Bad-choice birthday cards

My box of beloved cards feat. the stack of letters from my pen pal, who's a friend from undergrad.

My box of beloved cards feat. the stack of letters from my pen pal, who’s a friend from undergrad.

I said I needed to deposit a check; that was it. The store with all the cute cards and crop tops and feminist trinkets and houseplants was just a block away. I *needed* a snarky pin for my backpack, maybe one of those velvet shirts with corset-style lacing up the front. A party shirt. Yes. I needed a party shirt.

That’s why I was walking a block out of the way to the store where the cool, edgy birthday cards also happen to be. Yes.

I didn’t buy a single crop top, feminist trinket or houseplant, but I bought a birthday card for a man I really, really liked. The kind of crush that had overwhelmed me.

As I walked to the store to make a questionable decision, naturally, I gave myself the kind of pep talk I reserve for such situations: You’re amazing! You’re out here doing the damn thing! You’re in law school!

It’s perhaps a balancing of factors: I reminded myself of all the things I was doing right to balance an ill-advised walk blocks out of the way to buy a $5 birthday card for a man who had treated me like an option at best.

I had let it last for too long, of course, drafting increasingly elaborate excuses for his behavior, the kind that stretch reality and anxiety and hurt into a pale taffy of emotions, one that has been tugged too far, too long. All the sweetness had gone away.

Mail is one of my love languages; I pick out cards, stationery, even the color of the ink with painstaking deliberation. I wonder where my card will wind up. Maybe on the refrigerator. Or propped up on a table, lines and angles etched on the inside as sun and time fade the paper. Perhaps, like my treasured cards and letters from friends and family, it’ll wind up in a memory box, one of the few things in my life that lacks an organizational scheme.

I drafted the message on the inside of the card in a note on my phone before I wrote a word. I would have to decide the color of the ink and whether to sign it “Love” or “Sincerely” or “Best” — all those little words that can convey so much. Even as I felt things falling apart, I settled on “Love.” My own optimism annoys me sometimes.

Days later, I called it off, putting the card in the mail rather than giving it to him in person as I’d initially planned. I woke up at 5:30 a.m., mailed it and immediately went for a five-mile run. This was my version of a crisis move, clearly.

I walked back to the store with all the cute cards and crop tops and feminist trinkets a couple weeks later. This time I bought a houseplant and a pin that says “Girl Power.”

Sometimes the things I don’t *technically* need are the things I actually need most of all.

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