by Chuck Klosterman
THIS IS A STORY THAT MAKES ME SEEM CLEVER, BUT IT ACTUALLY JUST proves I'm stupid.
When I was twenty years old, I had no idea that adults celebrated Valentine's Day. It seemed like something only children would do, and I assumed normal people ignored this holiday completely. But (at the time) I was dating a very attractive woman who was twenty-nine, and she saw this situation differently. On the afternoon of February 14, we went to see Groundhog Day (this was 1993), and then she gave me all these very specific, very thoughtful gifts: leather gloves (which I needed), the children's book Go, Dog, Go! (which I had casually mentioned liking when I was five), and the Soul Asylum album Grave Dancers Union (which further proves that it was 1993).
I didn't get her anything.
The idea of buying a Valentine's gift had never even occurred me; it seemed like something from the 1950s. But as my girlfriend handed over each of these inexpensive (yet deeply personal) presents, I could feel my blood becoming slowly infused with liquid dread. I could not believe I had managed to exist for two decades without knowing that women care about Valentine's Day. And I started to get extremely nervous, because I did not know the degree to which I would be penalized for my ignorance. What if this was the kind of thing that caused people to break up? I mean, if I didn't even know that it was normal to give people presents on Valentine's Day, who knows what else I was confused about?
Seeing no other option, I started lying.
I thanked this woman for the gifts, and then I began to explain my Byzantine criteria for selecting her particular gift. "I didn't just want to buy you something boring:" I said. "I wanted to give you something more creative. I wanted my gift to somehow directly reflect the context of our relationship." None of these words had any meaning. I was just throwing out vague generalities; it was like I was the press secretary for a president who had accidentally declared war on Canada. "I wanted to give you something that would truly represent the spirit of the occasion in a less-than-orthodox manner;' I said.
I began walking toward my closet, building suspense the entire time; I was giving every indication that I was stashing something pretty awesome behind its wooden door. But there was nothing in this closet except my clothes. I had no idea what I was doing. I was essentially waiting for an object to spontaneously build (and gift-wrap) itself. "I really hope you like this:' I continued. "I hope you don't think this gift is stupid." I began opening the closet door without any plan and without any hope. There was no future.
I looked inside.
The closet was filled with clothes and darkness. My clothes. My darkness.
"You know, when I was in high school, I never had a girlfriend:" I said, which probably explains why I never knew people cared about Valentine's Day. "But all my high-school buddies did. And they would always give their high-school football jackets to their girlfriends, and I was very jealous of that exchange. It made me feel very incomplete and alienated. So I was just wondering if you would want to wear my high-school football jacket?' This entire scheme hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was completely extemporaneous and weirdly detailed, and I have no idea what it even meant (or what it truly says about me).
My girlfriend began to cry. Then she said that would make her very, very happy. So I gave her my high-school football jacket. Which I had not worn in three years. And which I actually had two of. I had one jacket from my sophomore year, and one jacket from my senior year. (I gave her the newer one.) And there had never been a moment in all of high school when I had wanted to give either of them to a girl, because that always struck me as crazy. But now everyone was happy, albeit for very different reasons.
Chuck Klosterman is a columnist for Esquire and is the author of Fargo Rock City, Sex Drugs and Cocoa Ruffs, and Killing Yourself to Live. He still has the other jacket.
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