Crazy Little Thing

You want me to tell you what I know about love?  Everything?  In fifteen minutes?  Well, grab a seat, then, and let's get started.

Early on, when I was just barely old enough to dress myself but not old enough to understand how badly I was doing it, "love" was just a word you mouthed to someone in response to their saying it to me. 

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

Ok, maybe that part hasn't changed all that much, but back then I had no clue what concept I was belittling by ritualistically repeating the sounds.  "Love" was a girl thing.  My sister wanted to name her tabby kitten "Heart" or "Love."  She eventually named him "Tiger Lily" and he chased off my white tom.  Go figure.

I guess love must be most easily described by its absence because I can't remember a whole lot of things that I make me think of "love" from when I was a kid, but I also don't recall any lack of it.  Does that make any sense?  We lived in the same house from when I was four until I graduated high school.  My folks and my sister were there for me, and no one really yelled at each other, at least not within my limited range of hearing. 

I had some friends whose parents split up and that seemed weird to me, but not scary, since I knew my parents had the perfect marriage and would be together forever.  You can probably guess how that will end.  But at the time?  My parents both took an interest in my interests and I never had to beg them to spend time with me and I never questioned how they felt about me.  That was love.  I wouldn't have called it that at the time, but sure, that's what it was.

Of course, my parents did split up when I was in high school and I thought I was too grown up for it to affect me.  I was all kinds of wrong, of course.  It wasn't that my parents didn't love me anymore, but they certainly had other things to deal with.  My father moved out and my mother went back to work.  Hey, it was a different time, you know?  Anyway, my schoolwork went down the tubes and I kind of lost focus on what I was going to do with myself.

On the other hand, my parents' divorce brought me and my sister together in a way that might not have happened otherwise.  It was the two of us against the world, or, at least the two of us against our parents.  Instead of trying to get each other in trouble, we covered for each other.  My sister's love has been a lifesaver for me and I don't care who knows it.

About this time I started trying my hand at romantic love.  What a mess.  First of all, even the least-macho teenage boy is a mess of hormones.  We genuinely believe that our intense desire to wrestle with that girl in the back of her '72 Impala is "true love."  No lie.  We believe it.  I know I did.  If you believe it with all your heart, is it love?  Hell if I know, but it's a good question.  I sure thought it was at the time.

Eventually, I formed an idea of love that put romance up on a pedestal.  I would succeed where my parents had failed.  I would find The Right Girl, romance the daylights out of her, get married, and stay together for the rest of our lives.  That was my purpose in life.  That was my goal.  You have guessed that making another person the purpose of my life isn't a wise thing to do and isn't particularly fair to that person.  Good catch.  Wish you'd been there when I needed to hear it.  Not that I would have listened, but still.

Here's how I thought love worked.  There was a girl I worked with back then.  Beautiful girl, smart as hell.  Her mom was a professor at a university.  She was nice to me, and I was kind of shy, so any girl is nice to me, I think she likes me, right?  We talk a lot, I make a point of trying to hang out where she's hanging out.  I don't ever actually ask her out, of course.  No, she's got a thing for one of the cooks.  But still, I figure, if I'm nice to her, and we spend a lot of time together, she'll start to have the same feelings I'm having. 

She moves overseas for a while.  We write letters, back and forth, back before there's an internet, a couple of times a week.  I'm smitten.  This is how it's supposed to work, right?  Courtship and all.  We send care packages back and forth.  Only, you know, I've never asked her out, or even talked about my feelings.  At the time, I just thought I was being patient.  Now I know better.  I was afraid that, if I said anything, she'd say she didn't feel the same way and I'd lose this marvelous romance I'd constructed.  Dumb, sure, but that was me as a kid, you know?

Anyway, she met a guy over there.  They got married.  I think she'd already met him when she came back home and I visited and finally mumbled something about how I felt about her.  She didn't have the same feelings.  Go figure.  Anyway, I figure I loved her.  Maybe I just loved the romance and the idea I had of what we would be like together.  It's tough to tell the two apart.

This was pretty typical of me through my mid-thirties.  My friends were always there for me.  They wouldn't tell me how dumb I was being until the bubble had burst and we had a few beers in us.  But they were there.  That's love, isn't it?  And my sister.  Always there.  In bad times, we'd go outside and just walk and talk for hours on end.  I couldn't tell you how many times she talked me back from a ledge of some sort.

So then I met my wife.  We hit it off real well and we had the same immediate goals.  We wanted to get married.  Man, I gotta tell you, when two people who see marriage as a goal get together, things happen fast.  We dated five months before we got engaged.  We got married and bought a house and moved in and...well, it turns out that marriage and living together are harder than my Disney-fed mind could have imagined.  Remember, my goal was to be a great husband.  It turns out that, if that's your only goal, you're a terrible husband.

We got divorced about a year later.  I was crushed, partially from the loss of a relationship I wasn't ready to believe was over, and partially from losing my whole purpose in life.  So much for succeeding where my parents failed. I lot of my ideas about love and marriage broke around that time.  Which, in hindsight, was for the best.  Marriage isn't the end zone of life and love doesn't make everything easy, let alone perfect.  I know this is probably obvious, but I'm a lot more naive than I let on.

Like I said, everything broke, but, in doing so, it let me rebuild my ideas about what love was.  I moved down here and started fresh and, honestly, I've never been happier.  I mean that.  That old view of love was a burden.  I was lonely at first and I got a cat.  Great cat.  Never had a better cat.  He was the very picture of unreserved, unconditional love.  He'd just hop up on your lap and dare you to be unhappy.  Coming home to a cat that loves you is a lifesaver when you're down. 

I miss that cat.  I came home after work to find him quiet and still one afternoon, about a year ago.  I can't remember being sadder.  I probably have been, but it was a sharp and stabbing pain of loss.  I've never been a parent, but losing someone or something that's dependent on you is hard and no matter how good a parent you are, you ask yourself questions.  I still get tears thinking about him.  He was the best.

Romantically, I think I do better now.  I don't have those awful expectations that someone's love is going to fix my life.  I don't think anything is has to be perfect to be worth loving, and I don't think I have to be perfect to be worthy of love.  Hate that word, "perfect."  Love isn't about perfection, and it isn't even about loving someone despite their imperfections. It's about loving their imperfections, maybe. 

It's also about being brave enough to pay the price of admission.  When I came home and found my cat, still and cold, on my sofa, I've never felt pain like that.  But when you love someone or something, you're signing up for that pain.   Maybe you live your whole life with someone, but even then, one of you is going to die first.  That's just how it works.  If you can't deal with that, love isn't for you.