They say it’s a new era. They say that single people have nothing to be ashamed of. That it’s all in their head when they get caught up in this sense of not having an “other” during the month of February. But Vivian knew the truth behind all those false assurances, the looks marked with pity swallowed by “understanding.” They were already starting to happen a week before the anniversary of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. A massacre it was indeed–of any dignity single people over college age might ever have of not feeling shame for being seen in public on February 14th among scores and scores of couples clearly playing up their so-called love for one another for the invisible cameras known as presumed public scrutiny.
Vivian had been single ever since she could remember, when she could bother to remember anything at all. When you’re busy staring down the hole of an empty glass all the time, it can be difficult to focus too intensely on your past. That was the entire point of why Vivian spent so many hours with her only loyal companion: the drink. Like financial ruin, becoming an alcoholic happens gradually, then suddenly. As is the case with many bad habits, Vivian began her career innocently, taking advantage of a happy hour here and there until, before she knew it, she was at some bar–any bar–most every night. Theoretically, one would think that this would be the method for getting oneself, as Dr. Cheryl Grayson would say to Charlotte York, “really out there.” And, in a way, it was. If by out there what was meant was being out there on the street by seven a.m. after the guy whose apartment you’d found yourself in made you leave at the same time as him because apparently you have the words “ragamuffin thief” branded on you somewhere. Something about you that screams, “Street trash not worth allowing the luxury of sleeping in long enough to soil your shitty Ikea sheets.” So again, yes, she was really out there, in a sense. But never in a fashion that would permit the “securing” of a “mate,” to use a foul biological turn of phrase.
And with each passing year that led up to February, the accursed month with that accursed day that branded everyone out in public by herself as wearing a Scarlet L for “Loser” made Vivian all the more unsettled–insecure. They say you’re supposed to become more secure with yourself the older you get, but Vivian, at thirty-four, was starting to think that “being secure” was merely a metaphor for “being resigned.” And resigned she was on the Monday of the 12th, commencing the week of Valentine’s Day. She began her task of facilitating an adequate holing up that afternoon, when she went to the Whole Foods on Bedford Avenue to stock up on provisions that would allow her the safety net of not having to go outside on the 14th. Of having enough food and beverage to get through the complete twenty-four hours. She often did the same thing for her birthday in September, too.
The second she walked into the store that housed corporate filth beneath its guise of “environmental friendliness,” she felt nauseated: red roses, heart balloons and other assorted Valentine’s Day paraphernalia all around her. She took a deep breath and powered past the slew of Haitian nannies with white, lily-livered children in strollers that cost more than her monthly rent. She had to complete her mission so that she could ignore the happening of “V”–do as the world wanted and sequester herself so that they wouldn’t have to regard her with any modicum of emotion, least of all compassion–it’s hard enough to “get it up” for the people you know, let alone a stranger. So she tried to do right by the world–though it had never done right by her–in opting to opt out of a public appearance as a born spinster on February 14th. It was best for all involved’s comfort level.
The scant amount of other single friends she had–relics of a bygone era when friendships were more well-cared for in the seemingly endless amount of time of one’s youth–mocked her for her staunch refusal to come out with them. To pathetic events like the “Anti-Valentine’s Day Dance Party” or “Drink and Draw: Draw Like a Lady Galentine’s Day Edition.” It was all so cloying in its attempt to appease single women into believing that evolution hadn’t seen fit to include them. And yes, it was just single women made to feel this way. To be a single man remained no source of chagrin, in fact gave a bachelor an upper hand in going out by himself to prey on the few vulnerable women sans “other” that dared to show their faces in a public venue on this night. But Vivian refused to be one of those women presenting herself as an ephemeral “option,” a “she’ll do right now” token of celebrating the day of love.
As far as Vivian could see, there was no love in the forced pressure to buy and consume as a means to show–to prove–one’s affection for another being. If you were poverty-stricken, Valentine’s Day pretty much left you out. Love, after all, is quite possibly the ultimate luxury–high up in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–despite what Sonny and Cher tried to tell us. This was precisely why Vivian had chosen to stay in New York, well past the expiration date of being enamored of this disposable city that treated its denizens just as disposably. Because in New York, you never really “make it;” you are always struggling with one piece of your basic needs: food, drink (alcohol, not water) and shelter. It doesn’t leave as much time to worry about whether or not you might die alone–you have to worry about living at all first. But Valentine’s Day–and the first thirteen days leading up to it–forced even those with the poorest of bank accounts to notice that other thing besides money they were missing in their lives: motherfucking l’amour.
At the Whole Foods checkout line, a couple that Vivian guessed to have been together for roughly a year and then decided to move in with each other out of convenience made out in front of her. For the life of her, Vivian couldn’t understand couples who did this. If she was in a couple, she would feel far too debauched and scandalous to engage in such behavior. Where the hell was everyone’s sense of latent Catholic guilt for such performances of iniquity? Affection, like all things of a private nature, ought to be kept behind closed doors. Why must it be touted to the world? It’s like the saying, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” Well, Vivian thought the lady doth put out too much in front of other girls to assure her own damn self that she was just as happily in love as she deluded herself into believing. That the guy she was with wouldn’t drop her like a hot potato if some other snatch made itself readily available enough.
Unconsciously, Vivian had started making some retching sounds, which prompted the couple to turn to her and flash her a strange glance. She shrugged, “What?”
Back inside of her lair, a small studio in the far reaches of Ridgewood where all the single trolls of a certain age lived, she dropped the bags to the ground and sighed as she looked around the barren decor of the apartment. This was to be her surrounding, oppressive milieu until the morning of the 15th, even though she generally made it a point never to be home so as never to be in solitude with her loneliness.
She took one of the ten bottles of red wine she had bought out of a paper bag on the floor and went to the counter to open it. Might as well get the business of blacking out and forgetting that she was never going to find someone she could tolerate and vice versa over with. With this in mind, she didn’t bother pouring the wine into the glass she had initially taken out of the cabinet, instead guzzling it straight from the source.
She woke up some time later, it might have been hours. It might have been days. All she knew was that, as her eyes flickered open, she could see rivulets of blood on the walls and floors–all around her. What the fuck? Is it over? Herself doused in hemoglobin, she went to fetch her phone from her purse and see what the calendar’s date would inform her. And there it was: February 14th, 11:50 p.m. She had almost made it out without having to acknowledge it.
She headed toward the bathroom to shower herself off. Feeling weak as she turned the the knob, the peeling off of her clothes revealed a sizable puncture in her chest. Had she gone out and been stabbed, or had she done this to herself? She would probably never know.
Valentine’s Day had at last penetrated her, in spite of her best efforts to keep it out of her home. And with her last vision being of water raining down on her, she smiled. What is life without love anyway?