by Ryan Eykholt
Oh, the tale of the perfectionist whimpers as many woes as the one of the man with the lost sock: both men bawl and they squirm with agony that everyone forgets tomorrow. And no one really cares, contrary to my belief. The dreaded day drew closer as the hands of the clock turned on the chilly afternoon of February 13th. Love, romance, passion: not once did any of these sensations associated with the lover’s holiday cross my obsessive, relentless mind. My knees buckled under the weight of my insane burden: the obligation to pull Valentine’s Day cards out of my ass for every semi-deserving, non-appreciative member of my 8th grade class, all 270 of them. As ridiculous as my quest seemed, it meant the world to me. I might die if I failed my task.
As childhood bliss and ease faded over the years, the rigor of deciding between red or pink paper, cutting out hearts, and regurgitating cute phases increased similar to that of trying to fit into shoes 2 sizes smaller than your feet or trying to rock a Snuggie; it cannot be done. Through the elementary years, I learned to love Valentine’s Day. Candy, kind words, and caring gestures fooled me into believing that a complicated day, a normal day, one of 365, had a sacred divineness. The organization of this festival of comradeship tickled my creative, yet overachieving, bone. My heart leapt at the chance to comfort, to jubilate, to impress. Placing smiles on friends’ faces earned all of the work of card construction. However, in 5th grade, I only worried about the happiness of 20 people.
So, there I sat on the pink carpet, eyes weary from exhaustion. I barely even finished my homework, and yet here I stayed, my hands cramping from holding the scissors for the prolonged torture session. A conscientious ping pong game rattled in my head.
OK, this is insane. Why do we need to make so many?
WE NEED TO. WE JUST DO.
OK, crazy man, I’ll stay out of your way. I’m going to make a nap. Have fun.

Through mental terrorism, my perfectionist side normally took over. A madman, I splattered shavings, gutting hearts out of frail thin paper. On each symbol of love, I lathered glue on small strips, on which I printed an all-inclusive proclamation of love, or whatever, and with my sticky hands I stuck them together. Like any creator of beauty, but mass-produced, generic and contrived beauty, I dared to call the pile of misshapen hearts art. I almost reached the conclusion of my opus, my crowning achievement. My work wore me out. I needed inspiration: a sign that my motivation could meet some satisfactory resolution. As the clock ticked toward doom, one emotion dominated all thought: hopelessness. One talk with my mom always sorted everything out.
“Ryan, you should stop soon.” My mom’s supportive eyes pleaded with me, always wishing the best for me.
“I just have so much more to do.” The panic attack flew into full swing.
“But why do it if it makes you unhappy?” Her examination struck a chord in my broken down body, in my weary head. Why? Why bother going through this personal affliction if nothing about the effort gives me joy?
“I don’t know.” I really didn’t.
“Go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. Just use what you have now, and it’ll all be fine.” Reassured, but still reluctant, I dragged my sleep-deprived body off to bed.
Sunrise. Only, not all is well. The worry lines on my brow left a reminder of the absolute chaos and despair carried through the night and into the day. I downed my Honey Nut Cheerios, brushed my teeth, washed my face, dressed in pink and red, built a disguise. The day, the performance, the exhibition, arrived and I no longer desired to waste any time fretting over the past, the impossible to change. I set my bearings on delivery, guarding my precious cargo in a picnic basket.
After walking a mile to school, I inched toward the doors that determined my fate. Each careful step toward the answers chilled my nervous body. With a seemingly dramatic entrance that even soap operas would envy, a smile graced my face. My eyes darted back and forth as my feet propelled me forward, through the halls, hoping for some curious glances directed my way. Alas, no kind eyes met mine. Everyone continued on with their normal, monotonous, boring schedules. Silly folk, do they not know of the glorious day the calendar proclaims? Arriving at my art classroom, my job began. I whipped out my basket and bestowed my heavenly gift to my peers. A few faces lit up in simple pleasure. I distributed my rations of kindness to only a small group of people to start, saving the rest for lunchtime. The morning sped past. I quickly passed out valentines to friends as I passed them in the hall. The bell announced the time that our grumbling stomachs waited for. I raced toward the table where my closest friends situated themselves. Sprinkling the only personalized valentine’s cards like snow in front of their lunchboxes, I evolved into the Valentine’s Santa Claus. Each “Thanks, Ryan!” and “That’s so nice!” rang in my ear, giving me satisfying triumph. Thankfully, I received a few Valentine’s Day cards myself: all of them witty, charming, kind. I tried to make my rounds before recess, but the grumpy lunch attendant rushed my plans. Forced to continue my quest outside, I was pressed for time. No one could limit true community building! Engaging in hyperdrive mode, I sprayed the moving crowd with flimsy paper hearts.
“Here! Have a Valentine! Happy Valentine’s! Hope you have a great day!” Like Elmo on crack, I whizzed around, spreading happiness and joy to all. Compassion and virtue was my strength; repetition, my downfall.
“Wait, are these all the same thing?”
“It says ‘I’ve cherished all of the classes together.’ We didn’t have any classes together this year.”
“Oh, uh…. uh… wow… uh…. thanks.”
Those little shits. How dare they not marvel at my art, my hard work, my gift for them? My face turning as red as half of my valentines, I raised the white flag. My embarrassment forced me into surrender. Stopped in my tracks, I struggled to continue. I used to know happiness. Now, only sorrow clouded my previously endless horizon. I could have had it all. Friends? Comrades? Mild acquaintances? No. My new critics abolished any hope for new acquaintanceship or connections. I tried. I failed. I lost hope in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Defeated, I bummed through the afternoon pouted all the way home. The door slammed behind me, shutting away the disaster. Luckily, the recycling bin feasted on the remaining half of the cards, saving me from the responsibility for caring for those wretched reminders of my social suicide.
Thoughts twirled around in my head, just like every other time in my life that I embarrassed myself. Letting a minor setback engross me and enlarge into a colossal catastrophe, I questioned my stupidity. Why did I work so hard if no one even cared about it? I made a vow: I would never again slave away over something ridiculously futile. Drowning in self-induced misery, obsessing over minute details, I refused to stop.
Dawn broke my cold regret in the new day. I realized how pointless it was to worry so much about yesterday. The pink hearts slowly drained out of my brain. I emptied myself of lamentation as I started the school day. I learned to forget. Everyone else surely did as well.
Every now and again I fall into the same routine. I dig myself in too deep. Arts and crafts weaken me, preying on my flawed perfectionist work ethic. I sometimes use scissors more than common sense, glue sticks more than proper care of my mental health, colored paper more than efficient time management. Why? Why do I touch the car window when I drive over railroad tracks? I choose not to abandon familiarity, tradition just because it no longer makes sense. The ridiculousness of it all gets invested in every piece, every muscle, every particle that makes up my being. Learning to control the addiction and eliminating the compulsion, I still crave to perfect miniscule details. No matter how silly the project at hand appears, I treat every paper cut-out like a piece of art. Anything containing the power to paint a smile on a few people’s faces or lift someone’s spirit demands my attention. Now, reminiscing February 14th, 2009, instead of visualizing the cynical critics, the ones who enjoyed my out-of-the-way generous gesture pop in my head. Along with the question: “270? Are you crazy?” Now I have an answer: hmmm… probably.

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