“You’re a lover, Jess.”
My friend states the words simply. As factually as she would say “The garden has plenty of basil. Go pick some.”
Somehow her neutral tone releases my heart. As if my whole life it has been slightly holding a breath and then finally is allowed to exhale. I think I’ve always suspected my propensity to love was an innate downfall. A fatal flaw that weakened me, leaving me at the mercy of indecisive hearts and ill-fated circumstance.
Stirring the bubbling pot of my own soupy center, I reflect on the history of its beats. Those early years when it quickened for the first time. Those impressionable days around the tether ball in first grade. When the boy with the cowlick and striped t-shirts would sometimes bring me rings with different birthstones. (Many years later I learned he stole them from his sister’s jewelry box and left peanuts in their place).
Imprinted forever is my first wooing faux pas. Maybe a bit advanced for my age, I was a big fan of playground kissing tag. I’d often feign tiredness in order to let that select Ring Boy catch me and the thrill of lips, quick and innocent on my face. And then one day I decided to be true. Catch him up myself, and swiftly plant a kiss of my own. No words were spoken but his look told all. I’d turned the tables and broken the unspoken rule. Girls don’t chase the boys.
Years passed, limbs lengthened and my body curved and rounded. By age twelve, I was still enamored by the boys, though only a very few select ever caught my real attention. It was in seventh grade that I honed in on the tall thirteen year old – the one that would become my first love – when he passed me a folded note on lined paper. “Will you go to the dance with me?”
Back then, there was no filter. No experience. Just a full swan dive into raw emotion and bubbling hormones. A blend so potent that I would sometimes be rendered incapacitated in feeling. If my boyfriend and I had reached some impasse in our junior high school relationship, I’d fake sick and stay home, listening to A-ha’s “Take on Me”, repeatedly, and cry. These emotions were all new and overwhelming. He and I, we’d eventually reconcile. Fumble through the ancient human dance, our hearts beating and yearning in young and awkward bodies.
This love, this pull, it was always at my center. Nothing seemed more important. So when this junior high boyfriend had gotten in such big trouble with his parents that they forbid him to see any of his friends, I was heartbroken. And determined. I would dress in all black in the middle of the night and sneak my twelve-year-old body out my bedroom window. With every passing car, I’d dive into the nearest bush to hide, then emerge when the coast was clear and run through dark suburbia towards his house.
Looking back, I wonder what it was that compelled me. Certainly none of my other girl friends were running across town in the middle of the night to see a boy. None of my friends even had boyfriends, really. Pheromones played a part, I’m sure, but it was more than biology that drove me. I felt the intrigue of love. My young and unrefined version of it. It was my greatest interest, and remained that way all through high school, as this first love and I stayed together (even got engaged) until I was nineteen.
By the age of twenty-one, with a major break-up behind me, I had come to determine that my fascination with relationship was an innate weakness to be overcome. With enough will-power I was convinced I could rid myself of this affliction. Hawking my old diamond ring, I set out to travel solo, swearing off pairs and seeking a power of my own. Some animals mate for life, genetically wired to couple. I wanted to see if I could circumvent biology. Feel the strength of being singular. Finally quell the driving desire for relationship. See if I could actually feel like I didn’t want to be in love.
In retrospect, it seems that summer launched a mission to fly in the face of my very nature. It spawned a decade of traveling continents alone: Canada, India, and an island chain. During this time I’ve scaled literal and metaphorical peaks, all on my own. But I’m getting old and weathered now. I’ve got much less to prove. No need to swim against my own tide. Days will continue to dwindle and I might as well be honest. I’ve never not wanted to be in love.
And though my heart has been trampled to the point where I wondered if it ever would resume a normal rate, I can’t seem to give up my quest. Love is woven through my DNA, impossible to be disentangled from its strands. The mission to explore relation, to experience connection, is somehow why I’m here.
I may have plenty of flaws – I let the dirty dishes pile, I sometimes get way too serious – but my ability to feel deeply, my desire to know true love intimately, is not a defect. The drive of my impulse was there on the playground with that bold, seven-year old kiss. It was in me hiding from headlights in the oleander hedge at midnight. My determination was even present in my solo ventures, seeking to experience love with my own heart and the world around me.
And just like basil grows thick in Mary’s fertile garden. Truth is simple. I might as well just admit it. I may still be learning – the mission not yet accomplished – but the fact remains. I’m a lover.