The Rule: A Valentine’s Day Story

02/12/2010 By Shawn Burns

On February 13th, 1997 I was wandering the glossy plastic corridors of San Jose’s Valley Fair. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew that I’d know it when I found it.

Emily and I had known each other for a little over a year and we’d been living together, baby nineteen-year-olds, since August. This was our first Valentine’s Day as a serious couple, the previous one having passed just as we were getting to know each other in an IRC chatroom. (This was before Twitter, when you had to go into a virtual room on a server to type inane things and song lyrics to strangers instead of just opening TweetDeck. It was way cooler.) This was our first gift-giving Valentine’s Day.

So, being nineteen the obvious, most sensible place to look for a gift for my love was the mall. Maybe I could get her some bath crap and an Orange Julius. Maybe she would like a Victoria Secret bra and some terrible grass-smelling perfume from The Gap.

Or….what’s that shiny place? The Sharper Image?

There was a life-sized Yoda facing off against Darth Vader and there was a replica lightsaber and….too many cool things to list off in that store. It was 1997, the year of Lucas’ Special Editions of the Original Trilogy, so Star Wars merchandise was all over the place in anticipation of the re-release of the films in Spring.

What to buy? What could I afford? I told myself not to spend more than $20, being a minimum wage employee and having already been through a Christmas and birthday. Everything jumped out at me so much that nothing did. But then my eyes alit upon a glass case containing objects with pieces of paper with words like “authenticity” and “numbered”.

I quickly paid for my small, but awesome, package and hustled out of the store. I picked up some other things, things I can’t even recall anymore, it’s been so long. But my prize, that I remember.

I could barely contain myself, aching to show Emily and to have her agree with me that yes, it was pretty cool, and special. When she arrived home from work I sprang it on her immediately.

Her reaction, as I recall, can most charitably be characterized as nonplussed. It can most accurately be characterized as pissed.

I can’t remember if we talked about The Rule right then and there, or if we waited until after Emily came back from a sudden trip out the door, and down from a rage-cloud.

The gist of the one-sided discussion, though, was something like “Yes, yes, I do think that limited edition, numbered copy of the Star Wars soundtrack arranged in film order rather than recording order is very very cool. Yes, I am amazed that you just so happened to come across it at the mall and, on the spur of the moment, decide to buy it for yourself while you were out shopping for me for Valentine’s Day. And yes, you are in the goddamned dog house. Because that spur of the moment, random awesome purchase you made precisely duplicates the considered, deliberate, thoughtful purchase I made for you weeks ago. So, happy Valentine’s Day: here’s a Matt Groening cartoon book. Enjoy your CDs.”

And so, The Rule: Thou Shalt Not Buy Things For Thyself For A Period Of One Month Prior To A Gift-Giving Holiday. Dumbass.

I did love that soundtrack though. It would have been a great gift. I think Emily received, from me, some kind of grassy-smelling perfume from The Gap. Neither she nor I remember.

I think I’m better at this stuff now. Now we don’t do gifts for Valentine’s Day. Star Wars CDs for everyone!