I will say from the get go that I don’t know much about love. I’ve experienced it, for sure, multiple times with ladies. I’ve known it, too, with my mother, my brother and sister, with my own son. I even loved trees, complete strangers, concepts, words, songs, breezes, wisps of hair. And I could try and conceptualize love as a kind of opening onto the world, a generosity that gives and receives in the same breath. (Love, I believe, does not just give. In order to love, the lover must be open to reception. I think.)
Anyway, one thing that confuses me is that all the loves I’ve known are so different from each other that it’s difficult to conceptualize. Each love asks something different of me, situates me differently, casts the dynamic differently. So while there might be some kind of uber love, something called Love, I’ve only known different kinds of love. (No kinds of love are better than others says Lou Reed and I’m wont to believe him.)
Romantic love seems the most fickle. There are times I’ve been madly in love with a woman, dreaming of her, wallowing in her scent years after our last encounter, conjuring her at times both, uh, fetid and lonely. I’ve done this for years! For decades! And then, as if from nowhere, that love has disappeared. Whoosh!There is a different kind of love in its stead, perhaps — at least when I’m feeling wise — a knowing love, a less volatile love, a love that sees the big picture and not just the perfect, uh, nape.
The romantic love I’ve known has always been so intense, so overwhelming. My mood and desire and jealousy and lust rises and falls— as it were, ahem — as if my body and my self were mere passengers on a vessel with its own destination. This is why we say, I fell in love. Choice is gone and the whole thing feels like a wild, out of control ride.
Maybe none of this love was real love. Maybe real love, by definition, is more generous. Maybe real love doesn’t get jealous, make demands. Maybe real love is never clingy or selfish. But it sure felt like love.
Parental love is of another order. As a child, I rarely doubt my mother’s love. But I do doubt it once in a while as I feel like I inevitably fail to meet expectations. In any case, the whole thing is fraught with a certain kind of anxiety — the fear of failure, the guilt of indifference or anger. I didn’t realize this fully until I became a parent and knew that often sublime love of a parent for his child. Oh, man. It’s not a relaxed, chill, steady flow of love. I can be maudlin one minute, irate the next, indifferent ten minutes later, and guilty regardless as I must somehow be fucking him up. Such, alas, are the stakes of parenting today: everything we do is a mistake and it’s all so well documented on this damned internet!
Ah, but then there is sibling love, a beast of another sort all together. Now, this is of course not true for everyone. I know some people who really don’t like their siblings, who judge their siblings, who are indifferent or hateful towards them (perhaps justifiably). I also know people for whom their sibling is their best friend! And with that friendship comes all the ups and downs of romantic love. She’s so annoying when she doesn’t pick up! She was so annoying at that party!
For me, however, siblings have been neither friends nor indifferent brutes living amongst me. They have occupied this distinctive space of always just being there, unassumingly, without demand or expectation or grievance. As kids, my brother, sister, and I all shared a room for a while and enjoyed all those delicious, hilarious, beautiful conversations that go on when no grown up are around.
But as adult, we’ve never lived near each other. For the most part, our friends are distinct. We might only see each other every few years. In fact, at one point, I believe I hadn’t seen my brother in over eight years. We always talked on the phone some — a couple times a month, perhaps.
And yet this was not because we were indifferent or angry. On the contrary, it was precisely because we have that one love that you can absolutely take for granted, that love that wants nothing, demands nothing, while in its way giving everything. It is the best kind of of course. Of course I’m close to my brother! He’s my, well, brother! Of course I’m close to my sister! She’s my freakin’ sister!
This sibling kind of love is so even, so undramatic, and all the more powerful for it. As we were never really friends, there was no social anxiety or resentments (for the most part). My sister is the only person who has never made me feel like an asshole, even when she thought I was one. My lovers? Fuck, I think they get their life power from making me feel like an asshole. My mother? She may love me but, man, she really doesn’t want anything to do with an asshole like me. My sister always made me feel like that unassailable little boy she was there to protect and care for.
I was trying to explain this to a friend of mine who holds mostly disdain for her brother. Later that night, after our conversation, she sent me this passage from Zadie Smith, a writer I don’t really know but it is perfect for what I am trying to say:
People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel — before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.
In two days, I will deliver a eulogy at my sister’s funeral. And, a spoiler alert, this is what I’ll be talking about. I would say that I’ll never know such love again but the fact is I will continue to know this love. That is what she gave me — not as my friend, not as my mother, but as my sister: a love that just loves, without fanfare, without demand, without expectation. What greater gift is there than that? What greater luxury?