The Unrequited love poem: How do you feel when you love someone who does not love you back?
I didn’t know what to do with the poem, since I hadn’t even asked Analeya if she wanted to be my Valentine yet. Earlier that day, in English class, Mrs. Frayer had told us to write a poem for someone special to ask them to come with us to the Valentine dance. Analeya was my best friend, so didn’t it make sense for her to be my Valentine? She always looked so pretty with her hair braided long to her shoulders, and sometimes her braids had little colored beads that made a cute sound when she walked and it was nice because I knew that she was coming without even turning around. We sat at the same table the first day of kindergarten, and I remember thinking she was pretty. Her skin was a little different than mine, a little tanner, and when she smiled at me I thought I was the luckiest kid in the class.
“Why is your skin like chocolate?” I asked her, and our teacher, Ms. Gomez, just stopped what she was doing and looked up.
“You think so?” Analeya said and smiled again, and I remember the beauty of her bright, white teeth against her glowing skin, and the tooth gap in the front, a tooth I had yet to lose.
“Yeah,” I said. “And I like your hair. It’s pretty and colorful.”
“It’s called braids.”
“I know how to braid hair!” I shared, excited.
“That’s funny,” she replied. “But my mom says that it’s a bit different when it’s my hair. That’s why she’s the one to do it, or she takes me to a salon to get it done.”
“That sounds like fun,” I reached out for her hand. “What’s your name again?”
“Again?” She asked, with a little smile. “I don’t think I’ve told you already.”
We exchanged names. Well, in my case meanings, since it was always easier to explain my name than to say it. I was named after a little creek in the village where my mom was born, Yunigo, but everyone called me Yuni. Then I went on to how my mom wasn’t really from here and neither was my dad, but that they both had traveled from different places in the world just so that they could meet here and that I can exist. She laughed. Years later, she’d tell me that that sentence would stay with her forever. How it sometimes took random, estrange forces, just for one person to exist.
So, that February 12th, right outside Mrs. Lobe’s classroom, I waited. Should I give her the poem or should I wait? Would she be surprised when she got it? I kept waiting. We were in second grade now, and I wasn’t sure about what the protocol was for these things. A special person, Mrs. Frayer had said, that’s who your Valentine should be. Mrs. Frayer was old, at least that’s what my mom used to say every time I’d tell her something she’d say in class.
“Why hasn’t dad given you a ring?” I asked mom one day right after pick up.
“What? What are you talking about?” She said, turning around.
“Well, Mrs. Frayer says that a ring is the best thing that can happen to a woman. And that it means a man cares about her. That sometimes women go and have children with men but that those men don’t care enough about them and then leave them. Is dad gonna leave you?”
Mom rolled her eyes so hard that I thought they’d end at the back of her head. Then she looked at me from the rearview mirror.
“That old witch Mrs. Frayer,” she said. “Don’t worry, love, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Mommy and daddy are just fine the way they are. Mommy doesn’t like rings anyway. Don’t let her get to you. Most of the stuff she says is outdated anyway.”
I smiled with the reassurance of a 7-year-old who for a second thought their parents didn’t love each other. Mom was always complaining about the comments that some teachers would make, some of them about me and my family. The fact that dad was a Muslim had never sat well with some of them, and they had raised concerns about my and my sisters’ souls. Being baptized was part of the conditions to be admitted to the school, and mom had done it without dad finding out. Whenever she’d complain, dad would tell her that maybe we should just switch schools, but mom would say that it was impossible. Maybe their values were outdated, but Catholic school remained the best alternative to public school in town in terms of academics. And that’s why we were stuck there. But I was happy because that’s where I met Analeya.
“Hey, hi,” I rehearsed. “I— I have something to give you.”
It didn’t sound right, again, “Hey, how’s it going? I did something for you?”
The bell rang and I heard the chairs inside shifting as people stood up. The door opened and the first person came out, but it took a couple of minutes for me to hear the sound I was waiting for, and see Analeya, her hair with bouncy colors, walking towards me.
“Yuni,” she said, splitting from the group of three other girls that accompanied her. “What’s up? I thought I wouldn’t see you until lunch.”
This year, we weren’t in the same class. At first, it kinda sucked, but then it became fun, longing to see her at the cafeteria. I missed her and it made me happy that I had someone to miss.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, playing with the paper inside my pocket. “I just had a quick question, you know, about Valentine’s day.”
“Yeah?” I could swear I saw her eyes sparkle a bit.
“Hmm, do you have a Valentine yet?”
She hesitated a bit, weighing her answer, then said, “yeah, hum, John asked me and I said yes, I guess.”
I felt my little heart as if pinched by a needle, and my eyes started watering up.
I kept my eyes on her shoes, “You guess?”
“I mean, yes, why not. Did someone ask you already?”
“No, not yet.”
“I wish we could go together,” she said, but it did nothing to mend my bleeding heart. “But I asked Mrs. Lobe and she told me that it had to be one boy and one girl.”