It’s Valentine’s Day!
Or, at least it will be very soon… 5 hours and 45 minutes to be exact. I’m pretty sure that means it’s way too late for you slackers to call FTD. Face it, you’re going to have to get creative with whatever you can find at 7-11. But chin-up! All is not lost! A Hershey bar and a handful of International Delight coffee-creamers is almost like a box of assorted chocolates. And if you presented your lady-love with this thoughtful, though unconventional gift, you’d still be doing better than a long lost boyfriend did for me one year when he gave a greeting card which contained a 5-dollar-bill.
It’s okay, he was from Iowa. (Speaking of… I just spontaneously looked him up on Facebook. He’s married with children so I can only assume his game has improved.)
Honestly, I figure most people would assume that I despise Valentine’s Day. But I don’t. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I have many happy childhood memories of elementary school classroom parties during which we forsook our afternoon academia in favor of eating VAST amounts of sugar and exchanging dopey little cards that featured our favorite cartoon characters. Naturally, as I grew into a surly, semi-goth teenager who was utterly disenchanted with EVERYTHING, I sneered heavily at the holiday and pretended to have nothing but salty disdain for such contrived sentiment. All the while, I secretly hoped anyone ANYWHERE liked me enough to mark the day as important and bestow upon me ANY TOKEN OF AFFECTION AT ALL.
My standards weren’t great. It became a problem later in life. But hey’ that’s what psychiatry is for.
STILL I like Valentine’s Day. It can be a lot of fun if you keep an open mind. Like this year, for example…. I would like to bestow a special gift. One of my friends was recently dumped by her deplorably tactless boyfriend who flailingly bumbled off an excuse he probably found online. Meanwhile, the truth of the matter is almost certainly that he wanted to fuck other people. It’s okay, He’s from Vegas… there isn’t much else to do there. But in a show of solidarity, I would like to offer some of my more horrific medical-examiner-dating stories in the hopes she will draw comfort from the fact that she isn’t even remotely as hopeless as I am…
So Mel, this one’s for you.
You may wonder, first of all, why I’m writing this little blurb and not spending time with the hapless victim whom I am currently dating… well, to kick-off these stories of gross misfortune, I must confess that I recently had an abnormal PAP-SMEAR. My gyno scheduled my colposcopy for yesterday and the two of us spent a very intimate afternoon together as she lopped off parts of my cervix. After this moment of togetherness, she informed me that sex was a no-no for at least a week… which puts something of a damper on the holiday, but it’s cool. Even if she had told me that I was good to go for a donkey ride post-procedure, I can’t imagine it would have gone well. I picture my paramour flinging me down on the bed… romance novel style, and just as he’s about to put the banana in the fruit salad I would say something like,
“Mind the biopsy scabs, lover… these are new sheets you know…”
Because that’s the kind of thing I would say… It’s the kind of thing I always say.
Don’t believe me?
Once, I was really into this dude.
And he was really into me.
We were making out.
Sounds promising, right? But for the fact that I was an intrinsic part of this scenario and my capacity to completely fuck up virtually any situation is unlimited.
So we were kissing, and I must have had some kind of odd expression on my face, because in the midst of our heated breathing and unbridled pawing, he breathlessly asked me,
“Is it weird that I hold your face in my hands when I’m kissing you?”
I thought about it for a second and blurted out this little gem:
“Holding my face in your hands when you kiss me is only weird if the rest of my body isn’t attached when you do it.”
… which I think is a perfectly valid response.
Anyway, we’re not together anymore.
So, as a medical examiner, I end up at a lot of really nasty scenes. And the nastiest are always the scenes when the person has been dead for a while and, for whatever reason, no one noticed… until they started to smell. These scenes are called “decomps” and they stick with you, literally. There’s nothing quite like the stench of a rotting human corpse. And once you smell it, you smell it for hours, sometimes DAYS.
Moreover, when you’ve recently been on a decomp, you become acutely aware of the scent of generalized decomposition everywhere around you. Subliminally, everything smells like death… because EVERYTHING is in some state of decay… all the time. It’s a fact of nature.
Never was this more in evidence to me than recently when I was on a date. Dude and I had been eating pizza and he’d had a couple of beers. Afterwards he leaned in for a kiss and I almost re-introduced him to my dinner. I shrank away from him as though he had dung beetles crawling out of his mouth. Why? Because I had recently been on a decomp at work, and this guy’s breath smelled … like death.
It just happens. We get bad breath because of the microscopic bits of food in our teeth. Our breath is the smell of our body breaking down whatever we just ate… it’s the smell of decomposition. Obviously it’s not the same as the scent of a rotting body… but it’s juuuuuuuuuuust similar enough.
Anyway, when this dude tried to kiss me, a knee-jerk, visceral chain-reaction occurred. I squirmed away from him as my face wrinkled in disgust, Involuntarily, a whimper of revulsion wormed its way out of my mouth and I pushed Dude away with unmistakable finality.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, astonished.
I groped about for an explanation, even as I pulled him back to me for a hug in an attempt to deflect the awkwardness of my repugnance.
“Ummmm… it’s not you… it’s medical examiner problems. I’m really sorry…”
Later that night, I sent him a lengthy text message and apology, exhaustively explaining the biological mechanics of what had happened. And, believe it or not, he was actually cool with it. Which means I can’t possibly go out with him again. I mean what kind of person would be cool with that?
I could blame these personality glitches on my profession. But the fact is I’ve always been… not awesome… at this sort of thing.
Remember when I said that, even as a sullen teen I wanted the romantic gestures. Well…
His name was Tom. It was my freshman year of high school and he sat next to me in history. I don’t remember him showing any particular interest in me. He didn’t ever strike up a conversation or register anything resembling a crush. There was one incident in which the guy who sat on his other side in history made a huge show of telling me that Tom was into me… all the while Tom swatted at him from his seat, in an attempt to shut him up. When things settled down a bit, I told Tom, not to worry about it, I didn’t believe that guy anyway.
Tom didn’t look at me or offer any indication that he’d heard me.
That Valentine’s Day, I walked into history class in a huff. I was always in a huff. It was kind of my default setting as a teenager. I used my huffs to poorly hide the fact that I was painfully insecure and being pissed off all the time felt slightly more powerful that just being pathetic. I sat down at my desk briefly while the other students were milling about, and then got up for something, I don’t remember what. But when I came back, I found Tom was carefully placing a single Hershey’s kiss on my desk.
Our eyes met and he didn’t say anything, much like he hadn’t said anything to me for months. A blush crept its crimson fingers across his face as he looked down. A pregnant pause followed. I picked up the kiss and … a trilling purr of delight rumbled somewhere deep in my belly. I looked at him, looked at the kiss, looked back at him… and… and…
“Did you find this on the floor?”
I asked him, matter-of-factly. Because my teenaged huff was still in place and I didn’t know how to accept the idea that anyone could possibly like me… since I certainly didn’t like me.
Tom wordlessly shook his head.
“Thank you.” I said… my voice softening as I desperately tried to navigate how best to manage being liked.
I don’t think Tom and I spoke again. The semester ended and he went on to date a cheerleader… meanwhile I retreated into the waiting, morose arms of the theater department.
But I remember him…
and I remember me…
…and it would appear not much has changed.
Except that now I’m a bit better at accepting that I’m likeable… I must be… after all
Mel, YOU like me…
and you’re one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. So don’t worry about stupid-old-what’s-his-name in Las Vegas. You will continue to kick all kinds of ass and he will almost certainly contract an STD.
So get back out there and embarrass yourself.
Make me proud.