That is the sentence, uttered by one of my not-to-be mentioned girlfriends ten years ago or so, that started the chain of events that led to a Valentine’s Day that sucked so bad that I would never care about this so-called romantic day again. It’s a good thing, really. Valentine’s Day seems to breed expectations, and expectations inevitably lead to disappointment. Since my V-Day from hell, it’s been uphill ever since.
Ok, let’s go back to that fateful sentence my friend said over her second glass of wine that night. “Maybe you two should go out if neither one of you is doing anything,” she said pointing her finger at me and the guy she was trying to set me up with, and waggling it back and forth.
The bar was too dim for my friend, or the guy, (let’s just call him Mr. X for the sake of this story) to see the blood rising up to my face, but I was afraid they’d notice me squirming on my barstool. I sent out mental daggers that whizzed right past Mr. X’s face, hoping they would land on my girlfriend’s larynx and shut her up. I did not think it was a good idea to go out with this guy. In my limited experience with him, I had seen the dreaded Red Flags I was now trying to avoid.
“That could work out,” he said easily, and turning to me, asked, “Would you like to go to dinner? I could pick you up around four.”
Thoughts raced through my head like a ticker tape machine on steroids. Wait, he said had a girlfriend, oh yeah, she’s married, and what about his ex, I don’t think he’s a good guy to get involved with, still he’s so nice and charming, and it would be fun to actually have a date on Valentine’s Day, four o’clock, who goes out on a date that early? what could it hurt, I mean he’s never done anything to me, I could just give him a chance, set my boundaries, it’s been four years, just this one time will probably be ok, or should I?
“Well, what do you think?” he asked, turning to me, delicately picking up his small glass of beer and taking a sip, his pinky finger cocked. My friend was annoyingly mouthing yes and shaking her head up and down behind him.
“Uh, sure, I guess so,” I said casually, narrowing my eyes at my girlfriend when he turned away. ‘No’ doesn’t come easily to me.
Valentine’s Day had especially super-charged expectations that year since it fell on a Saturday. I got ready early, putting on an I’m-Not-Trying-to-Impress-You-outfit of jeans and a black top, and waited for the weird four o’clock pick up.
And waited. I was listening to my daughter’s new Outkast cd, ‘Speakerboxxx’, sexy and rappy, not really my kind of music, but I knew it had that song: Happy Valentine’s Day. The words to the song floated around my room, and eerily bounced off the walls: My name is Cupid Valentino/ The modern day Cupid/And I just want to say one thing/Happy Valentine’s Day/Every day the 14th
I started thinking about this guy, Mr. X. Another song on the album strained through the speakers, almost as if it was reading my mind: I hope you are the one/If not you are the prototype
Could he be the one? I glanced at my alarm clock and it said it was almost twenty to five. He was late! I put on the Valentine song again, the prophetic words kind of creeping me out: Now when arrows don’t penetrate, see, Cupid grabs the pistol/ He shoots straight for your heart/Now, and he won’t miss you!
And then I played the song again. And again, soothing myself with compulsion. Shit, where was he? It was close to 5:30, over an hour and a half late! I obsessively played the song, trying to calm my insides that jiggled with dread. Now I heard the words: I know you’re trying to protect your lil’ feelings/But you can’t run away/Oh oh!
Oh oh, was right. This feeling was so familiar. Fear and longing… waiting for someone who never showed up… this feeling was… (well, for me)…love. I flung myself off of my bed and called him for the first time ever, dialing his number from the business card he handed me when I first met him. His mother answered.
“No, he’s not here,” she was saying, “I believe he went out for the evening. Can I take a message?”
I gave her my name, heart now crazily pounding, all abandonment filaments rising to attention from the Dark Place, and hung up. I paced back and forth in my room, and you guessed it, played the song again. I wanted to hear that last line: Happy Valentine’s Day, fuck that Valentine’s Day/Fuck that Valentine, fuck that Valentine.
I grabbed my keys and coat and headed out into the cold starry night, driving up to the City, solo, to an anti-Valentine’s event for singles.
Sunday morning, February 15, I woke up with my head feeling woolen and wooden. Wooden, like numb, from the mental beating I given myself for being so stupid as to accept a date from this guy when I knew better, and woolen because of the gauzy dressing wrapped around said head, made out of cigarette smoke and wine fumes from the night before, that acted as a sort of makeshift bandage. Yep, my idea of First Aid: add insult to injury.
Not more than an hour after I got up, there he was at my sliding glass door, dressed in his signature maroon sweatshirt looking concerned. My eyes narrowed. I didn’t even care if he saw me with my unwashed make-up free face, and bed head hair. He gestured for me to open the door. I slid it open six inches.
“Oh my God, don’t tell me you thought our date was last night?” he started.
I shook my head, no, as in stop it, but felt a kind of doubt creeping in. “What? Shut up!” Confusion was ping ponging around my poor head.
“My mother said you called. I am so sorry. That must have felt so horrible to be stood up on Valentine’s Day,” he said taking a step inside the door with his arms out as if wanting to give me a conciliatory hug. I backed up, but said nothing. “Honey, our date was for tonight, I said I’d pick you up Sunday.”
I am so easily gas lighted; did he say Sunday? But then I thought better. I stepped forward. “You said Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day was yesterday.” I kind of yelled that last word.
“Oh, well, I meant Sunday,” he said, and his demeanor suddenly changed from concerned to disinterested. “Do you want to go tonight?” he said half-heartedly.
“No!” I burst out, catching a cry in my voice and swallowing it. “What did you do last night? Valentine’s Day?” I wanted to know, but I didn’t want to know.
“I went out to dinner and a movie, ” he said in an easy monotone.
“With who?” I shot back without thinking too much about it.
“By myself, ” he said.
“By yourself? That’s WEIRD!” I said with way too much emotion in my voice. His face showed signs of momentary injury that hardened into a jaw set of anger.
“Well, ok,” he said, back to his mugging, false persona that he usually showed the world. “You take care now. Don’t be feeling all bad about Valentine’s Day.” And he left.
And that was the last time I ever talked to him.
But only this first show of bad behavior is on Mr. X. The rest is on me. Any claims I had to righteousness ended that Valentine’s Day.