Written a long time ago, for an old friend. One of the more personal pieces I’ve written.
She stared at me from across the cafeteria table and offered me a curious glance. An awkward silence hung in the air between us, heavy with tense restraint. I tried to fill the empty space with a meaningless gesture, an almost-shrug even more empty than the space it had attempted to fill. She offered a sympathetic half-smile from behind her hair, flitting and nearly imperceptible. Her smile, I’m sure, burned down Rome.
A week or so later, she broke up with me.
What are you feeling? my mother asked me. Anger? she tried. Frustration? she tried again. But it wasn’t that simple. I wish it were that simple. I couldn’t answer, and I didn’t. What could I really say? She wouldn’t understand; hell, I didn’t even know myself.
It’s been two years now, and I still can’t tell you how I felt.
It’s alright, my mother finally conceded to me. That’s just love.
What do we talk about when we talk about love? The first things that come to mind are full of fire, and sweat, and intrigue. Generations of sad British pop music, Romeo and Juliet, and pithy aphorisms have taken a toll on our hearts. Boy meets girl – it’s the world’s oldest story, right back to Adam and Eve. We’ve been fine-tuned to see love as something inexplicably passionate and turbulently wonderful – divine, and worthy of exaltation.
I can tell you one thing for sure – that’s just in the movies.
What, then, is love? Is it expectation – is it hope? Root beer in the summertime, perhaps – or a box of chocolates bought in dimes, and Saturday night at the movies?
Some of it, yeah.
But love is also masochistic attrition. It’s one stupid fifteen-year-old walking away from another only to inexplicably, senselessly return after nearly two years of mutual anathema, somehow still hoping against all odds and all reason for something history had condemned long ago.
Love is bitter irony. It’s doing everything you can to not give in when the girl you love breaks down in hysterical tears – right after she tries to convince you, convince herself, that a relationship’s just not going to work out.
Love is karmic injustice. It’s trying to postpone the inevitable tornado of warmth and confusion with coin flips, daydreams and a shaky rationale. It’s just another teenage fling, complete with awkward fumblings, flitting almost-glances and embarrassed half smiles.
Yes, love is chaotic, and it is senseless, and more often than not, it is brutal and unrelentingly savage. But even that – is that all there really is? I’m hard-pressed to believe that. Sure, any dim-witted, apathetic iHipster who’s listened to The Smiths enough can tell you all about the Sturm and Drang of love. But there’s something more, isn’t there?
Because love is also devotion. It’s the kid who keeps on returning over and over again to the girl who broke his heart with a coltish smile knowing full well that he’s gonna get kicked back down each and every time – yet he does it anyway, neither out of hope nor desperation but just because he loves.
And love is cathartic contrition. It is the Biblical deluge of tears that, in one grand swell, finally shatters the carefully-composed mask of apathy; and the hands that encircled and finally clasped yours to keep them from shaking, promising a plan of stability and forgiveness and certainty no matter what actually happens.
And love is bravery in the face of uncertainty. It’s realizing that expectations and reality rarely ever align. It’s throwing out the coins and burning all those stupid notebooks filled with all those stupid plans and doing away with this idiotic logic that got us so far but never far enough and accepting the things we cannot change and weeping away our endless numbered days until a policeman with a halogen flashlight shines his beam in our eyes and the dream is over.
So what the hell do we even talk about when we talk about love?
Hallmark greeting cards and unironic misinterpretations of The Graduate? Or bitter laughter in the face of rejection, and angry tears in the agony of silence? Or maybe it’s just sitting in the parking lot of an empty church on a Saturday night, wanting more than anything else to love but not wanting to be hurt. Or maybe it’s all these things. Or maybe it’s none of them at all.