If You Leave a Lover Alone

If you leave a lover alone with her thoughts for twenty-four hours, here is what will happen: 

She will start by pining, consumed by her own sighs, and lost in the memory of her beloved. He occupies her thoughts day and night. She is in love to the point of distraction. Nothing holds her attention. She won’t take food or water. She will starve before she ever sees her beloved again. Her thoughts take a turn.

Her beloved is dead. His horse and carriage have turned over. He was killed in a duel. The victim of a political assassination. He jumped off the side of a cliff. The thought destroys her. There is no life after him. She goes through a list of things she has to live for, and nothing comes to mind. She doesn’t have time to mourn him. Her imagination is running away. She is coming up with fifty ways to die. She can live no more. Her life is already over. She throws herself into the abyss of despair. 

All feeling is gone. She is cold and calculating. All she needs is a plan. She thinks about flinging herself off a cliff, too. Maybe she’ll drown or drink cyanide. The possibilities are endless. She’s enraptured by her own imagination. How else could she do away with herself? A knife to the femoral arteries. Her father’s revolver he keeps in a drawer in the study. There’s some rope laying around. She could make a noose and tie herself to the willow tree outside. 

The willow tree. This is where her beloved first touched her hand. She wasn’t wearing any gloves, and he touched her! A reason for living springs to mind. Maybe he’s not dead. She has no proof. She has been locked in this room for far too long. Despair metamorphoses back into hope. Her heart begins to thaw. She decides to eat the first morsel of food she’s had in days. Clarity returns. Love reigns in her heart once more. 

Now she is flying. She takes no notice of the time. The sun rises and the sun sets. This is all she notices. She is optimistic. She finishes the duties she’s left neglected for the last fortnight. There is a tray of letters in the hall she hasn’t read yet. There is one from her beloved, and she really knows now that he is not dead. The letter is short. Her optimism fades to mortification.

He hates her. She has never been so absolutely certain of anything in her entire life. She couldn’t be sure he was dead. She’d rather him dead than hate her. She won’t give him the satisfaction of killing herself. He will have to hold on to his own hatred for her. She turns red. Her anger flares up. She has done nothing to deserve this. The burning inferno inside her turns cold. Her stomach drops.

What if she has done something to deserve his ill favor? She reads the letter over and over again. He has not said what she has done wrong. She makes a new list. The new list makes her want to die, too. It is everything she has done wrong ever in his presence.

She was too cold. She was too capricious. She was too bold. She was too honest. She had the audacity to approach him. Her manners were too affected. He hated her gowns. Her coiffure was too gaudy. Her curls too tight. She had no accomplishments. She was undomesticated. She showed her concern too soon. She preferred the tender charms of Petrarch to Baffo’s sonnets. Everything is wrong.

The willow tree. She should hang herself there. She has the memory all wrong. She has blown things wildly out of proportion. He didn’t touch her. He merely stumbled and grazed her arm. Her imagination has magnified the smallest detail. She has lost all sense. She can’t think straight. 

The next morning she doesn’t get out of bed. The maid comes and wakes her up. There is a gentleman caller in the drawing room. It all comes back to her. It is the fifteenth of the month. Her beloved is downstairs waiting for her. She wants to fall to pieces when she sees him.

She swoons. 

The Madness of Love

I went mad for a summer as if the pandemic wasn’t enough to drive anyone mad. Love hit me with all the force of a train and struck me dumb. My brains fell out. I lost my keys in the woods. The power lines went down and I lived without electricity for a week. I wrote notes on the mirror reminding me to eat. 

There’s a certain mad quality about love once the mysticism fades away. Love is mysterious and makes us curious before pulling us into its mad grip. The madness of love descends like clouds in a storm, making us act crazy and do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We are conditioned to accept acts of madness when love is involved. Crimes of passion carry a lighter sentence than crimes committed in cold blood. Madness can mean insanity, or it can mean getting carried away by enthusiasm. Love exists at both ends of the spectrum. Madness rules when desire cannot be controlled. There is a tendency to underestimate the power of love. 

I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t stop moving. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t hold a thought for more than a few seconds. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t breathe. There were a million needles stabbing my body all the time, like I was electrified. My heart was constantly racing. My hands were constantly shaking. The journal I kept is mostly just scribbles, fragments of a lost mind. There were a lot of fragments, pieces that have reappeared in later notebooks in a more legible hand. I jumped from one thought to the next without any clear connection. It is the diary of a mad woman with song lyrics copied down for good measure. None of this mattered to me in the moment. I was happy, I was writing, and I also thought I was dying.

