safe from what, I’m still not sure. I have no idea what I was planning to do if I caught her. My mind wasn’t thinking that clearly.) In any case, she darted away from me, but she also discovered that a wet Bryce is a fast Bryce. I caught up to her just as she was turning into her room. To stop her, I grabbed at her t-shirt. What I didn’t know is that she was wearing a sports bra. I didn’t just get her t-shirt with my grab: I got a good hold on the back of her sports bra, too. When she turned, she didn’t compensate for me holding onto her clothes so tightly, and her turn ended up being way faster and tighter than she expected. Instead of making it into her room, she slammed into the doorframe. And broke her leg. Tracy, I’m very very sorry.*****
*****This is all making me look much worse than I hope I actually was in my freshman year of college. I’m proud to say I’ve never broken a woman’s leg since, though I did break my son’s leg when he was two.****** I also stopped dating roommates of my best friends, and I never went on three dates in one evening again.
******Okay. I can’t just leave that there, because now I sound abusive. I broke Tomas’s leg when the two of us went down a spiral slide on a playground. His leg got caught under 230 pounds of Bryce. And that’s how I learned that you’re never supposed to go down a spiral slide with a toddler. You think you’re being more careful by going with them. You’re actually just increasing the odds that they break something.
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