How Do You Know What Love Is?

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What is it — I struggle to know it as I desperately attempt to dig its remains out of my memory. I scour the surface of old photographs, fraying love letters, fragments of nightmares and the sensation that once tingled up my arms to figure it out. But I can’t. Age has made me forgetful, cynical. I wonder if I ever knew it.

Did I know it when I was 15 and under a nervously trembling body of another 15 year-old soul? Did I know it when I wrote love letters to his private boarding school across the globe, and he sent me the least generic of fortunes he collected from his late night Panda deliveries? Did I know it when we spent two nights and three days tangled up in unchanged sheets in a hotel in our own city, not knowing if it was day or night outside?

I will never know.

I slowly forgot how it felt — was it a stab in the chest, a tickle on the cheeks, or something in between? — as I stayed away from “relationships.” I was always allergic to the L word, but I started veering off everything else that retained that similar high-strung, fragile tone to it when spelled out loud. Instead, I sought out what I thought was nothing. The incredibly casual, forgetful, uncaring bonds piled up on top of one another, and I slowly forgot how to do anything else.

It was all the same. The texts that scope out availability. A drink, a movie, then bed. The “just friends” talk in the morning. They were surprised when I took it so nonchalantly. They thought I was cool, the type to never catch any feelings and such. I prided myself on my ability to detach myself. I am a strong, independent woman in control of her sexuality. I am fine. This is normal. Everyone wants to be here. The mantra, repeated over and over during those late nights and early mornings, quickly became truth and then the only reality for me; I was cool because I was no longer able to let myself be anything else.

It kills me now to think that I may never know. I’m stuck in a conundrum where I’ve let myself drag along too many loose threads and benefits without possibilities. I run away from anything that I may mistake for something else than pure momentary physical pleasure, and rarely, cheap companionship. At the same time, I am woven into so many lives I don’t know how to disappear from. The most complicated of such tapestries throbs in the hollow parts of my body at nights.

He “doesn’t want anything” yet devours me with the greatest hunger. He is not a boy, but not a man either. When he lies on top of me, panting, I lie there wishing he would stay the night. I wonder if he still thinks about his ex. Her card will still hang on his wall with her curvy greetings flying across the page — this is why I insist we do it at my place, not his.

I ask myself once, twice, and again if this is anything like love. The answer is a resounding no, but I ask anyway. I know it’s too dirty, too lustful, too quick and too flat to deserve the word. I curse. I thought to do it silently but the sadness escapes my clenched teeth and gently shakes him from the post-sex drift. The boy who ceases to be a boy always leaves in the night, because he isn’t a man yet, not tonight. The dying candles keeping me company, I keep cursing under my breath, trying to remember if I ever loved, or if I knew it at all.

The candles go out; I shiver. I know: my shins did not feel so bare back then. TC mark

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