Love someone like you’re six. Bring your favorite toy to school to impress her; watch her hold it in her tiny hands and swell with pride when she’s receptive. She has good taste. Watch her cautiously; you couldn’t live if she accidentally dropped it, broke it. Draw pictures of her in your coloring book, in the margins, and ask your mother if she’s allowed to come over. Blush when she kisses you on the ear after you’ve skinned your knee. Blush whenever someone says her name. Whenever someone says her name, think it sounds like a curse or a whisper or a prayer.
Love someone like you’re ten. Notice that you like all of the same things: the same songs, the same animals, the same colors. You know there’s something between the two of you but you’re both too inexperienced to acknowledge it. Stand side by side during your elementary school graduation ceremony and feel a surge of loss course through his body and then through yours. Sign his autograph book; skip the white pages and the yellow pages and the blue pages. Sign the pink page, the one that means ‘love.’ Wear gloss and press your lips against the paper. Leave an imprint of your mouth between the words, ‘See U Soon’ and ‘Call me – 718- 768 – 8404.’ Never see each other again.
Love someone like you’re thirteen. Let him walk you home one night in October and ignore every chill. When he leans in to steal a kiss from your mouth, let him. Open your eyes in shock when you realize there’s tongue. Clench his shirt with your fingertips, release it, rest your open palms on either side of him and be unsure if you’re pulling him closer or not. When it’s over, slap him because you don’t know how else to tell him you liked it.
Love someone like you’re sixteen. Pass her in the hallways at school and try to transform yourself into something alluring, something confident. Know every CD she has in her car and her Taco Bell order and who her best friends are. Feel like your heart will explode when she signs on AIM, when she arrives at a party, when she looks in your direction. Get her alone one night, sit in her car and listen to songs you’ll never forget the words to. It’ll be the only time you lose your virginity but the first time you lose yourself.
Love someone like you’re nineteen. Spend hours looking at each other and saying nothing; meet each other’s parents. Text him from the bathroom of your childhood home when you’re visiting for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas; say, “I wish you were here.” Drive around town together, put your hand on his knee and watch sidewalks and miles fly by; take interest in the blur because you can see your future in it.
Love someone like you’re twenty-five. Go to the movies even though you’re already sure you hate going to the movies, do it because she wants to. Spend weekdays and weekends together, get to know each other in the backs of cabs. Stay up until 4 AM because you’re young again; go to bed at 9 PM because you don’t have to prove yourself anymore. Don’t feel overwhelmed when they call instead of text, don’t feel afraid to be yourself. Be in Love.
Love someone like you’re thirty. Not like you’re running out of time, not like your options are drying up. Love him because despite failure and disappointment and fear, you can’t help yourself. Love him in spite of your past; believe in your potential when your better judgment tells you not to.
Love someone like you’re fifty, like the future has come and gone and will return again and it’ll all feel underwhelming because you know who you are and who she is and who “we” is and knowing that makes the rest manageable, you’ve learned.
Love someone like you’re eighty. Look out of your window or in a newspaper or at the television and hear smell taste collateral damage: the result of the world passing you by, leaving you behind. Count the things you no longer understand on both hands; then count the one thing that still makes sense, that has always made sense and think, that’s all right.