By Kate Mrdja
I’ve spent most of my life hating Valentine’s Day. Growing up as an overweight child in school, it was a holiday about popularity, which I didn’t have, and candy, which I “shouldn’t” have. In college, it was the day the front desk in the dormitory was filled with flowers for all the other girls, and I pretended I didn’t care.
For a few years I had someone special in my life, but the relationship ended badly, and it took me several years to recover financially and emotionally.
In February, 2001, I was assigned to travel to Wisconsin on a business trip. I’ve lived in Louisiana all my life, and when I heard about the trip I packed a good novel and prepared myself for the cold.
February 14th, Valentine’s night, after dinner I changed into comfy clothes, grabbed my book and prepared to hole up in my hotel room for the night. I had been traveling quite a bit with my job. I was used to the down-the-hall dash to the vending machines, and not worrying about how I looked in the hallway.
As it happened, the soda machine on my floor was out of service, so I went downstairs to the machines near the pool. I thought about changing clothes so as to be more presentable, but decided I didn’t know anyone in Wisconsin anyway, and I’d just be dashing to the machine and back to the elevator.
As I was fidgeting with the change machine I was surprised to hear a cheery “Hello there!” After a couple of seconds, I realized I was the one being addressed by a group of men in the pool and hot tub area. They invited me to join them. They’d been living in the hotel for a few weeks, as their company had bought out a chain of auto parts stores and they’d been shipped in to complete the conversion.
We talked about work and families and the snow. They played practical jokes on each other and we laughed and visited until it was time to turn in. Upstairs in my room I had felt like a fat old woman, alone on yet another Valentine’s Day.
Downstairs at the pool these guys treated me like a lady. They didn’t care that my makeup was almost worn off or how my hair looked. One of them even surprised me by asking why I was single. He seemed genuinely curious, and that gave me a peek at how much difference there was between the way other people saw me and the way I saw myself.
I also realized that sitting alone in my room isn’t the way to stop feeling lonely. That was the best Valentine’s present I’ve ever received. I thought I was prepared for the cold in Wisconsin, but I didn’t expect the warmth I also found.