Commentary: Can’t take the heat

Commentary: Can't take the heat

What was supposed to be a romantic Valentine's Day dinner turned out to be the end of a relationship.
Published: February 13, 2022
Alternative Text
Rebecca Lan's boyfriend insisted on cooking her a steak for Valentine's Day.

I stumbled on my way to the door, struggling to push it open and let the dark smoke billow out from behind me. The fire alarm blared. He was yelling about something, but I wasn’t listening, choosing to focus on how the cold air washed away the smell of burning meat.

This was how I ended the Valentine’s Day of my sophomore year: with a sink full of dirty dishes, $30 wasted and a doomed relationship.

I started it with much more optimism. My boyfriend and I had planned to go out for the night. With both of us in school, money was scarce. Date nights that didn’t consist of watching Hulu and eating dining hall food were even scarcer. It would be nice to dress up for once, to retire my uniform of pajama pants for something more eventful.

He called me just as my last class ended. I smiled as I picked up the phone, wondering if he had known that I was thinking of him.

“Hey, change of plans for tonight.” Short and to the point. No explanation. No sorry. I clenched my teeth before I could stop myself and asked him to continue.

Our date night out was turning into a date night in. He rattled off a list of ingredients we could get from the store. He would cook, of course, while I sat back and relaxed. All he needed was my apartment.

The thought of both of us trying to cook dinner in my claustrophobic kitchen already sounded like a nightmare, far from the candlelight experience I had been fantasizing about.

But what was a romantic holiday without spontaneity? I told myself it would be just as nice and agreed.

In the store, we peered over a bin of clearance sale steaks. The little plastic containers blurred into white and red the longer I looked at them, making me nauseous. I didn’t eat red meat often, but he picked it out because he cooked it the most. I wandered around in search of asparagus as he dug out a decent sized chunk.

It was late by the time we walked into my apartment. As I brought the groceries inside, I prayed that my friends had already made dinner. But they were both just beginning.

I sighed, going back out to let my boyfriend know that dinner would be postponed. He stomped past me, shoving the perishables in the fridge with little more than a mumbled “hello” to my roommates before storming to my room. The vision I’d had in my head from this morning was quickly slipping away.

By the time the kitchen was cleared, we had completed one mini argument and were working our way towards the second.

“Who takes that long to cook?!”

“We would have eaten by now if we just went out!” I snapped. Hurt flashed over his face, and it felt worse than the building headache between my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I started to say, but he cut me off.

“I was just trying to plan a nice thing for us, but I guess it’s all my fault,” he said. Silence.

I watched him throw butter into the pan. It was a rusted old thing that belonged to my roommate’s parents, with shiny metal flecks peeking through the black coating. Wisps rose up, the fat sizzling quickly and loudly in the quiet room.

“Are you sure that’s not too hot?” I asked.

“Can you just let me do this?” he said with a glare, lowering the steak into the pan. I winced as blood dripped off of the tongs onto the floor.

The steak burned as soon as it touched the pan. Large plumes of smoke instantly flooded the kitchen. The fire alarm began its high pitched drone three seconds later. It was hard to breathe or think, the argument I had dying in my throat as I ran for the deck door.

I found myself waving a hand towel around the alarm while the “expert” chef did his best to salvage dinner, but smoke continued to rise from the pan. He set down the blackened chunk on the table twenty minutes later, passing me the knife. I was starving and pissed but eager to eat as I cut in.

Calling it rare would be a compliment. The piece I had was bright red and almost cold in the middle. I tried to chew, but the sharp, burnt bitterness and the overwhelming taste of salt made it impossible to finish.

I quietly put down my fork. Giving him a long stare, I headed back into the kitchen. I ended up eating dinner alone that night, but the instant ramen I made was the best thing I had ever tasted.