Thursday, February 5, 2009

How I Ruined Valentine's Day

Business note: The agent passed. Back to square one (again!) But now, on with the story!

So let me set the scene for you.

Jason and I had been dating for four months. After the third date, I was pretty darned sure he was the one. After just a month, I drove him south to meet his parents and drop him off for Thanksgiving, and I'd pick him back up when I left my folks. On the drive down, we discussed living together. We were going to try to tough it out until my lease expired in September, but by February, we knew we couldn't make it. So we were looking at apartments, making plans, and generally being dippy people in love.

And here came Valentine's Day. I had not, personally, celebrated this holiday in the seven preceding years. The closest I'd come was my senior year of college, where the guy I had been dating didn't call on The Big Day and broke up with me when I finally got a hold of him two days later.

So there was some residual bitterness towards the day.

But this was different! I had a man! I was in love! I was an independent woman with a paying job!

Oh, yeah. Weekend getaway!

Valentine's Day was on Wednesday that year, I think. Middle of the week. So the weekend before, we drove through a 'wintry mix' of snow, sleet, and freezing rain to Galena, Illinois. We rented a cottage at this bed and breakfast, and just had fun.

It was a good test of the relationship, too, because this little cottage had a bed downstairs with a fireplace and such. But it also had a second floor, open like a loft. That's where the bathroom was. No doors, no walls. The view of the toilet was blocked by the shower, but 'open' doesn't begin to describe this floor plan. When I told my sister Leah about this (after the fact) she started hyperventilating at the thought of no doors on the bathroom. But she has issues . . .

Anyway. The weekend was great, once we got done giggling about the bathroom. We drove home, made it one piece, and carried on.

Now, this next point is important. Now that I was an independent woman with a paying job, I had returned to one of my teen-age passions - horseback riding. I was taking lessons (from a girl not quite old enough to drive!) at a local barn. I rode on Tuesdays.

So, after our romantic weekend getaway, I went to my lesson on Tuesday. It had warmed up from the three weeks of sub-freezing temps, so the ground had softened a little in the arena.

My instructor (can you call a 15 yr. old an instructor?) had me going over trot poles. What that means to you non-riders is that there were four 2-inch PVC pipes laid out on the ground, and I had to get my crotchy old horse trotting at the proper pace to get him to step OVER the poles, not on them.

This horse was in no damn mood to trot over poles. Probably 20 years old, this old guy just wanted to be left alone so he could munch hay. So as I was trotting around the arena towards corners, this stubborn old horse tried to convince me that he thought we were going to trot right into a wall, and therefore he needed to STOP TROTTING to avert disaster.

The instructor was not amused, and neither was I. (It's um, painful to stop trotting suddenly, ya know?) So she's yelling at me to keep kicking through the corners, because I am the boss of this team, not the horse! So I kick and kick and kick, with moderate success.

But then the horse decided to get even for all this kicking. What happened next was entirely my fault. I gave him a window, and he just took it. I was so focused on kick, kick, kicking, I stopped steering.

Let me tell you how big of a mistake that was.

Before I knew what had happened, the horse decided that, damn it, if I wanted him to turn, he was going to freaking TURN. He PIVOTED sideways, throwing me completely off balance. So now, I'm still on the horse, but I have NO control. And we are now heading on a diagonal directly for the trot poles. Not straight on, but diagonal.

I saw in my mind's eye the horse hitting one on the angle, breaking his leg, and rolling on me. We were both going to die.

So, with everything I had, I yanked him hard to the right, which threw my weight to the left. Now, I was going to fall off this horse and land on the trot poles myself, with many broken bones.

As my sister Leah would say, "Hell, no."

So I overcompensated and threw my weight back to the right, which spooked the already confused horse. The combined shift in my weight and his direction launched me .... right into the newly thawed floor of the arena.

The horse immediately stopped trotting. Damn it all, he won.

And he really had, because any good horsewoman knows that if a horse throws you, you get your ass right back on that horse and teach him who's the boss. But I couldn't. I couldn't even breath.

