His heart sank when he checked the kitchen calendar over the weekend. And it was all because of a heart -- a heart she had drawn in red felt pen to surround the date Feb. 14. A black dagger was colored inside the heart.
It was a stark reminder of all his past failures: purchasing the wrong species of flowers (he felt blameless for her interpretation of lilies as a death symbol); attempting restaurant reservations too late to be accommodated (enabling them to find out how romantic the Golden Corral buffet can be); consuming three pieces of chocolate to every one of hers after buying one of those sampler boxes that cost even more than a movie ticket.
Thinking of the latter reminded him of their Valentine's Day trip to the theater when he got into an argument with another patron over use of a cell phone and they had to flee before the credits to protect themselves from potential harm.
That memory then transitioned into the wonderful Valentine's Day when she had purchased tickets for them to see the ballet. Only they didn't end up seeing "Giselle." (Or else how could the holiday have been "wonderful"?)
Instead, while shoveling 4 inches of afternoon snow from the sidewalk, he feigned a back injury. She nursed him while he lay on the sofa the entire evening consuming alcohol and rewatching his "NFL Super Bowl Collection: Pittsburgh Steelers" DVD. Best ... Valentine's Day ... ever!
But the guy-injured-shoveling card can be played only so often, especially considering the icy stare he received the next morning when he explained that miraculous overnight healing enabled him to head out to his usual Sunday morning basketball game. He'd never managed to shed that bad habit of overplaying his hand. (He returned from the game after 3 new inches of snow had fallen to find an unseen force had mysteriously propped the shovel against the front door for his use.)
The calendar highlighted just what she was thinking this year. He didn't need to be hit over the head with an espresso machine to get the message. (Well, actually, he did, since he'd gotten her an espresso machine as a gift one year forgetting he was the only one who liked espresso, and so she hit him with it.)
No, what he knew she was thinking was: "Just once, don't be an idiot. Just once use whatever sorry education about human interaction you've gained in the course of a lifetime to demonstrate you understand how to satisfy the most meager desires of another person, one who agrees that this holiday is a crass commercialization but would like you to acknowledge her loyalty and devotion in some small manner."
What he was thinking was, "How can any man be expected to meet such a lofty standard?"
Unprepared as ever in such matters, he began thinking of all the friends he could ask for advice. Then he realized that they might constitute the most clueless assemblage of individuals that the Almighty had ever created, unless the subject of sports was on the table -- in which case they suddenly became savants who should all be ESPN executives or anchormen. But they were no better than Rain Man, let alone him, in understanding the opposite sex.
At this point, he realized he was perspiring -- even more than his usual grossly man amount -- from the stress of facing the holiday and more failure. He was certain he would need heavy medication to get through the week, but he was also worried about OD'ing, due to all the recent news headlines.
That's when a stroke of inspiration, perhaps inspired by the perspiration, hit him. He would just confess that he didn't know what to do, but declare he would do anything that would make her happy to compensate for years of disappointment.
So as they flossed their teeth before bed, he blurted between work on the upper incisors, "I saw what you did to the calendar, and it's OK."
"Widdayoualkinbout?" she said while focusing behind her molars.
"The heart and dagger. I get it. Valentine's Day is a big deal this year."
She put the string down and shook her head just like the last time she called him a nitwit (that morning, if he recalled correctly).
"It's a joke calendar. It came that way. Look, I hate the pressure that goes with that holiday. Could we just stay home, chase down some popcorn with Champagne and catch up on episodes of 'The Walking Dead' we missed, now that the new ones have started?"
He looked at her with love and just one thought: "Best ... Valentine's Day ... ever!"
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.