So it’s Valentine’s Day, a day I like to celebrate by bitching and frowning myself into a jagged bitter pill with a heart two sizes too small. As a waitress, Valentine’s night was always my least favorite shift of the year, what with the restaurant removing all the four-top tables and cramming in a million two-seaters to make room for the flood of gooey couples. Not only did that leave me with way more tables than usual to service, but the patrons I had to tend to were all of the dreaded “camper” variety, meaning they never, ever left. My time-to-leave hints — the de-crumbing of the table, the dropping of the check, the vacuuming underneath their feet — were no match for the super-strength hand-holding and eye-gazing and self-satisfied sighing. By the end of the night, I wanted to punch their faces off.
My dislike of the holiday has only intensified in the years since then. I will admit to some fun years along the way, in particular the butter-drenched artichoke party (eat your heart out!) I once hosted, an intimate gathering of close friends held on the floor of my old apartment on 17th Street. And Jill has hosted some cake-addled Valentine’s doozies in her day. But, generally speaking, I think the Day is pretty gross.
The times I’ve done the whole sturm und dance — the dressing up, the going out to a nice restaurant, the boozing and candling — always make me and my relationship feel lesser somehow. Maybe because what we’re doing and feeling is so very similar to the behaviors of the other couples wining and dining around us, which sort of negates that irrational “we’re the luckiest people in the WHOLEWORLD and the only two people who REALLYGET IT!” bliss that’s one of the great things about love? And, by extrapolation, if our coupledom is so much like all these other people’s relationships, then doesn’t that mean it’s equally vulnerable to the disappointments and statistically probable unhappy endings that plague everyone else? Really nothing quashes romance and sexy feelings like cold, black leaps of logic such as these.
Of course if Marco wants to take me out for a nice meal and get me flowers and chocolate things tomorrow, I’m more than happy to rise to the occasion with Valentinian levels of goo and swoon!
Anyway. This is all just long, vitriolic preamble to explain why I’m sitting home alone on Valentine’s Day. Marco has been sent out to drink beer and play guitar with one of his beer-drinking, guitar-playing friends, meanwhile I’m supposed to be getting caught up on some woefully-unattended-to writing projects, “Getting caught up on my writing” being Euphemism, it turns out, for “watching insane Dolly Parton videos on YouTube”:
I love this video, from the R. Kelly intro to the song she sings (one of my all-times) to the jumpsuit she’s wearing right on through to the freaky high-speed novelty ending. Viva the Dolly!
Last night, as we were sitting down to my very favorite tacos in the whole wide world (at La Taqueria on Mission at 25th, make sure to order the carne asada with cheese), I heard Marco gasp. Something about the small sitting-twisting motion of sliding onto the stool had triggered old injuries, and just like that, his back was thrown.
On the half-block walk to the car, Marco was a sad, slow-moving hunch of a thing. “Wow,” I said to him, “You went in all young and strapping, and you left an old, old man.”
Marco, in an elderly mutter: “Stupid Dorian Gray tacos.”
The combo of noir-lit Factory stars fidgeting in dreamy slow-mo with the electronic beep-booping and breathy songstering of Dean and Britta was mesmerizing, like some kind of hypnotic cool-patrol screensaver. After the thirteenth screen test, I felt like I’d been drugged and probably reprogrammed. And the 500 other well-read-looking hipster whities filing out with me after the show all looked equally zombie-fied. I’m still waiting to see what secret agenda we’ve been Manchurian Candidated to follow. Must watch Mad Men! Must convert gas-powered car to diesel! Must hilariously refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Paycheck”! Must write a blog post on my blog about how white I am! Hey.
After the show, we strapped on our paper bracelets (thanks sound man Peter by way of Liz!) and squeezed behind the velvet ropes of the standing-room-only VIP corner, where we carefully juggled plates of tasty empanadas spiced with the not-really-that-envious stares of the braceletless masses sitting pretty just feet away in some very comfy-looking chairs. The life of privilege sure makes my feet hurt.
