Tell me, old man, what do you think is love?
Is it to kiss a drunk girl tenderly on the forehead, holding her as she cries about something you don’t understand, and she doesn’t understand; and then never seeing her again?
Is it to touch an angel and be destroyed, to have you heart stripped bare and to laugh or cry, because the wind isn’t as cold as you thought it would be?
You know, I didn’t know she’d be there, at my friends’s house. That girl. I thought about running when I heard her voice, when I was in the mudroom taking off my boots and the front door was already closed behind me.
Of course, she would’ve heard the door slam, and she would’ve seen me leave, but I didn’t care. My heart was beating louder than my thoughts, as I stood still for a moment, still in the moment.
I’m still not sure why I walked inside.
She knew I was coming; she had a smile on her face when I came in, so I put one on too. But didn’t she remember?
I was a kid the last time I was in love with her, sure. But it doesn’t make a difference.
My own personal Armageddon happened behind closed lids, in dreams made for older, drunker men. And now the hurt is gone, like fall leaves decomposed into the humus beneath the snow of a couple years, a couple months, a couple days. But I still remember.
What is love but an absence of cynicism, for a moment, and the resignation to the fact that we’re all doomed to fall for something; doomed to lose ourselves to something greater, to cast our names from our shoulders and do something meaningful with a moment?
Love is all that’s left, in the end. You know, deep down, that all those little trinkets you fought so hard for won’t mean a thing, one day, when it counts. That they never meant a thing in the first place.
And so the banker goes to sleep with restless, wandering eyes, and the dying man kisses his wife with more love than he’s felt in a long, long time; more love perhaps than he’s ever felt.
When I walked through the doorway, a little part of me stayed there, frozen; frost-bitten time cast away and forgotten, as the future hurried past.
I think she said she was glad to see me. I don’t know if she meant it; I don’t even think I knew her, then. I repeated it, helped her build that conversational wall that keeps meaning from bridging the space between minds.
She was beautiful when she caught the moment in a certain way, the way that water catches sunlight and turns to gold.
Aren’t love and beauty two ores from the same vein?
There’s that type of beauty, the one in everything that you sometimes get to see in a green sapling after a spring rain, or in one of those dusty gas stations from forever-ago that sit in the middle of nowhere like old paintings.
That type of beauty makes you realize that it’s all worth it, even the dying.
That type of beauty hurts a little to look at, because you know it can’t be held onto, can’t be grasped; like when you look directly at the sun.
But the sunset can perform alchemy if you let it, and make anything beautiful, even heartbreak. Even death.
You know, closure isn’t a good word when it comes to love; it’s like saying you forgot what it’s like to feel. It’s worse than ignorance; it’s cowardice.
But I’ve met that girl again, many times. Years later, when I thought I was wiser, thought I was tougher. Maybe a month ago, I saw her in a girl who looked up at me as we passed each other on the Quarter Mile.
Last week, I saw her in the little clouds of snow that billow up around the brick walls lining that walkway.
Yesterday I saw her while I was walking in the dark, whistling. That faded kind of whistling, the kind that you only do for yourself; like singing in the shower or in the car.
Why do we do that, anyway? Maybe to feel the thrill of throwing something out into time that can’t be taken back; to watch a sound fall from our lips and dissolve into space before our eyes. Maybe we do it to push ourselves a little further from loneliness.
Tell me, do you become a man when you look at the boy you were without laughing, or crying? When you know the love you felt was real, no matter how foolish it looks in the sobering daylight of a couple years; not scorning the powers that moved in you, despite the shame you feel, the embarrassment? Aren’t all the things we do worth a damn embarrassing?
You called it puppy love, but tell me, old man, what wouldn’t you give to feel so strongly, one more time? What wouldn’t dead-hearted zombies give to ache with vulnerability, just one more time?
Isn’t that the essence of a pious moment, or a prayer? Isn’t childish love the purist religion?
Isn’t it the language of the dead? Those dead-named men who live like fire, and burn as quickly and as brightly. Don’t they live beyond the scourge of time?
Love consumes the ashes of our so-called lives, devours cynicism, opens us to oblivion. The first time a boy truly loves is the first time he sees the coming of his death in all its brilliance.
When I was a child sometimes the knowledge would touch me, gently and terrifyingly, like a falling leaf, and I would hide under my blankets and curl into a ball and wait until I forgot.
But one day I knelt down and felt my dog’s head of soft-curled hair beneath my palm, and I looked into her brown eyes, and she looked back at me. I realized that was love too; a simpler kind of love, too honest to be corrupted.
You know, you contain more beauty than time can constrain. And when it courses through your feeble heart like an avenging angel, it feels like a tide that could obliterate you in an instant.
Speak up, immortals. You can’t be wiser than the man who loses track of time watching the moon rise in the empty-full sky.