It turned out Valentine’s Day ended up being pretty special and terrifying.
I like Valentine’s Day. There. I said it. It doesn’t bother me. I get why it bugs other people. It’s a marketing scheme invented by Hallmark that either puts pressure on people to buy overpriced cards, dinner, jewelry, and stuffed animals, (for those who buy other adults stuffed animals), or it makes you feel bad that you don’t have anyone to buy you all that stuff. Like One Direction and Anne Hathaway, I don’t mind that Valentine’s Day exists and it has its place in the marketplace. I know that’s a very easy position to take when you have someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, but even if I didn’t, I would like to think I’d use it as a great excuse to eat too much chocolate, get drunk with my friends and hate-watch that Anne Hathaway movie. Also, what else are you going to do in February? The holidays are over. That Super Bowl commercial that everyone tweeted about has lost its luster and is now just another commercial in heavy rotation. The weather sucks and it’s only going to get worse in March. What else do you have to look forward to? A President’s Day mattress sale? Just order off the pre-fixe menu and rest assure you’re going to get laid.
My husband, Alex and I have been together for a really long time. When I tell a twenty-something how long we’ve been together, I can see her do math in her head and search for a nice way to tell me that I look great for a corpse. Our first Valentine’s Day was February 2001 during our senior year in college. THE TOWERS WERE STILL UP FOR SEVEN MORE MONTHS! That’s how long we’ve been together.
So for fourteen straight Valentine’s Days during this century, Alex and I would mark the occasion somehow with some combination of dinner, gifts, something that involved planning, primping and thinking of each other. And then we had a baby last year. Cue screeching car brake sound effect. We spent last Valentine’s Day the same way we spent everyday those previous two weeks: sitting in a hospital NICU tending to our baby son, Harrison, who decided to join us six weeks earlier than expected.
For the first time in our relationship, we forgot about Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing other people living in the outside world get to do. Valentine’s Day no longer applied to us. We were completely unaware of anything that wasn’t about our son’s current bilirubin levels and weight. We would have no idea that ISIS invaded Los Angeles as long as the route between our house and the hospital remained terror-free. It turned out Valentine’s Day ended up being pretty special and terrifying. We found out that day would be our son’s last in the NICU and that night would be our first with him in a room at the hospital. It hit us that we will now be for reals parents, totally on our own without a team of nurses and doctors, no backsies. “Okay. So what do we do in the meantime? Wanna get food? It’s Valentine’s Day. I guess.”
We found ourselves sitting at the only restaurant that’s walking distance from the hospital, the Pacific Dining Car. The Pacific Dining Car is a historic Los Angeles institution that time forgot. If you’re not familiar with it, you may recognize it from that scene from “Training Day” when Denzel meets up with three corrupt higher-ups smoking cigars and being mean and stern about stuff. Soooo romantic. It’s the old man joint of old man joints: leather banquettes, dark wood, and a menu full of 70’s wedding banquet fare including surf and turf, prime rib, shrimp cocktail, a lot of versions of the baked potato, and something called a “Baseball Steak.” There was no rose on the table, no special Valentine’s menu; actually there was no reference that it was Valentine’s Day. The other patrons didn’t seem romantically involved or to even like each other. Everyone there seemed to be negotiating a hit for hire. It was the restaurant manifestation of our mindset: Valentine’s Day is a thing that happens to other people somewhere else. We’re dealing with more important things.