Saturday, December 24, 2016

Lessons in love

It's Christmas Eve. I am lying on a single bed in a hotel room, hours from the city I currently call home. My mother is snoring eloquently on the next bed over. She'll probably be surprised by her own tiredness when she wakes up. She'll ask if she snored, knowing that the answer is always a (fond) yes.

This place is overripe with our family history, with memories of the harshness and trauma and scrambling out and recovery that has shaped 3 generations of us already. We hope it won't reach the 4th, the tender ones sprouting now.

We have had some heavy conversations, the kind that rest in the pit of your stomach for hours afterwards, like pebbles. Maybe we are those birds that swallow small stones to help their digestion. We swallow heavy truths, turn stories over in our guts, to help us digest life.

I just finished off the remains of a Christmas Toblerone that melted into one big triangular blob in the heat on the drive here. It was a gift, from only a few days ago. The chocolate was a little too sweet. The air conditioning is a little too cold, contrasting with the country heat that is visible outside the window. The bed is a little too saggy. I have music tucked in my ears. I have been crying, a little. I have stopped, a little.

I've learned a lot about love this year. And grief: it's sister, it's other-coin-face. What it is, what it isn't. How easy it is to feel it, open myself up, show it to people that I think can feel it too, reciprocate. How it can scratch up the lining of my organs when it's mixed up with copious quantities of fear, with expectations, ideas of perfection that I humanly, inevitably fail to meet. How long it takes those tender parts to recover from such short, mismatched unions. Yet I find myself feeling grateful for each one anyway. The moments of joy like sugarcubes dissolving on the tongue; the easing-bruise memories of hurt; the lessons scribed into the skin with invisible ink; the scars that itch at the scent of rain.

I keep finding new people to love, and new ways to love, loving bigger. I used to be afraid that I'd never love again when someone left, when something ended. That I'd used up the bucket of love, and it took such a long time to fill it up again, in drips and trickles. But now it doesn't run out. It seems to grow all the time, spill over. And a new love doesn't change or diminish the ones that came before it. It's possible to love dozens, even hundreds of people simultaneously and not explode or feel stretched thin.

And loving other people means accepting them as they are. Not as they were, or could be, or should be, or how it would suit me. Who they are right now.

This month I wrote over a dozen love letters to my friends and family, acquaintances. I let the recipients choose themselves. Anyone who said "yes please" when I shared the idea. Some were a surprise to me.

One was for a man who I know almost nothing about. We are acquaintances, friends of the Facebook variety, spinners in the same circles. After he read the letter, he looked at me like he wanted more, held me tighter when we said goodbye. I hadn't thought about the ripples my words would create, what would come back to me.

One was for a friend I've never said the L word to before. It's been a few years now since we met and she's proved herself repeatedly to be one of the kindest, steadiest, most understanding people, drawing closer to my side as I've faced experiences that scared others away.

One was for the only sister I have. We seem to adore and misunderstand each other in equal measure. I'm still composing that letter, sorting through the chaff of our shared history in search of the grains of love that will root down our future selves.

One was for a man who won - and broke - my heart as this year began. After our months apart - unspeaking, grieving, avoiding, both stumbling in and out of dances with other people - he still fumbles with my love like it's a dreadful and coveted fire, a thing that will burn him to the ground. Maybe it would have.

I don't know the ending to all this. I don't know how my story continues, except that there's a lot of love in it somewhere. Maybe everywhere. Looking back, I can see glimpses of all the paths I didn't take, the hearts I left behind, these lessons in love, the woman I would have become if I'd stayed. I keep choosing a future I can't see, a path no one else seems to be taking.

It's Christmas Eve. I am lying on a single bed in a hotel room, hours from the city I currently call home. I have cried a lot this year. I have loved more.

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