Two years ago I wrote a poem, Torn, Tattered Hearts, and now it’s time to tell about it.
I was the kid that didn’t have any friends, the one that ate alone, that was bullied and shunned, and made fun of at every chance.
My hearing impairment made me easy pickings and my glasses earned me the name, “Four Eyes”.
Kids would gang up on me and grab my glasses and toss them back and forth while I would try to catch them. I never could.
Both lunch and recess were like a living nightmare that I dreaded with every fiber of my being.
I finally learned a way to escape… When the bell rang for lunch and all the other kids got in line for lunch, I would slip out the back door, walk as fast as I could outside and climb up the tree which allowed me to watch everyone when they finished eating and came outside to play.
I would perch my sack lunch on the branches and eat as quickly as possible, drinking the colas that Mema always wrapped in foil. I was safe in the trees and when the bell rang for classes to resume, I would scurry down and go in the back door and beat my classmates back to our room.
I was always on guard, yet a part of me was still hopeful that I would some day have friends.
Then one day, I was asked by my teacher to take the attendance cards to the office.
While I was gone, the 6th grade teacher told the class to stop being mean to me because I ‘couldn’t “help” being hard of “hearing , and that they should “feel sorry” for me and be nicer. She also told them to be sure to include me in the upcoming Valentine card exchange, because it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t get any cards.
When I returned, I noticed the vibe in the class seemed different and it made me nervous.
When the bell rang for lunch, one of the popular girls came up to me and asked me to sit at her table with her and her friends. I said, “No,” and started to walk towards the back door when my teacher stopped me and told me that I couldn’t go out that way and to give the girls a chance because they all wanted to get to know me.
Something just didn’t feel right, but I went ahead and followed them to the table.
It was a few days before Valentine’s and the girls were talking about which boys they thought were cute, and which boys liked who… Some girls were “going steady” and they nudged me and said, “maybe a boy would like you if you didn’t wear glasses…. or if you could hear”
After a couple of days of having lunch with everyone, I began to think I finally had broke through and made some friends, so I was excited to tell my Mema that I wanted to buy Valentine cards and candy for all my new friends in my 6th grade class.
We went to the drug store and bought candy bars and cards and I carefully wrote the names of each classmate and taped the candy to the cards, signing my name with a flourish.
Valentine’s day came and the class party was to take the place of the last period.
There was cupcakes and colas for everyone on the table in front of the classroom. Each desk had a shoe box that we had decorated with construction paper and stickers during art class.
The teacher had everyone stand in a line and walk by each desk, placing cards into the slot in the boxes. I was so tickled when I saw that almost every one of my classmates stopped by my desk and placed cards in there. They were smiling and laughing and glancing at me and I felt a rush of emotions overwhelming me.
I had FRIENDS! I was getting Valentine’s cards! I was part of the group!
Finally, all the cards were passed out and we each sat at our desk and the teacher told us that we could open our shoe boxes and read the cards and eat our candy and cupcakes.
I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I took the lid off my box.
I smiled at them and opened it, happily grabbing a card out of the pile.
My heart sank as I read the words, tears filled my eyes and I bit down hard on the inside of my mouth to keep from sobbing.
On each and every card, in black Mark-So-Lot markers, my classmates had scrawled hurtful, ugly words.
“NOBODY LIKES YOU!”
“YOU’RE SO UGLY!”
“NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE!”
“I HATE YOU! ”
“DEAF AND DUMB! ”
” YOU’RE SO STUPID! ”
Every candy bar was broken, the candy hearts were crushed into crumbs in the box, the lollipops were smashed.
In just seconds that felt like forever, I realized what had happened. I had been played the fool the whole time.
I quickly put the lid back on the box, slide it underneath my desk, and got out a notebook and begin writing. I kept my eyes on my paper, trying with all my might to control the tears that threatened to roll down my cheeks.
I held myself together, determined that they would not win this battle, too. I vowed that I would never again trust anyone, never again let down my guard and never again allow myself to be a victim.
When the bell rang, everyone rushed out and I saw one of the boys mouth to me,”I’m sorry, Jeanna,I had to do it.”
I shook my head and carried my Valentine’s box close to my chest, walked over to the trashcan and smashed it down, underneath the coke cans and cupcake wrappers and papers.
My teacher was busy picking up the decorations and didn’t notice what I had just done, but she smiled at me and said,”See, Jeanna’, you got Valentine’s just like everyone else… Happy Valentine’s day!”
I ducked out of the room and started to run to my Mema’s car.
Mema! My heart just sank … How could I tell her?! Mema had been so excited for me, buying full size candy bars for my new friends. She was smiling at me as I walked to the car and I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her what happened.
“Did you get Valentine’s?”
“Where is your box? ”
“What kind of candy did your friends give you?”
The mask came on, I am answered her, with a smile pasted on my face.
“I ate it in the classroom, it was so good… Lots of chocolate Hershey bars!”
“I was having so much fun that I spilled my coke on the box, but that’s okay because I had already read all the cards!”
” It was the best Valentine’s ever, Mema!”
As soon as we got home, I pretended to have an upset stomach from eating too much candy.
I went into my room, turned on my record player, put the earphones on and laid down on my bed and cried my heart out.
That Valentine’s was the one that left deep scars across my heart. It was one more deep, dark secret to keep, one more reason to wear a mask, another thing to be ashamed of, and one more reason to pretend I was not who I really was.
That’s the rest of the story of the torn and tattered hearts.
It’s taken me decades to finally become friends with anyone. It takes a very long time for me to let my guard down and to trust anyone, especially women.
But, once I do, once I feel known and loved, I will guard that friendship with all my heart. I know full well-too damn well-how much it means to have a real friend and to be one.
It means that you can finally take off the mask, and stop pretending. It means you don’t have to bite your lips to keep from letting your emotions show, it means sitting at a table together and feeling safe.
Torn and tattered hearts can be patched up and made beautiful again, it just takes time.
A lot of time.
I still wrestle with Valentine’s. It’s a day to work, to do for other people as a massage therapist,a friend,a mom, and a Jamma. I run around buying gifts, writing cards, getting candy and everything I need.
But, every now and then, I catch myself and the tears swell up in my eyes and I fight to erase the words that were scrawled across my heart in 6th grade.
♥️ Jeanna’ Mead
1.29.21…7 53 a.m
Yesterday… February 11.2021 I recieved a Valentine’s card from a long-time family friend, Cindy Kay. I used the card for the updated picture on the story. She has no idea how much her handmade cards mean to me. ❤️