Valentine’s Day is hard for a lot of people. I have friends who love it, but I don’t know, it’s not one of my favorite holidays. Not so much because it’s saturated with commercialism or a tool of our corporate masters or whatever. I guess I just sympathize with those who don’t have anyone, for whom Valentine’s Day feels like they’re having that rubbed in their faces. I’ve certainly come to appreciate that sentiment more now, thanks to my daughter and her very complicated world of relationships, both those that she soldiers through bravely and with a wide open heart, and even more the ones she wants so much but has yet to find.
Every February, especially in recent years, Schuyler ponders aloud. “Who could be my valentine?” It’s a narrative she’s been handed by popular culture, but of course it’s merely a variation and a holiday manifestation of a question she’s had for some time now. She, and I.
It’s easy to make the standard “overprotective dad” jokes, and I’ve cracked a few myself from time to time. For a girl like Schuyler, friendly and pretty and naive (and non-verbal), with a disability that is invisible yet significant, and with the statistics for girls with disabilities and sexual abuse being so terrifying, I think a little overprotection is probably justified. I haven’t purchased a tiny drone to follow her around school or anything like that, but, you know. I’d be open to the technology.
The harder truth is, I worry. Even more than a world of predators, I worry about the thing that Schuyler worries about. I worry that she’ll be alone. More than danger, I fear her heartbreak. When she asks if she’ll have a valentine this year, I silently think, “God, I hope so.”
It’s not a matter of hesitation on her part. She has crushes, mostly the pretty boys at her school but occasionally someone who is perfectly weird like herself. She tries, in her own clumsy way, to make contact, to put herself out there just enough to let someone know that yes, if they make an effort, something sweet and crazy and good could result.
I understand how hard that can be, and I know it’s not just her disability that makes it so difficult. There must be at least a few people reading this who remember me from high school and can attest to just how painfully awkward and stupid I was when it came to relationships. The thing is, I understood what was supposed to happen, even if I was awful at making it work. And I was able to communicate my feelings. (The fact that I did it so incredibly poorly is all on me.)
I know there’s a boy or a girl out there (probably a boy, judging from her interests so far, but never say never) who will meet Schuyler and will look past her little monster and her childlike nature, who will see what the people who know her already see. He’ll recognize the hard work she’ll require, but he will also understand how very, very worth it that work will be. He’ll know that he’s found a girl who is literally like no other in the world, a person who is unique in ways that transcend the simple individuality of every human. He’ll see what a perfect friend she can be, and he’ll understand that her gigantic whale of a heart is capable of such love and devotion.
I believe that day will come. I mostly believe it. I’m not always convinced that the world takes care of all its beings, and I know all too well that any of us can fall through the cracks. On my most cynical days, I believe in disposable people.
But in my hopeful heart, I believe that won’t be Schuyler. She’s a diamond in the rough. She’s the valentine that somebody will discover one day. She’ll be someone’s New World.
For her father, at once eager for her to find love and yet selfishly wanting to wait as long as I can to let go, it’ll be bittersweet. But like the song says, more sweet than bitter.
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