Not so long ago, in a late night conversation over nothing important, someone told me that he has never been in love. I looked at him skeptically. I should have asked, not even young love? But I didn’t. As a general rule, I am great at analyzing failed unions; or providing strategy to land the next big catch. Love is always a project; referred to in the past or future, seldom, if ever, in the present. So I don’t take the bait for conversations about love in the present tense willingly. It’s not for the lack of trying, Ijah, he said. It’s more like I am resigned to the fact that all my loves are superficial. They’re just on the surface, at best. After a certain point of time, I feel hollow and tired. It’s different for you, he said. You took your time. You dragged your feet. And when you’re sure, you’re absolutely sure.
I smiled nervously. Talking about love always makes me a tad uncomfortable because it requires reciprocity. I tell you my horror stories, you tell me yours. I never know how much is too much.
I didn’t know what to say then. But if I had the chance again, this is what I’d tell him.
I was 15 and sitting in the middle of the dining hall, waiting for the dinner bell to ring. There was about 4-5 female seniors sitting one table away. I have no idea why I was so eager to have an early dinner but somehow I found myself in the middle of an empty dining hall and there was nothing better to do but to eavesdrop on the conversation that was going on one table away.
They were talking animatedly, hands were flying everywhere in overly dramatic gestures to emphasis their points. From what I could make out, one of the girls was having a mega huge crush on a boy, and she was lamenting on the incredible feeling of being so consumed by emotions that she could not imagine being able to love anyone else ever. I remember looking down at my notebook, smiling a little and writing “it’s strange how a small thing like the heart can open up and expand to swallow up your whole being,”. Years later, I used that line in one of my songs.
When I first came to that school 2 years earlier, on the first week of orientation itself, a boy started to follow me around. The boys in my homeroom thought it was amusing, and embraced the boy like he was one of our own. He was invited to our homeroom meetings, he hung out with the rest of us during our outings, we never spoke but the tacit understanding between us was that this arrangement, strange as it was, was fine as long as it didn’t cause any trouble. Literally, we never spoke. Even after he left school 3 years later. But for the longest time he followed me around. It wasn’t even stealthy. It was all out in the open. Once, and only once, one of the boys in my homeroom said, cut him some slack, he just wants to get to know you better. But not long after I got into a lot of trouble because of this boy. Girls, you know. They can be mean without meaning to. So one day, I went ballistic and told him, in a very rude way, to leave me alone. And he did.
For the longest time, I felt bad about what I did but I justified it by telling myself, well, he brought it upon himself. If through some stroke of luck he’d be reading this, here’s my I-am-sorry for the terrible way I behaved. I was young and didn’t know any better but it was no excuse to be mean to a person who wished nothing but good things for you. So, I am sorry. You know who you are.
But I digress. This backstory is important because I understood even way back then how love, young love more so, can be irrational and crazy and impulsive and inexplicable. It may be frivolous, but yes, the heart can expand to swallow up your whole being. As you grow older, you learn to steel yourself against it. You reason, you argue, you resist. Somewhere, you keep an escape clause handy. For some reason, as you grow older, it becomes scarier to give up control that way; the way that requires a kind of reckless abandon that only youth would allow.
But….. that’s not true.
Because you know, at any time, if only you’d allow it even just for a little bit, you’ll be 15 all over again. Til then, you will always be scratching at the surface.
Tonight, many years after those incidents took place, I knew that’s what I should have told him.
Happy Valentine’s Day.