valentine

I wake up with a throbbing tooth ache. Rather, an ache where a tooth was, just a week ago. I can't speak to my pain threshold. I've never taken, like, a pain threshold test. But holy god, this seems like some serious fucking pain. I roll over and look at my phone: I've got a group text message from some girlfriends: a gothic cartoon image - girl in a cemetery, boy's arm jutting out of the hallowed ground, offering her flowers. Happy Valentine's Day, ladies! 

I call the dentist.

"Hi, I just want to confirm my appointment for this afternoon at three?"

"Yes, Baker, we have you down. Three o' clock."

"Ok, I just want to make triple sure the doctor can come in today? Because I know he had an emergency yesterday. And I'm pretty sure I have dry socket. It hurts really badly..."

"Yes, he's here today, for sure," the receptionist interrupts me, but not rudely. I get the feeling she understands how bad I feel, and just wants to reassure me I'll be ok.

I feed Chaucer and try to read, distracting myself until the painkillers take effect. Wally (yes, we are reverting back to his code name) texts to say he's just gotten to Union Station, and do I want to get brunch? I tell him I really can't, I'm in a bit of a state, and need to pull myself together and clean up my apartment. He asks if he can bring his bag by - he's staying the night before heading to an AirBnB for the weekend tomorrow. I say of course and start straightening up.

Wally arrives a little bit later and I do some more housework while he prepares for a work meeting, stopping to playing occasional bouts of tug o'war with an ecstatic Chaucer. I call the dentist back to see if I can move the appointment up. I can. I start getting ready to leave. Mason texts as I'm putting my shoes. There's something seriously wrong with me, he says. I was just thinking about sending her flowers. He's talking about his ex-girlfriend. I lecture him for a good ten minutes as I get my bag, say goodbye to Wally, and walk to the bus stop. I tell him it took me ages to get over A. That I really, really wanted the last guy I dated to want me. But that at the end of the day, the minute someone decides they don't want to be with us, we have start moving on, for our sanity and self-esteem.

I am so good at talking the talk.

As I ride down Wilshire, I take note of the holiday markers: balloons, armfuls of flowers, red dresses. I'm not particularly bothered that I'm spending the day single. I realize I haven't really been feeling lonely, or, like, lacking in that way lately at all. That I've just been in a nice, level state of mind, happy to be spending time with friends, with Chaucer, with myself even. I decide this is a good thing, and wrap myself up in the pleasantness of that thought while I listen to Geographer, wondering why I don't listen to Geographer more often.

My dentist confirms what I suspected: dry socket on the bottom left extraction site. He wedges a tiny, self-dissolving bandage gooped up with some kind of dark red paste into the back of my jaw, which dampens the pain almost immediately. He says I can come back Monday for another application, but in the meantime, I'm going to have to suck it up, and it's going to hurt. He asks whether I'd like him to the extend the prescription for the ibuprofen he wrote me last week, or if I'd prefer more narcotics instead.

In spite of the pain, and in spite of the wad of cotton gauze he's padded my cheek with, I shoot him a look, my eyebrows raised, that says, Do you really have to ask? He laughs, saying, "Alright then. Narcotics it is."

I decide to wander down Fairfax a bit after the appointment. B. is having a themed party Saturday night (umbrella Mafia/prohibition type thing - anything from present-day Jersey Shore to Boardwalk Empire to Sopranos to Bonnie & Cylde, etc. is welcome), and I don't have an outfit yet. After spitting out the wad of cotton in a trashcan, I stop in a vintage shop, where I give the shopkeeper my backpack to hold while I wander aisles crammed with period clothes. A pudgy Jack Russell terrier mix follows me around, sniffing Chaucer on my ankles. It's a great shop with tons of variety, and price points are good; I know I'll be able to find something party-appropriate here. 

But I'm not into it. I get quickly overwhelmed by the options. I see flashy dresses that would be perfect for a gaudy Jersey-housewife. I see wool pencil skirts and high-necked blouses a la Boardwalk Empire. I see flapper dresses. And I see lots and lots of hats.  I can't decide what look I want to attempt, and instead end up buying a tiny, black, frilly skirt-slip thing for $10, thinking of Burning Man.

I keep walking and decide I'm already close enough, I may as well finish the hike to Melrose and go to L'ecole des Femmes. I stumbled across the shop a few weeks ago on my way to Jonathan Adler and fell in love, on the spot, with the entire line of clothing. I've been dying to go back. 

The designer/shop owner herself is there, and she helps me pick out a few dresses and tops. I love pretty much everything, including the designer, who is sultry and French and engaging and warm and funny. She very sweetly gushes over how her designs look on me, and I gush right back over how talented she is, and how lovely her clothes. Impeccable, she says approvingly, as her mother zips me into a black satin dress. Where did you find this fabric?? I marvel.  

The mutual love fest ends with a sale: two dresses, one of which she discounts on the spot. 

