About three years before I met Andy, it was A Very Bad Year for Dating. My boyfriends were:
Broody, Moody, Emotionally Unavailable Dude
Sometimes, you just have years like that.
Five days before Valentine’s Day, Broody Moody and I went dancing at our usual spot. We knew lots of people, we danced with our friends, and then I looked up. Mr. Emotionally Unavailable was no longer physically available. He’d disappeared, without a word. I hunted around the club. No sign of Broody Moody. No call, no text, no wave good-bye. Just “poof.”
Had he gotten jealous and stormed off? Had I said something to hurt his feelings? Was he sick? Dying?
I had no idea. I drove to Broody Moody’s house. He was fine. He was sitting on his couch. Brooding.
I said, “What the hell?”
He said something like, “I don’t know about us anymore.” I asked for an explanation. I got a shrug.
I said okay, because it’s not like you can make someone stay in love with you. Apparently you can’t even make some men behave with common courtesy and say statements such as, “I’m leaving now, and I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore.”
I was furious, of course. Hurt. Surprised. We had a weekend getaway planned for Valentine’s Day. I should have berated him, but I didn’t even know what to say. Apparently I am incapable of cutting, brilliant remarks while in shock.
So I reverted to my childhood ways and vented my feelings by slamming his door as hard as I could on the way out.
I raged to my cats. I dried my tears on their fur as I stayed up late, trying to figure out What the Hell Happened. Some of my gal pals stayed up late with me and theorized pointlessly for hours.
My friend and coworker, CS, caught me crying over the printer at work. CS took me down to the cafeteria, got me a muffin, and made sure I ate it.
“Don’t forget to eat,” she reminded me. “Especially on Valentine’s Day. During the onslaught.”
I must have looked confused. It was my first year working as an assistant in the Entertainment Industry when Valentine’s Day wasn’t on a weekend.
CS, a Valentine’s Day Veteran, filled me in on what was coming: “It’s like a one-day, flower-filled, chocolate-oozing, over-the-top event. Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, only it’s Keeping-up-with-the-Weinsteins.”
“Worse than Christmas?” The office was filled with gift baskets of chocolates, cookies, cakes, cheese, crackers, muffins, and alcohol during December. I never had to bring a lunch in December.
“Way worse. Because it’s just one day. And it’s not just the execs. It’s every person with a husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Every single one of them gets bouquets, balloons, stuffed animals, and chocolate because no one wants to hear about their love’s desk looking barren. It’s Valentine’s on steroids.”
My boss at that time was the Empress of International TV/ Movie Sales. Her partner ran a major production company at Warner Bros. I whimpered and wondered if I could be sick on Friday. I could say I had a cold, and my nose, stuffy from all the crying, would add credence to my claim.
My gal pals dragged me out dancing the night before Valentine’s Day. They shoved a shot of tequila at me.
I shoved it back. “I don’t wanna be hung over tomorrow.”
“Yeah, you do. Nothing like puking to push romance out of your head.” Their eyes widened at something behind me and they whispered in unison, “Oh. My. God.”
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turned. It was Broody Moody.
Only he was smiling. “Want to dance?”
And I was in shock again. Unable to say anything as the man led me to the dance floor. What did it mean? Did he want to get back together? Was he sorry? Did he just want to be friends?
Also, would anyone notice if I palmed that steak knife on my way to the dance floor?
Broody Moody continued smiling as he whirled me around the floor. A little part of me hoped it was because I was back in his arms again. The smarter part of my brain, though, KNEW it was because he was free. Motherfucker.
Broody Moody happily announced, “I’m glad we can still dance together. And be friends.”
I ground my teeth and finished the pattern. Faster than I should have. Rage = speed.
Broody Moody noticed. “Oops, I missed your hand there.”
I snarled, “You’ll be missing more than that soon!”
And he laughed. Our whole dance, in fact. He’d make some innocent comment about a pattern, and I’d respond with a double entendre referring to what an idiot he was to break up with me.
Broody Moody escorted me back to my friends, still chuckling, “You’re hilarious. And strong. That was a hell of a door slam the other night. My neighbors thought it was a car crash. Stuff fell off shelves.”
I asked, “Was it expensive stuff?”
Broody Moody: “There was one Lladro sculpture—”
“Did it break?”
He laughed some more and walked away. My friends were all breathless smiles. “Well? Well? Are you back together? He looked like he was having a great time!”
It’s amazing that I didn’t drink any tequila that night.
As CS predicted, Valentine’s Day was awful in the office. The Empress got flowers and gifts from multiple schmoozing international TV stations wanting to buy syndication rights. Every time my phone lit up with the receptionist’s name, my heart gave a traitorous hop. Maybe, just maybe, Broody Moody had changed his mind. Maybe he’d sent flowers with a card, begging me to forgive him. Maybe he’d even show up with flowers, drop to his knees, and tell me he couldn’t live without me.
Instead, the receptionist would bark: “Basket for your boss. Get it off my desk now!”
I’d hurry up to reception, collect the Empress’s gift from an overflowing reception area, and carry it back to her office. Along the way, curious heads would pop over cubicle walls:
“Autumn! Those are gorgeous! Your boyfriend must love you!”
“Oh, those look delicious! Your boyfriend must think you’re too skinny! Hahahaha.”
The first few times I ran the gauntlet, I explained that the gifts were for my boss. Through ground teeth. By the end of the day, I was marching past offices and cubicles dripping with blossoms and giant heart-shaped balloons.
My coworkers stopped asking questions. Their pity was palpable.
The Empress’s office overflowed with Valentines.
My cubicle was bare.
At 3 PM, the receptionist called again. This time she was less brusque: “It’s the most massive bouquet of roses I’ve ever seen!”
Hope springs eternal. “For…me?”
She said, “Yes!”
There it was. At least fifty long-stemmed red roses, in an ornate glass vase.
I couldn’t believe it. I asked, “Are those really for me?”
The receptionist laughed. “Just kidding. They’re for your boss.”
Sometimes, I wish I believed people burn in hell.
I hauled freaking Birnam Woods back to the Empress’s office, my heart as heavy as the stupid damned vase. The Empress exclaimed over the ostentatious bouquet from her partner. I slouched back to my desk.
Fucking Valentine’s Day.
CS’s head popped over the cubby wall. “Got a minute?”
She walked around to my cubby entrance, carrying a black velvet bag and a dried, dead rose. As CS handed me the rose, she solemnly intoned, “Autumn, in honor of this, the darkest of all holidays, I present you with The Black Valentine.”
She pulled out a postcard with an old picture of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Diana had a ball gown, a tiara, and sad, sunken eyes. A jagged, black heart encircled the statement: “Fairytale romances end in princely deceptions.”
The postcard was followed by:
A miniature bottle of vodka, labeled “Potion to Forget.”
A chocolate bar, labeled “A Woman’s Only True, Dependable Love.”
A voodoo doll bearing a remarkable similarity to Broody Moody.
A box of fifty straight pins.
By the time CS had laid out all the pieces of The Black Valentine, my giggles had evolved into cackling laughter. I pinned Voodoo Moody to my cubby wall with great ceremony and many, many pins, followed by the Princely Deception Postcard and the dead rose. The other women in the office, including my boss, wound up at my cubby, laughing with me and admiring CS’s creativity.
I kept The Black Valentine for years, though dating horrors, job changes, and multiple office moves. (Except for the chocolate, of course, which I ate that night.) CS has since given me shower gifts and danced at my wedding (with her husband). My own husband has never failed to give me red roses and a giant red box of See’s chocolates on February 14th.
But my best Valentine ever will always be black.
Do you have a Valentine Horror Story? I’d love to hear it!