I’ve never been very good at science or math or any of the academic disciplines that require you to predict how something’s going to turn out. Nonetheless, I did some careful calculations during my junior year of college and came to the following conclusion: Valentine’s Day 2006 was going to be the best E-V-E-R!
I based this hypothesis not upon whimsical desires or my latest horoscope but upon solid evidence. What was this solid evidence, you ask? Well, for starters, I was studying abroad at the time and I have always preferred affairs of the international variety. My exact location “abroad” was rather fortuitous as well: I was a visiting student at Oxford University.
For the first time in my life, I found myself absolutely surrounded by men. My tutors (aka professors) were nearly all male, I had six male flat mates and somehow, rather inexplicably, I’d landed myself not one but two dates in the weeks preceding Valentine’s Day. Granted, they were with fellow Americans abroad (can we say borrrring?) but for the sake of not being single on February 14th, I didn’t care.
Finally, just to cover my bases, I signed up for a charity speed dating event with a few of my flat mates. (It would seem that I’ve harbored latent serial dater tendencies for some time now.)
I met one of the Americans for dinner the night before, and arranged a “back up” date with one of the boys from my flat just in case, but then the unthinkable happened: the morning of February 14th dawned and, through a series of unfortunate and inexplicable events (which I myself barely understood), I found myself without a date.
To make matters worse, Oxford colleges employ a rather conspicuous system of mail delivery in the form of “pigeon holes.” Unlike their American counterparts, these mailboxes don’t lock. They don’t even have doors. This means that you can see everyone’s mail and on February 14th, you can see all the long stem roses that the other girls have received.
I was reading Virginia Woolf (or something equally suicide-inducing) at the time and between the roses-I-did-not-receive, the failure of my “back up” plan and the prospect of spending Valentine’s Day in the physical therapist’s office thanks to my recent back injury, it was all I could do not to throw myself into the Isis on the way back to my flat.
Fortunately, I’d met my Irish friend Siobhan by then and she was (and has continued to be) very gracious in including me, as the hapless international student, in her rather happenin’ social life. She invited me to a “girls only” dinner at a restaurant in town and I readily agreed.
I’ve neglected to point out that I lived at the bottom of a hill, and that the primary method of transportation in Oxford (and Cambridge) is the bicycle. Furthermore, I’ve failed to mention that I was rather enamored of a pair of metallic gold lace up stilettos at the time, and that the dinner in question took place before I completed my year abroad, and, more importantly, before I learned that stilettos are not the most appropriate choice of footwear for cycling.
Of course, these were not just any stilettos: these were lace up stilettos. Each shoe boasted at least four feet of metallic gold cord and even though I had years of lacing pointe shoes under my belt, I was no match for the complicated maneuvering these babies required.
(Do you see where I’m going with this?)
I was halfway up the hill in front of Christ Church when my foot slipped and my shoe promptly wrapped itself around my bike’s pedal. My stockings, evidently wanting in on the action, adhered themselves to the bike’s gear and my skirt, not wanting to be left out, contrived to affix itself to the chain.
Had I been a Boyscout trying to tie knots, I would have definitely earned myself a merit badge for the impenetrable tangle I’d inadvertently created, but not being a Boyscout, and not wanting to tie knots, I simply burst into tears.
Mind you, I was still in the middle of traffic, so I hobbled on one foot over to the pedestrian street at the top of the hill, dragging my bike alongside me, and began the slow process of liberating my Valentine’s ensemble.
It wasn’t until several minutes later that I noticed a boy from my college standing on the corner, and of course he had to be one of the cute ones.
I like to think that nowadays, I would have used the whole damsel-in-distress thing to my advantage—that I would have laughed it off, called out to my fellow student for assistance and scored myself a last-minute VDay date in the process—but I was considerably less cool back then.
Instead, I went to dinner (where I proceeded to dazzle everyone with my complete lack of social skills), went home, and spent the rest of the night with my half-finished essay on Virginia Woolf, a jar of peanut butter and a spoon.