On the bus ride home, I text Wally. It's Valentine's Day. Should we go out to dinner or something? He responds in the affirmative, but says it'll be a while yet before he gets back. His meeting is in Torrance and he's taking the train home. On the forty-minute ride, I think about a blog post I want to write: a letter to my next, as-yet-unmet Valentine. What are you doing tonight? it starts. I bet you're out with a special friend, like me.

Once at home, I shower and change into one of my new dresses. I empty my backpack of the day's swag: the lace slip, a prescription for Vicodin, a syringe for rinsing my mouth, and a pink heart lollipop from L'ecole des Femme. I notice the empty bottle of Vodka Wally left near my sink, and place it on the kitchen island next to the other items. I take a picture of this ridiculous vignette, planning to send it to Wally, but I can't think of a funny caption. 

After a while, he gets back. I answer the door in my new dress, which he compliments, handing me a pink gift bag. No, I say, faux-scandalized. You did not get me a Valentine's gift! I glare at him, delighted but feeling guilty. I have nothing for him. I pull out a handful of Reese's heart-shaped peanut butter cups, and we unilaterally decide that holiday Reeses's are far superior to the regular ones. I peer back into the bag and see a package of oversized, heart-shaped pink Peeps. 

"These look like pasties," I say.

"Just wait," he says, smiling as he watches me pull the last item from the bag. It's a small red t-shirt which has a round black sticker on the top left shoulder, printed with the words scratch and sniff. The front of the shirt is screen printed with a tone-on-tone Hershey's kiss.

"Oh my god," I say, draping it against me. 

"It's scratch and sniff! For your boobs!" 

I press the fabric to my face and inhale, laughing. The chocolatey scent is strong, and I make a crack about my white ass needing vanilla instead. But I love the shirt and the candy and the fact that I actually do have a Valentine, after all. I give Wally a hug and make a mental note to take a pic of my goodies before I eat them.

We get dinner at Mas Malo (refried beans and a margarita for me), where we talk about blogging, boys, and Burning Man. He calls me out on some inaccuracies on my blog, objecting to my characterization of certain moments/scenes with him. I pledge to make the edits, which I agree are justified and fair.

He makes a rather valid, girl-I'm-in-your-corner type point about one of my recent dating adventures that makes me feel good. Here's the thing, he says. If a guy has no intention of taking things seriously, he probably shouldn't be playfully texting with your friends. It's something I hadn't thought of, in my perhaps-too-forgiving quest to let and let live. You're right, I say, nodding. You're totally right. And I'm reminded of a quote I read recently: The biggest coward is a man who awakens a woman's love with no intention of loving her.

(It's a quote, in fact, that I'd like to share with more than one man I've met in recent months. But that's another story for another time.)

When I tell him that the guys we'll be camping with at Burning Man are some of the straightest, most alpha-male dudes I've ever known, he says, "Oh, I'll be painting their toes by the end of the week. I won't have painted toenails, but they will, by the time I'm done with them."

Somehow, the subject of Schoolhouse Rock comes up, and when he finds out I've never seen it, he almost drops his fork. "Oh my god, ok. We're pulling that up on YouTube as soon as we get home. You've never seen any of them??" I'm given a quick breakdown, and when he says that it's thanks to one of those videos that he still has the preamble to the Constitution memorized, I ask to hear it.

"Ok," he says. "But I have to sing it." And he does, right there at the table, which is snugly set amongst several other tables, mostly filled with Valentine's couples. I practically fall out of my chair, and have to steal napkins from another table to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Back at my apartment, he makes good on his threat. As I'm painstakingly irrigating my dry socket, flashlight in one hand and syringe in the other, cursing all the while, he comes in and out of the bathroom, iPad in hand, to show me snippets of cartoons about conjunctions, and interjections, and bills being made into law.

He has every word of these songs memorized, and serenades me as I pop another Vicodin and change into pyjamas.

I collapse into bed, my jaw aching. I scroll through the Instagram feed of L'ecole des Femmes, showing him some of my favorite pictures. Oh my god. Look how sexy this woman is! And she's so sweet and friendly. Oh wow, listen to this awesome quote she posted.

Wally, sitting up in the bed, surfs his iPad. He glances at the images I point out and says, "So when's your awesomeness happening?" His voice is a little bit low, but the words are clear enough.

"My awesomeness?" I echo, pretending not to know what he means. I keep my eyes on my phone.

"Yeah," he says. "Your awesomeness. She's got her whole thing going, her shop, her clothes...what's your awesomeness going to be?"

It's as close to prodding and probing as Wally will get with me about - well, about everything, in a way: my professional life, my career, my creative life...  And while I'm grateful that he cares, it's not a subject I want to open up right then and there.

So I change it.

We go to sleep soon thereafter, in the same bed, though as always, he sleeps much more deeply than I, and gets there much quicker.

It's not the only skill of his that I envy.