One of the defining facts of my life that I take a certain amount of (perverse) pride in is that I spent the first quarter-century of my life (plus five months) “unrelationshiped.” A related fact, though less defining, is that during those 25 years I did not hate being unrelationshiped on Valentine’s Day. (This was back before Leslie Knope coined the term “Galentine’s Day” and made female friendship a focal point of this most useless holiday. This was back when Groupon regularly sent me deals for fried chicken baskets and sewing classes, like they knew me or something.) I approached Valentine’s Day in pretty much the same way I approached any other day: a combination of mild amusement and tired indifference. To put it another way, at best I felt nothing, at worst I felt very little.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, I suddenly fell ill at work and left early. This was a major event, because at the time I was working for the book publishing equivalent of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Once I was a minute late coming back from lunch (I mean this in the most literal way possible––sixty seconds), and my boss asked in an accusing, mocking tone if I had hit traffic coming back. I said yes, not bothering to mention that I had only just been sitting in the break room watching The Aviator. I worked for this company for nearly three years, and this Valentine’s Day is the only time I ever left early due to illness––and believe me when I say I felt ill with stunning regularity while I was an employee there.
Anyway, on Valentine’s Day 2012, I left work early, drove home in what can only be described as near-delirium, arrived home, dropped my things, and collapsed into my pillows fully clothed. I didn’t move or speak for the rest of the day. Day turned into night, and there I stayed, in bed with my eyes closed in a feverish state, TV on but muted, mentally crafting one-liners/Tweets about how I was having a “steamy Valentine’s Day” but “too bad it’s because of a fever!” Something like that, more clever in theory than in execution.
By the next morning, I had unexpectedly and quite miraculously made a full recovery. My fever was gone, and my head no longer felt like it had fifteen bricks resting on it. I was confused, and then elated, which quickly turned into despondency because feeling better meant I had to go to work. (Not that I would have actually taken a sick day, mind you. We didn’t get sick days. But more on that in my best-selling tell-all.) At some point that day, or perhaps a later point in time that escapes me now, it occurred to me that maybe my sickness on Valentine’s Day had been psychosomatic. Maybe all of my “I don’t even care about Valentine’s Day, you guys” was really just a lame defense mechanism; maybe I had been suppressing my tortured feelings for the entirety of my adolescent, young adult, and adult life, and now my torment had manifested itself as physical symptoms. Maybe I was no better than one of Freud’s women.
I entertained this notion for all of three hours. Life continued. But then.
Two years later on a chilly February morning about a week after Valentine’s Day, I was running on the treadmill in my basement around 6 AM when I started to feel a little lightheaded and queasy. I stopped running right away like all those signs at the gym* tell you to do, blaming whatever this was on the Trader Joe’s “Green Juice” I had had before bed the previous evening. (That stuff and my gut have a volatile relationship; sometimes they’re on, but most of the time they’re off, and I just can’t learn my lesson and move on.) To give you some unrelated details about this time in my life: I had severed ties with Mussolini the year before, started a love affair with oatmeal, and also had a boyfriend of two years. In fact, three days after the incident of Valentine’s Day 2012, my boyfriend––who is, I feel compelled to report, still my boyfriend––had not bought me a drink for the second time (the night I met him, which also happened to be the only other time I had seen him before this second time, he also did not buy me a drink despite my undeniably sexy knowledge of 90s infomercials, and I have preserved a $34 receipt from a club called “Moon” to prove it), and then asked for my phone number. So, that had happened. But probably the most important of these is the one about oatmeal. It really changed my breakfast and my life.
Anyway, twenty minutes later, I fainted in my hallway. (“How very nineteenth-century of you,” said my “best friend” when I told her many hours later.) If you guessed that I ended up being fine, then you’re right: I ended up being fine, just as I had two years prior, though I scared everyone in my household––especially my dog, who I hadn’t yet let out for her morning poop. And while 48 hours of throwing up in a bucket and sucking on ice cubes is among the least enjoyable experiences of my life (second only to watching the movie The Master and enduring all eight years of Field Day in elementary school, which are tied), the episode served as a reminder of my sudden illness/sudden recovery of two years earlier and the (mostly) facetious Freudian explanation I had given it at the time. If any part of me had ever truly wondered if my fever of Valentine’s Day 2012 was a grand metaphor or neurotic breakdown––or, more likely, my body’s clever way of bowing out of the day altogether, like seeeeyaaaa––then this more recent incident, my dramatic fainting spell and subsequent upchucking, had confirmed that it was nothing of the sort. Indeed, Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with it. But the entire month of February had everything to do with it. My body, I concluded, was not shutting down at the sight of candy hearts and roses, but rather was shutting down at the sight of February in general, which I think we can all agree has absolutely nothing going for it in the slightest except for the fact that we only have to endure 28 days of it instead of 30 or 31. I apologize for being so blunt about it, especially if your birth month is February or if you appreciate the fact that it’s the one time of year when you can catch Roots on TV or, more bizarrely (if I may so), you really, really, unironically like Valentine’s Day because you need a day to show some appreciation for your loved one, whom you berate on the other 364 days of the year. But it’s true. February is a barren wasteland, and my physiology understands this on the most intuitive of levels.
Of course, a more probable explanation for all of this is that none of it means anything, particularly if you’re one of those people who thinks everything means nothing. But I prefer to be at the helm of the ship that is my life, even if that means sailing into Newark and calling it Paris. Ya know? No you don’t.
Anyway, it’s now Valentine’s Day, and I have to go celebrate the only way that seemed appropriate when I booked the appointment a couple weeks ago: with my dermatologist, so that she can check out this freckle on my back. It hasn’t seen the sun in a half-decade or longer, but you never know. It’s February, after all.
*When I say “the gym” I am actually referring to one specific gym, which also happens to be the only gym I’ve been to since 2005. The fitness center at the Microtel in Johnstown, New York, is modestly sized but aims to please.