My cell phone rings. It rings, and yet it doesn’t. The screen lights up with a name and before I can swipe to answer, the screen darkens again. Missed call.
The name is familiar, a name I’ve started to associate with butterflies in my belly and silly memories I’ve played in my mind far too many times to be considered normal. I pause, holding the little phone in my hand. There’s the moment of indecision—should I call back, should I wait and see if he calls again, and what if we both call at the same time and it goes to voicemail and we end up thinking one another is busy and don’t talk for the rest of the day?—irrational over-thinking has always been my specialty.
I wait. I watch a squirrel dance between two trees, another chasing closely behind. I glance at an older couple, sitting in side-by-side in silence on a park bench, both turning pages in their respective chapter books. I smile at two teenagers who are sharing an ice cream cone, the boyfriend kissing her cheek as she laughs like a damn fool.
And I think about how f*cking hard love is.
How do we know we’ve found love when we’ve found it? How do we know if a person has potential, or is just playing games, or lonely, or trying to get over someone else, or exploring without any desire for commitment?
How do we know what one another needs—a shoulder, a confidant, a partner, a friend, a forever? How can we be so sure we’re on the same page? How can we stop worrying, and just find out as we go? And what if it all goes to sh*t? Doesn’t that hurt?
The ice-cream cone pair leans against a rock to my left, close enough where I can almost hear their conversations. He whispers something in her ear, I hear the word ‘sexy,’ and I blush for her. She’s a pretty girl, a young girl, a happy girl. And I’m happy for her. The two of them are in their own little world, not giving me, or anyone else, a thought as they cuddle closer to one another, lick ice cream from one another’s lips.
It’s amazing how love can make us lose our other senses sometimes. We canoodle in public, we kiss without regard, we dance just like the saying, ‘as if no one is watching,’ and we’re honestly too damn carefree to think.
It’s beautifully scary, isn’t it?
When we fall in love, that other person becomes everything to us, almost like air—essential. We go from being content to wanting, needing the attention and affection from someone else to make us feel whole. And that flirts the line of dangerous. But yet, we desire it anyways.
We want to be wanted. We desire to be loved. And as humans, we need to be needed. Our connection is at the very core of our being.
I look down at my phone again. No voicemail. Three minutes and no return call. I press the redial and suck in a breath as the line rings. Pause. Breath. Pause. Breath. ‘You’ve reached…’ The voicemail kicks in.
I contemplate leaving a message, but I left one earlier and don’t want to seem too desperate.
Isn’t this the way we always are when it comes to matters of the heart? Either we’re way too much or not enough, always too scared to fall on either end of the spectrum.
I put my phone down, turn back to the essay I was reading. It’s about birds, but also not about birds at all, and I think that’s why I like it so much—the meaning would be lost on anyone who doesn’t overthink as much as I do.
The older couple shifts on their park bench seat. The man, with his little grandpa cap and white beard leans over his wife, showing her something on his page. He’s wearing thick-rimmed glasses and checkerboard pants. I can’t help but laugh at how perfect he is, such a spitting image of the ‘doting grandfather’ I’d conjured in my mind as a child, wishing my own had lived long enough for me to meet him.
This older man clears his throat, the sound is barely audible across the park but I see his lips moving. I know he’s reading his wife something in his scratchy, tired voice. I can’t help but think that’s absolutely beautiful—to love someone so much you want to share everything in your life with them, even a tiny sentence from your chapter book on a Wednesday afternoon.
I wonder if this couple ever doubted their love. If, after war or kids, they sat on opposite ends of the dinner table, pushing food absentmindedly around their plates, dreaming of something better. If, after a miscarriage or death of her brother, she sat in the pew at church and cried, wishing to be understood and finding herself a million and one miles away from her husband. If, in the hardest days at his new job, he longed for a wife who could support him better.
And now here they were, through years and failures and brokenness and joy—still embodying love.
How do you know if someone’s right for you? How do you read the intentions on someone’s heart and guarantee that they’ll be there when push comes to shove, when sh*t hits the fan, when you’ve always been so strong but suddenly find yourself struggling to get back on your feet?
How do you know that your wife will still sit by you, fifty years down the road, not even the least bit annoyed that you interrupted her reading in your enthusiasm to share a paragraph from page 126? Or that your first real girlfriend won’t kiss the mint chocolate chip from your lips then text Billy from Period 1 when you’re gone on your summer vacation in the Ozarks?
How do you know whether or not to call someone when they don’t answer, if you’re supposed to be too much, or less, or fall somewhere in-between? How do you know what you’re getting yourself into—if you should step forward or run?
How do you know what love is, will be, will become? Or if it will hurt?
But that’s the beautiful thing. You let go. You hope. You free fall.
And somewhere along the way, it all makes sense.