As I stood in line at the grocery store, I felt faint; I was weak and had a slight temperature. My head felt like a lead weight, I had the sniffles and a thick, phlegm-filled cough. The contents of my cart told the story: Thera-Flu, Advil, Advil Cold and Flu, NyQuil, DayQuil, Vick's Formula 44D, Vick's Vapor Rub, half a gallon of mint chocolate-chip ice cream, double-stuffed Oreos, Nacho Cheese Doritos, a pound of deli-fried chicken and a Star magazine with Brad and Jen on the cover during happier days, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes, the tag line pleading, "Is it really over?"
I unloaded the cart, and was suddenly reminded of the old joke about the woman who was at the grocery store alone when the clerk, after scanning her purchases, says, "So, you're single?" Amazed that he could guess just by the contents of her basket, she asks, "What gave it away?" The astute clerk, while bagging her groceries says, "You're ugly."
I snorted at the punch line and a huge booger-bubble popped out my left nostril. I tried to suck it back up and wipe the remnants away with the sleeve of my dirty sweatshirt. I was a sight with my greasy hair in a ponytail and bunny slippers on.
The handsome man in front of me couldn't help but shake his head in pity. "Boy," he said, glancing at my goodies, "you poor thing, you've really got it bad, huh?"
At that moment, I lost complete control, his words sending me over the edge. I leaned over and grabbed him by his neatly pressed, button-down Oxford shirt and screamed in his face, "Can you say, V-D?" His eyes went wide with shock and the elderly woman behind us repacked her cart and moved to the next checkout lane.
I hated him and everything he stood for. "That's right Buster, Valentine's Day! Let the countdown begin! I don't have a Valentine ... again ... and aren't I just a big, fat, hairy loser? But I wouldn't expect you to understand," I continued, shaking him violently and motioning toward the conveyer belt full of Valentine's booty that belonged to him. "Mr. Mylar-heart-shaped-balloon-bouquet-dozen-red-roses-gigantic-box-of-Russell-Stovers-Assorted-Chocolates-and not-one-but-two-Shoe-Box-Greetings-cards-because-you-couldn't-decide-which-one-best-described-your-sentiments Man!"
I was hysterical as I continued screaming and slapping him across the face. "Do you think you're better than me? Mr.-One-month-in-advance-dinner-reservations-at-the-finest-most-romantic-restaurant-in-town-Guy? Mr. I'm-getting-lucky-tonight-because-I'm-part-of-a-couple-and-you're-not-because-you're-pathetic-and-alone-and-it's-a-double-whammy-for-you-sister-because-next-week-you'll-turn-38-and-still-can't-find-a-man-to-stick-around-longer-than-the-standard-90-day-dating-period Dude?"
OK, that didn't really happen, but it could have. Instead, what happened is, I nodded my head numbly, and quickly turned my attention to the kiosk behind me, pretending to study rows of dental floss and sugarless gum because no matter how depressing life can be, one shouldn't neglect one's gums. And because the handsome guy feeling sorry for me had taken me on three dates over two years ago and I dumped him because, though he was seemingly wonderful in every possible way, he had tiny little hands and I wasn't too keen on the arch of his eyebrows.
He had taken me to the movies, to dinner and go-cart riding. We'd had fun, we'd shared good-night kisses and then I mysteriously disappeared from his life, never to call, never to return a call, never to be seen again, like the mate to your favorite socks in the washing machine of life. I'd really shown him, hadn't I? Now I was sick and alone during the most important couples holiday known to man, and he was stocking up on treats for someone who wasn't bothered in the least that his hands and brows were all wrong.
The next morning I sat at my desk staring at a bobblehead of a man named Bruce standing on a bagel. I'd inherited it when I started my new job. It had been left behind on the desk of my predecessor. Modeled after an actual man who worked in my office, I never had the heart to throw it away. Oddly, even though I'd never had a deep conversation with the real Bruce, Bobbleheaded Bruce suddenly seemed almighty, much like that of a Magic 8-Ball. I looked deep into his tiny ceramic eyes and asked, "Am I too picky, Bruce?" I ran my index finger down the center of his face, causing his little head to shake up and down frantically. "Am I too difficult?" Again, I ran my finger down his face, giving myself the answer I already knew to be true. "If I don't lighten up, and give someone a chance, will I grow old and die alone?"
His head, still undergoing a residual shaking effect, broke my heart.
"Thanks, Bruce. Thanks a lot, I'm glad we had this talk. I should have just called my ex-husband," I said, chucking him in the trash.
It was then that I saw the business card I'd also chucked the day before. Pushing Bobbleheaded Bruce to the side, I fished the card out and read it aloud. "It's Just Lunch; Dating for Busy Professionals."
Being the nimble-minded stooge who is constantly looking for signs that I am, I immediately grabbed mini-Bruce out of the trash bin. "Should I call?" I asked him. "Should I take a chance? Could this be the answer to all of my prayers? Is Mr. Sonja, potential Valentine 2005 just too darn busy to date and waiting for me to join so that we can meet via a pre-screened lunch for busy professionals?"
If I live to be a hundred and one, I will always swear that at that exact moment I heard the tiny, wise, bobbleheaded man whisper, "Relax, make the call ... it's just lunch."
Sonja is a writer who covers the ins and outs of relationships. Or is it the ups and downs?