If Venus had a telephone, I would leave cranky messages. If Aphrodite had email I would flame her. And if Cupid, god damn him, had a mailbox, I would stuff postcards with letter bombs attached in it. All of them would say the same thing: What is this? What have you done to me?
I did not ask for this. I never wanted this. There are thousands of people who do, people who lift their faces to the sky, rip open their shirts and say: Go ahead. Shoot me.
I kept my head down. I said: stay the f-ck away from me. I spent years teaching myself to exist in solitude and in that time I reached a peace. If I was not happy, I was not unhappy either, and there is a lot to be said for that mindless stability.
But one day he sat next to me in a crowded room. And it was like talking to a part of myself I never knew I had. And though time carried us to different places, we kept coming back to each other, through text messages and emails. Like that, the gods shot me straight through the heart.
We live five hours away by bus. I see him on weekends. We talk on the phone every night, we text almost every hour. But there are the weekends when visitors are in town, the nights when work takes over, and the hours when the phone is out of battery. This is the foreseeable future for the next two years.
When we talk and when we are together I am at ease. But then the weekend is over, it is time to hang up the phone, and the world pales like someone has dimmed the sun.
If I think too hard about the future, or about the miles of highway that stretch between us, the pale misery deepens into panic. I can see no world with him, and I can see no world without him.
And so, I have questions for the ones who did this to me.
1. What is this?
The disease comes in varieties. Calf-love, typically caught by the young. Hurts like hell, burns out like a fever, but it isn’t fatal.
Infatuation. Calf-love for people of all ages. It casts clouds over your vision, causes you to see stairways to heaven in empty corners. You believe you can fly. You believe you won’t die. Then you wake up one day and realize it’s all a pack of lies. At the very least there’s permanent scarring.
Then there’s the real thing. No one knows how it starts, or where it comes from, but it burrows into your system, until each of your cells shift and reform. I’ve heard it’s rare, I’ve heard it’s as common as a cold, but what everyone agrees on is once you have it, there’s no escape. You are changed for life.
Tell me what I have. Tell me this is true, tell me this is real.
2. Is this good for me?
I have been burned before. People don’t tell the gods to stay the f-ck away from them for no reason. I’ve been burned to the point where my mind went up in flames and collapsed into ash. The moment when you have been driven out of your mind, is the moment when you are truly homeless.
Sometimes he has the emotional sensitivity of a sea urchin. Sometimes he makes these jokes that are so bad I want piranhas to eat his liver. Sometimes he gives me sh-t and in the moment I laugh and I laugh: You’re so incredibly awkward in photographs. You shed like an angry cat. You’re incredibly sweaty.
Then he goes away, and I think: sweaty like an angry cat?
And mostly — this is what breaks me — mostly, he gets it exactly right.
Then I think of how there are millions of women more attractive than me, more intelligent, more tolerant: woman who are not sweaty like angry cats. That’s when I hear the sound of matches being struck.
Is he going to destroy me?
3. Is this good for him?
It dawned on me, as I cried into the telephone to him one night — you did this and it made me feel like that — that there are ways to make people feel confident in themselves, and there are ways to chip away at them. A voice grating at you about wanting you to change this, add a little something here, subtract something there, that voice can stretch you, force you to grow, or it can shave you down into nothing.
Am I going to destroy him?
4. Can we accept each other for who we are?
What I am constantly hiding from the world is that I am full of little monsters. The polite word for this is sensitive. I have grown used to putting on a little show for people — oh yes, that’s fine, oh no, I don’t mind at all — when actually there is always something there screaming — what the f-ck did you just do? That is not okay.
He sees my show and he cries bullsh-t and I stop because no one, absolutely no one has called me out on bullsh-t before.
And he says, So what’s going on? Really?
And despite myself, the monsters roar. That went wrong. You hurt me. Your shoes are ridiculous. There are laundry lists that cascade into waterfalls and then avalanches and something in his voice breaks:
I didn’t know. I don’t know what to do. What do you want me to be?
And I think: What have I done? Should I have told him? But how could I have not?
Can he live with laundry lists and waterfalls and avalanches? Can I live with someone who inspires them?
5. Is it worth the pain?
They say it is better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all. I am halfway convinced “they” is actually Venus, Aphrodite and Cupid doing some serious marketing. Because, who, having been burned once, would willing lay themselves on the pyre again? The rational thing to do is run far away, to inhabit dark cool caves of solitude. True it is dark, and true it is cold, but there nothing can hurt you. People can live without fire. People don’t need flame. Not really.
I know, theoretically, it’s about what you learn, it’s about the journey not the destination, but I keep trying to rip down the veil that covers the future, in an attempt to answer a single question that is slowly driving me mad–
Will this last?
God help me.