There were a lot of times I thought I was dying and my doctor just didn’t tell me, and I thought I would go right on living up until that point. Nothing else mattered. It was madness. I walked around life like a visiting tourist. There was no sense of reality, none whatsoever. Looking back, it all looks a lot more simple to figure out than the experience had been. I had fallen in love and didn’t yet know it. Turns out you don’t have to allow yourself to fall in love, but you do have to accept it before reason returns.

It’s a really big pill to swallow. Or maybe it’s not, I don’t know. This has never happened to me before. I had to claw myself out of the madness. Madness is not necessarily a good thing, but some of the greatest blessings come from madness. It has taken me this long to make some kind of sense out of the experience. Love has no concept of time. It was like I had woken up for the first time in a long time only to go back to sleep and wake up again to realize I had woken up the first time. Every day I literally woke up, it was like the previous day had been entirely blacked out from my mind. My memories returned, but my memory at the time wasn’t working at all. I was Dory from Finding Nemo. 

I was Lucy Whitemore in 50 First Dates.

Madness is a constant state of uncertainty. The only source of uncertainty for me was in writing. This is where I’ve found most of my blessings. I’ve left traces everywhere. I couldn’t stop writing, even though I didn’t always know what or why I was writing. There was a part of me that could recognize what was happening without being fully able to acknowledge it. I had seen something I hadn’t yet experienced. I didn’t have the language I needed to properly describe what I was experiencing. It came to me in fragments and almost completely lost among so many other mundane topics. 

I dropped out of time and space altogether. The days blurred together, and there were two times in the day: awake when the sun was up, and asleep when the sun was down. There were so many other things going on in my life that needed my attention that fell neglected by the wayside. There was this constant pressure of something that needed to be done, but I had no deadlines. Ecstasy is a hard feeling to describe, but easily recognized. It’s a trance-like state. There was an intense longing for I didn’t know what. The only word on my mind was more. More of whatever it was I had been feeling. It felt like something irretrievable had been lost to me. I called it my “voice” in writing over and over again.

Voice is connected to identity; my identity collapsed in on itself. I had fallen fast, and I had fallen hard. I was madly in love. I had surrendered myself into the madness and gave no thought to anything in my life. Madness rules when desire cannot be controlled. You can never trust someone in love to act sane. There’s an ingrained idea that the heart, not the mind, should be followed in matters of love.

This should never be done. Madness will ensue. 

Love also has to have an object. When all of this madness started, I had no fixed object in mind. In retrospect, I can re-read my mad diary and see how the points connect, but I couldn’t in the moment. I had lost all sense. There was a continuous cycle of falling in love and not wanting to be in that state of mind. The sweet side of love is standing on top of a mountain. The dark side is standing at the edge of a precipice. You are living your best life and dying at the same time. I also have to point out that this is from the perspective of a woman and never I had experienced lust to such an astonishing degree. Once I had a fixed object in mind, there was nothing that was going to stop me from possessing him.

Nothing.

That’s right, I knew him by lust first. Moderation was not in my vocabulary. Like I said, love has no concept of time. I started at the wrong end and traveled backwards. And actually, I hated him more first, too. These things never make sense. Only time ever tells.

I harassed him endlessly. Picked fights for no reason.  Stalked him online shamelessly. Stole all of his stuff. Read all the books beside his bed. All of them.  There was no stopping me. Desire is an irresistible force.

Love is not madness, though. Love is temperate. Someone in love also has to be someone in control. It took a long time for me to cool down. I had completely lost it for him the way I lost control over this essay. Love has driven strong women mad.

I went mad for a summer.

Proof

A picture every day
to remind me
of the way
I felt about you,
my brown-eyed gaze
holding every last bit
of proof

Not knowing what was
coming next,
what we were in for,
the early days of innocence,
opening every new door

Up with the sunrise,
coffee in a mug,
always ready for
a new surprise,
whatever came up,
nothing except the
two of us

A summer of madness,
blue skies above,
a feeling I won’t forget,
falling in love

The pictures haunt me, too
the eyes I had for you,
my brown-eyed gaze
holding every last bit
of proof

Amen

They said
there goes the strongest woman
this town has ever seen,
she could take on the world,
she can handle anything
No one knew
I prayed every night
just to make it through
one more day, one more week,
Dear Lord, just let me sleep
I wish I’d never seen
the plans you had for me,
want to lay down my knife,
said I’d lay down my life,
now I just want to die,
have someone else in
my corner this time,
chained to my pen
with a broken heart
that won’t mend,
time won’t erase
all the places I’ve been
and I just want to go
home to you tonight,

Amen.