The evidence continues to mount that I have small something living and growing inside my lady parts.
When I got the first sonogram at week eleven, I wasn’t really convinced. I watched the doctor launch the probe up inside me, and on queue the familiar grainy baby-shaped visual appeared on the monitor, just as it had on every baby-having movie or televised drama I’ve ever seen. But it still felt fake somehow, like my own personal staged lunar landing.
See? What is that? It’s like a stamp carved out of a potato by a fourth grader. That could be anyone/thing!
I was lying very still — the instinctive response to being impaled on a seeing-eye pole — so the visual was completely, suspiciously static. “Is it alive?” I asked. The doctor laughed and pointed to the middle section of the baby shape and said, “See? There’s the heart.” I squinted and craned, and finally was able to see a teeny gnat flutter that I guess could pass as the first beginnings of a human heart, but it still had a very “low budget animation” feel, like when Conan does the thing with the talking-mouth video in the cutout of a static photo of a celebrity.
There was no evidence that this was my baby, inside my uterus. They could be flashing any old sonogram up there, what would I know?
But then! A couple weeks later they sent me to some other medical facility for the genetic counseling that they recommend for all dusty-wombed women over the age of 35. After chatting for a solid hour about the horrifically high chances of the baby having a number of different life-threatening and depressing defects, it was time to decide whether we wanted to move forward with the scary CVS test, a test which can rule out with 99% certainty a whole selection of sad outcomes, but which comes with its own not-great 1-in-600 risk of miscarriage. And really, is there anything more hilarious than trying to choose between two different statistical chances of various baby deaths and horrors? Also fun: the insane 5-inch needle they use to take the test, poking it right on through the stomach.
Ultimately, based on our need to not spend the rest of the pregnancy what-if-ing ourselves into a frenzy, Marco and I decided to go ahead with the test. Before the doctor arrived, a nice nurse with a pretty Russian accent set me up for the sonogram element of the procedure, which helps the doctor get a visual on what’s getting speared with the giant needle. The nurse forewent the dildo camera and instead lubed up the outsides of my belly and took a few swirling passes at me with a nubby massager looking thing. The familiar deep-sea image popped up on the monitor, and the baby already seemed much more developed, with actual individual fingers and everything. (Possibly the passage of time? Or maybe just a fancier monitor?) But, just like last time, the baby wasn’t doing much — just lying there, looking very “generic fetus everyman.”
The nurse left to go get the doctor, leaving the sonogram wand sitting in its holster…right there within easy reach of my curiosity fingers! Furtively I grabbed it and started massaging my belly, and again the monitor filled with baby-like shapes. I sat up a bit for a better look, and I could see the mild crunch squishing the baby’s living room. And in that instant the baby … squiggled, it’s little arms fluttering like flippers on a poked tadpole. I moved and it moved! Irrefutable evidence that what I was seeing was real and inside my me! I laughed and my stomach shook and it squiggled again.
I was just starting to process that huge thought when the doctor bustled in and quick like a quick thing I returned the wand to its home and turned to face the wall, my face innocent whistling mask of nothing to see here.
And then suddenly, just seconds after finally getting that this baby was maybe real, the whole needle thing was happening and the risks we were taking truly sunk in. I was horrified, and felt like fainting and barfing all at once, renaissance-style. But it was all over in a merciful few minutes, and there the doctor was, proudly showing me the vials of fluid and humanity that he’d managed to extract, whee. Then it was a mere matter of lying terrified and motionless on the couch for 24 hours, and then waiting another excruciating week-to-ten-days for the results. All very relaxing.
I was slip-sliding away at Sundance when the test-results woman finally called and very nicely came right out and trilled “Good news!” It seems that, to the best of science’s knowledge, the baby does not have any of the unhappy things (for example Downs Syndrome) that they are able to test for at this early stage.
I was of course hugely, gigantically relieved by the news, but there was also a new undercurrent of fear. This thing really is real. Mighty real. It turns out.