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Madame Cassandra’s hard learned lessons

Katherine Khorey | Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A large part of the sense that’s been nailed into me over the years can be credited to Valentine’s Day.

For instance, after many years of fatal errors, I finally got it through my thick skull that the round, dark chocolate in the box of five is not the truffle: it’s the one with coconut. Said chocolate should never be saved for last, but rather be consumed first and swallowed whole, like a pill. Or better yet, given to Uncle Homer.

Then, Valentine’s week, sophomore year of high school, there was planted in the mental soil made fertile by the sight of so many eye-gazing, ear-sucking couples, a very different kind of lesson. One of journalistic outrage.

Although I was never on the staff of the high school paper, at that point I was no stranger to newspaper writing in general. In fact, I fondly remembered my stint as the Middle School Voice’s resident astrologer. But while Madame Cassandra’s Mystic Predictions could display a uniqueness that the “real” horoscopes lacked (who knew that chocolate cupcakes lay in our future?), they just weren’t all that, well, real.

No, I made my first foray into apparently real journalism when I teamed up with my friend Lucy, who was on the paper’s staff and did write for real, to expose the evils of PDA.

Of course, we were not writing purely in defense of public morals. True, Valentine’s Day was coming along, and true, the Foreign Language hallway was ravaged with public displays of affection, and true, the unbound kissy-poo epidemic was taking a toll on the uninfected. Most significantly, on us.

Lucy and I were a pair of lonely single women living in an era when most of our friends seemed to have found the loves of their lives. It wasn’t easy for us to witness so much love being shared, and I at least was eager to prove that, should the situation ever be reversed, I wouldn’t be putting my unattached friends in the same position. Even if Johnny Angel himself offered to show me how lovely Heaven could be, we would most certainly not be flaunting our halos outside Señora Third-Period’s classroom.

Nope, my commitment to public abstinence was established, and so, I believe, was Lucy’s. And when our condemnation of public non-abstinence appeared in print, the whole school was going to know just how staunch we were.

So we thought.

With Lucy’s help (oh fine, maybe with my helping Lucy), I’d had my first experience in writing, for the paper, a stinging piece on a passionate subject. But we were underclassmen, and space in the Valentine’s week issue was at a premium. Fortunately or not, our effort remained unprinted.

And so, four and a half years later, when I was given 900 semi-weekly printed words to use however I wanted, I’d thought at first, “Ooh, and in February, I can talk about PDA again! I can do the “Top Ten Worst Places to Make Out,” or have a catchy advice phrase, like The Three C’s (Keep it Classy? Clean? Clandestine? Closed?). Because PDA is just as annoying now as it was in high school, and I’ll make such a difference when I write a rant about it that everyone has to read!”

Now Valentine’s Day is imminent again, and…

I won’t.

I’ve learned.

No one’s required to read a piece just because it’s in the paper. And not only that, but in this case, my same-siding target rantees would be unlikely to notice the Viewpoint page lying on the chair across from them.

And, too, it wasn’t long after Lucy’s and my attempt at kissy-poo inoculation that I learned what every kind of abstinence has in common: that it’s just not easy to keep it up in the long run. Even a couple who started their relationship with a firm commitment to discretion would be sooner or later likely to slip up, and sneak a kiss in the DeBartolo lobby. And I’d be in no position to fault them.

So I’ve learned.

I relinquish my right to preach about PDA. But I can still ask that, as with alcohol, you please use your own best judgment.

Please just be aware. If you and your sweetie truly feel the need to exchange a long, loving, physical goodbye in the dorm’s front entrance at 11:52 on a weeknight, expect to be interrupted. If you’re engaged in some prolonged snuggling by the Grotto, spare a thought for the hapless jogger who’s stopping off to light a candle for Uncle Homer’s impending quadruple bypass. Recognize that your bedroom may not be an ideal place for private romance if 20 of your guests’ coats are still scattered on your floor. And, while no one’s entitled to throw stones, be prepared for whispers of, “Hey, look. We’re only two pews behind Mr. and Mrs. Like-to-Go-At-It-During-The-Psalm this week!”

We’ll make our choices, and our commitments. We may not always keep to them. But we know the effects of what we do.

A world exists outside ourselves. And, whether displayed in excessive public coupleship or printed rants soured by grapes, said world doesn’t take very kindly to self-absorption.

That’s what I’ve learned from Valentine’s Day.

That, and to eat the round dark chocolate first.

Madame Cassandra is spending her junior year abroad at Trinity College, Dublin. You may contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necesarily those of The Observer.