Harmony

The night I stole your book
and never gave it back,
you kept my shirt,
and I’ll never forget that,
taking pictures all night,
in your arms until sunrise

I said
I’m not trying to get inside your head,
I want the best you have to give,
your brown eyes on my face,
clothes dropping to the floor,
a look I can’t erase,
somewhere we’ve never been before,
tangled in the sheets all in your bed
all the things I never said,
a side of me you’ve never seen,
just one kiss leading to more

I might never see you again,
but I’ll never forget the
music that we made,
a love like yours
and a love like mine,
making love together in harmony
for the first time.

Peace

There’s finally some peace,
never thought I’d find it again,
never thought I could be me,
watched my blood turn to ink,
remember the girl I used to be,
and it’s all gone now,
I’ll never get it back,
but I’m glad I said what I meant
when I said I loved you,
and meant you

The chains are finally broken,
I’m still me, spilled open,
not ashamed of my own face,
scarred by all the pain,
finally at peace
with you and me

You gave me the wings
I always knew I needed.

Mr. Perfect

Girls are programmed to find Mr. Right, the man who will sweep her of her feet and take away her breath, before riding off into the sunset together and carrying her over the threshold of their new house. Mr. Right meets every item on the checklist: he is tall, dark, handsome, funny, charming, and romantic. He is everything she has dreamed about since she was young. He listens when you speak, loves the food you cook, and he even helps you wash the dishes after dinner. Plus, he’s always home from work on time and never misses a scheduled date night.

The lucky girls learn about Mr. Right because her mother has married him. The rest of the girls learn about Mr. Right from the ones who have found him out in the wild. He is right because he fits the picture of him she has been filling in her whole life. Then one day she wakes up and realizes she is not the same girl anymore, and Mr. Right no longer fits the picture in her head. She forgot to think about Mr. Perfect. She has been told Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist, so she settles for Mr. Right, who is now all wrong for her. She is not happy anymore. She starts to think that if anyone can make her happy, it’s Mr. Perfect. She starts to believe that he is out there somewhere for her holding onto the happiness she so desperately craves. She knows herself better now. She knows what will make her happy, not yet who, so she starts drawing a new picture of Mr. Perfect.

Nobody is perfect, or so the saying goes. Mr. Perfect comes from the stuff of mythology. He is made up out of folklore.There are only stories about Mr. Perfect. Nobody has actually seen him. Mr. Perfect is soulmate material. He is made up out of the same stuff as you. He is rarely right, which is how so many girls miss him in the first place. He doesn’t fit the picture in your head at all. He’s not a single item on the checklist. He is not anything that can be dreamed or imagined.

He lives beyond the wildest imagination. It is so impossible to imagine he exists at all that the mind cannot even grasp his appearance when he materializes in a girl’s life. This is not who she was expecting. He is unorthodox and rude and unsettling. He doesn’t give off the same warm ooey-gooey feelings as Mr. Right. Mr. Perfect doesn’t sweep you off your feet; he pulls the rug out from underneath you. He only takes away your breath because he knocks you on your ass when he shows up unexpected and unannounced.

I know none of this sounds ideal. It’s a far cry from the idea of perfect we are all conditioned to have. The thing about falling in love is that it highlights all of our imperfections. This is what makes us so uncomfortable when he’s around. The last thing anyone wants is someone around who is constantly making us so aware of how we fall short in every way because that is how perfect they are. So perfect, it’s annoying and maddening. Humans are not programmed to spend time in front of things that make them uncomfortable, or next to someone who is flaunting their perfectness in your face.

This is why Mr. Right fits so much better. He says all the right things. He makes you feel all the right ways. You see him doing all the right stuff. He pushes you to be a better version of yourself. Mr. Perfect is so annoying because he’s content to just let you be. He lets you wallow in all your flaws and imperfections. He says nothing, just sits there modeling off his perfection.

What makes him so perfect, then? He is a reflection. Our reflection can only show us our imperfections. Only narcissists are in love with their own reflections. Mr. Perfect makes you run because you don’t want to have to stare at your reflection any longer than you have to. If Mr. Perfect was also Mr. Right, that would make him ideal.

Only Plato believes in ideal forms. The ideal man doesn’t exist. If he did, your brains would fall out. It would be from sheer awe that all this man is standing right before you. You’d lose your keys all the time because you don’t have any brains left to use. Instead of drawing a picture, you just want to scribble everywhere.

Mr. Right comes in like a knight in shining armor holding a sword. Mr. Perfect is armed with nothing but a glue stick so you can glue all your imperfect broken pieces back together yourself because he’ll never do this for you. Mr. Perfect lets you figure it out for yourself. The main difference is that Mr. Right knows who he is. He knows who you found. Mr. Perfect, on the other hand, has no idea who he is. He doesn’t understand who you’ve just found.

