love stories and jewelry ads have been assailing me for a week. For the most part I don't care. I love chocolate, I'm a sucker for a love story (I'm voluntarily watching the Robert Downey, Jr. episodes of Ally McBeal and they are smoking) and I can easily tune out the jewelry stuff since they're not hawking things that are my style. Everyone has their saturation point, though. I'm not here to hate on the day, no holiday rooted in chocolate can be all bad, but I would like to provide some balance.
Once upon a time in a cool apartment in New York City's Chinatown I sat on a grungy futon to receive a gift of love. It came in an intricately carved wooden box, the kind sold on a big sheet on the sidewalk alongside statues of giraffes and elephants and skinny women with big boobs. "It" consisted of a number of animals origami-folded out of bright colored paper. Along with the fauna was a story. The boy lifted each carefully creased creature out of the box and paired it with a line of a little poem. The poem was all about how wonderful a person I was and how I, I don't know, elevated his humanity or something. Off the top of my head the only line I remember was about making him soar and the only item I remember was a frog that actually hopped when you flicked it just right. I also remember that it was deeply sweet and kind and heartfelt if just slightly corny. At the bottom of the box were, I think, 2 subway tokens so we could go somewhere specific in the city, I don't recall where.
Go ahead, you can give your big aaawwwwww now, I'll wait.
To understand the fullness of the moment, however, you have to realize that watching him present this gift was an out of body experience for me. I couldn't absorb the sweetness of it because I had stepped out of my skin and was standing beside myself well nigh screaming in my own ear, "Oh no he isn't. Is he? Please tell me he's not. He can't! What are you going to do if he does? We cannot do this. There is just no good way about it. Make it stop. Right now you, you make it stop right now or else....or else...." and then the subway tokens came out. I was, well not sure, but strongly afraid that he was going to propose to me. Small metal object coming out after the paper critters read as "RING! RING! ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!!" instead of, "Cool, free train ride." I didn't want to marry him. We led a life so woven together with all of our friends and families and pets and jobs at that point that leaving didn't seem feasible but staying? To agree to stay in that place, emotionally if not physically, would require powers of self-deception even I did not possess.
I can only imagine how my reception looked to him. I sat, silent and stiff, as he poured out these words and presented these items straight from his heart then, when I saw that they weren't rings, I must have sagged in relief. How would that have read? I know he was nervous, that was part of what scared me so, and it turns out he had good reason to be.
I still have the box and the origami. Just passing by it in a bunch of keepsakes gives me awkward pit-of-the-stomachness. Throwing it away seems disrespectful, though, so I bury it a little lower in the detritus of a life I used to live and wait until next time.
Now you go. Let's not limit ourselves to Valentine's Day. What's the most awkward romantic moment you can remember?