Now, luckily, I had gotten a cell phone a few months earlier after a traumatic night of being stuck in traffic and being unable to get to Jason's apartment until we were both frantic with worry. And even luckier, my friend the Lovely Zen-Master Becca lived less than five minutes from the barn. She had to come get me because I couldn't even hope to drive my stick shift home. I was still having trouble breathing.

She picked me up (literally), drove me back to her place, packed me in frozen peas, and made the executive decision that I wasn't going to die.

The next morning, I went to Ambulatory Care, got x-rayed, and was pronounced broken. Two ribs on the right side, cracked clean through. When I'd hit the ground, my right elbow had driven right up there and snapped them good. The good news (yes, there was some) was that the ground had thawed just enough that I didn't break the arm I landed on, and more importantly, didn't break my pelvis, which I also landed on. I hit that so hard that it took a week for the bruise to surface, and another month for it to go away.

That's how I spent my Valentine's morning. They gave me Vicoden, but both my father and sister Hannah had violent vomiting when they'd taken it. And no one with broken ribs wants to throw up. So I toughed it out with ibuprofen.

So I called into work. And Iris, the receptionist (you know the kind - old, smokes 2 packs a day and has the voice to prove it) said, "You HAVE to come to work today!"

"Iris, I broke my ribs!"

"But you HAVE to come to work! You have flowers here! You're the only one who got flowers delivered at work!!!!" She was adamant to the point of hysterical.

Oh, that man. He'd never had anyone to celebrate Valentine's Day with, so he was all in. Even after a romantic weekend, he'd made reservations at the Pump Room for a candlelit dinner for two. He'd sent flowers to work so everyone would know I was loved.

And I broke two damned ribs.

So you know what I did? That's right. I sucked it up and drove into the city. I took only the back roads because I couldn't shift above second. Hell, I couldn't shift out of second, but I'm the kind of driver who can start from second too, so it worked. I couldn't buckle my belt, so for 35 minutes, the car binged at me. The Customer Service manager saw me first and brought the flowers out to me, Two dozen roses, plus Belgian chocolates.

Oh, that man. It was enough to make a girl cry out of sheer joy, but that made my ribs hurt, so I didn't. The manager then buckled me in for the rest of the trip down.

He was waiting for me, somewhere between panic and hysteria. He gamely said we didn't have to go to dinner, but screw that. This was Valentine's Day. I'd made it this far. He just had to work the stick while I worked the clutch.

And we got there. I've never been so glad to see valet parking in my life. The Pump Room is Old School dining. The likes of Frank Sinatra and such were old regulars back in the day. Cozy booths, exceptional service, a live band playing the best of the romantic songbook.

The matire de headed towards our table with a crisp click of his heels. I couldn't do much more than two steps a minute - did I mention the ribs? - and Jason was holding tight to me. So the matire de gets to our table - clear on the other side of the room, of course - and turns around, and we're all of six steps in the door. He rushed back and took my other arm and the two of them practically carried me the rest of the way.

After that, dinner went smoothly. Another round of ibuprofen kicked in, and a Chicago Bears lineman got down on one knee and proposed in the middle of the evening (we ran into them at coat check, and she showed me the ring. HOLY MOLY, that was a lot of diamonds!). By the time we (slowly) made our way out of the restaurant, I even insisted that we stop, right on the edge of the dance floor, and sway gently. I wanted to dance on Valentine's Day, dang it!

Needless to say, I spent the night with him, because I couldn't drive myself home. And, needless to say, it was a irritatingly chaste sleep over. It was more like being tucked in by my father, what with the concerned kiss on the forehead and all. But I was beat, and hurt like hell.

But I'd done it. I'd done my very best to ruin Valentine's Day, and then stubbornly refused to let it go. Thank God we'd gone to Galena the weekend before, not after. That would have been even worse!

Now, we laugh about it as we eat our take-out dinner and share chocolates with our little boy. No overnight vacations, but also no broken ribs.

I like it better this way.

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