That’s why he is perfect.

December

I see your reflection
in every snowflake
that falls,
reminded every Christmas
I still remember it all

We went skating
downtown
at Millennium Park,
going around in circles,
until it finally got dark

We were drinking
hot cocoa
in an ice castle
wishing this night
would never end,
glowing lights
twinkling magical,
how hard you grabbed
my hand

and then you
kissed me,
right out in the open air,
the way that
you kissed me,
in front of everyone there

Took the air
right from my lungs,
can’t unsing a song
that’s been sung,
still see your face
when it snows,
remember how
the story goes
the way you clung
to my lips
like frost
on a window

Every year I
blow out my candles
and make a birthday wish
remember how it felt
so magical the way that
you kissed,
ever December,
another year older
and less over you
than ever,
forced to remember
the way that you
kissed me
in front of everyone
there,
the way that you
kissed me
like you didn’t even care

Even though
kissed me
slowly,
December still
gets so lonely,
still feel your
hands on my face, how I
didn’t even get
a piece of my own
stupid birthday cake,
still only see you
whenever it’s snowing,
your reflection
in every damn snowflake
still clinging to my lips

Every December
I remember you
before I make
a wish.

But I Said I’m Sorry

I treat emotional wounds like the breadcrumbs you sweep under the refrigerator when no one else is looking. Eventually, though, the fridge has to be moved for cleaning and there’s an even bigger mess to clean up that makes you wonder why you couldn’t have take a few extra moments to sweep up the rest of the crumbs and put them in the trash.

It’s like waiting for a wound to get infected before finally deciding to put a band-aid over it.

Time is supposed to heal all wounds. Time has not healed all my wounds, only lessened the pain, but it hasn’t dulled the memories. Pain is a memory. I might not forgive, I don’t hold a grudge, but I never forget. I don’t forget the feeling of betrayal, I don’t forget a forgotten birthday, and I will never forget the feeling of shock I felt after making plans with a significant other only to discover he had gone out of town without me. So many fights have ended with me crawling into bed crying my eyes out and begging him to tell me he’s sorry for hurting me.

But I never said those words. My mom used to say being sorry meant never doing the same thing over. I think that’s unrealistic. Humans are always going to hurt you. The problem is an unwillingness to admit to hurting. The number of relationships I’ve had has taught me less about love and more about what love is not.

Love is not guarded. I don’t believe love acts foolishly and takes unnecessary risks, either. When we hurt someone and refuse to acknowledge their pain, we risk losing someone forever. Love isn’t careless, and I have handled too many relationships carelessly. Saying sorry doesn’t let the other person know you’ve caused them pain. It’s a way of owning up to your actions. Vulnerability is implicit when loving another person. Love involves a certain kind of defenselessness. It’s opening up wounds to another person to let them know, Hey, you’re not alone.

This kind of thing is usually done in support groups, or between strangers. For some inexplicable reason, it’s somehow easier to pour your heart out to strangers. Maybe this goes to show how much we fear being judged, or losing someone else’s esteem all together. There’s nothing at stake with a stranger. The worst a stranger can do is walk away, and you’ll never see them again.

But you feel better for having told them.

Hurt hides in the deepest places. When someone says you’ve hurt them, they take the defensive. The opposite is letting down the walls long enough and becoming defenseless in front of them. There’s no guarantee the other person will care. My own experience has taught me that the other person has rarely, if ever, cared. It’s no wonder none of them have worked out. For me, it’s not really about how I think I deserve to be treated. It’s about how I can keep living with myself at the end of the day.

I’m the last person who wants to look back and see myself as broken. I don’t feel empowered by the number of times I’ve had to leave a relationship and start my life over again. I feel drained, used, and washed out. I fall into hopelessness. I get angry about how much time I’ve invested in doomed relationships. There’s nothing about any of them that makes me want them back, but there’s a part of me that mourns my old self, that wishes I would have cherished the innocence of never having been hurt in the first place. Nothing short of a miracle or a lobotomy would have changed the outcome. I don’t wonder if one thing would have been different, would it all be different. The truth I’ve had to accept is that most people, myself included, can’t or won’t be defenseless around the people they love the most out of fear of losing them or a part of ourselves forever.

There is not much about a person’s real self that makes them lovable. I’m not talking about flaws or shortcomings. I’m talking about the unchangeable aspects of a person’s soul, their scars and their stories, the things we will always remember them by. It’s one thing to know someone is proud or arrogant, and it’s another to understand where the arrogance comes from, and whether or not we think it’s justified. Love is incredibly evaluative.

There’s no chance of ever judging whether or not we love someone, until we know, exactly, what it is about them we are choosing to love.