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I’m Not Good at Love Stories MAG
I grew up in what was later labeled for me as une famille anglaise typique. My brother, parents, and I were a close-knit unit, and we Loved each other with the Love typically attributed to our nuclear state. I’ve always found it funny and convenient that “nuclear” is a word used to describe both bombs and families – like the people who thought things up had wanted to draw our attention to the fact that we were always a touch away from detonation, a mere countdown from demolition.
Mummy blew me full of buck-shots; her Love was fired in rounds. Each cartridge of anger settled deep but left only pleasant traces behind. The bullets lodged beneath my skin, etched with Protection and Compassion and Parenting, and those words bled into my immune system so that I knew how to identify hatred and remove its threat from my body.
But if you’d asked me about Love, I would have said that Daddy rubbed it through my hair when he said “Good night” so that it crept through my dreams while I slept. I would have told you how I’d clung to the playground fence until my brother came to tell me that it was okay to let go. I might have said that it was an underrated ingredient in Mummy’s baking, one that she kept in a cupboard all by itself. I would have passed you as many clichés as you could bear, and I would have delivered them all in the half-smiling manner of a typical intelligent six-year-old girl.
It’s not that we don’t continue to Love each other, but on all of our to-do lists we manage to exclude the most important one: Love Yourself. Even when we remember the task’s existence, we procrastinate until something easier comes along. We overlook ourselves – and yet people still say that humans are selfish creatures.
It’s not simply because self-deprecation is in fashion (although it is) or merely because we want to draw pity from those who watch our lives (although we do). It is with the utmost sincerity that my friend and I agree that “if I were my friend, I’d loathe me.”
She says, “Sometimes I’m scared that my friends don’t actually like me, because I can only see myself as annoying.”
I say, “That’s not a ‘sometimes’ thing, Evelyn.”
Love. It’s such a difficult thing to hold on to, like an idea or an aftertaste. She laughs and asks, “Do you think we’ll ever grow up?”
And I ponder this for a while. I know that we’ll grow old, but that’s not the same thing. I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of my petulance and fantasies and idiocies and excuses.
“Not really. I don’t want to, to be honest.”
“Me neither. Everyone wants to fast-forward to prom and then hold time there like, like – I dunno – like you’d hold someone’s hand.”
“It’s just an awkward excuse for dressing up and standing around pretending to look pretty.”
“You going with anyone?”
“Of course not.” I hope she isn’t either. I want to carry on being two lonely, ignorant, inexperienced best friends who’ve never been kissed.
“You should go with Alex.”
“Why, because we’re both short?” I quip. But I know how stepped-on I’ll feel when he turns up at prom with a tie in a shade that fits my dress and an arm around some other girl.
When I was nine, I followed an instruction manual for making a Secrets Box, and the first secret I squirreled away was his name. I wrote it on a piece of paper and punched hearts into it with my red pen.
These days, we’ve taken to exchanging banter in class, and I always make sure that I never make too much eye contact in case of humiliation. I busy myself with the fear that if he looked at me too closely, he’d realize that I was staring back at him with my nine-year-old self. He’d recognize in my face that I still have the Secrets Box, empty except for his name, and although I don’t quite believe that I’m in love with him, I know that I smile inside when we have good conversations. I know that if he asked me to prom I’d say yes, and not just because he’s the only boy with whom I’m on eye level.
“It’d be cute,” she says, and I lean away, holding up my hands as a protest and a shield.
And here I go again, hating myself once more, because I have absolutely no intention of telling her that I keep my heartlike Secrets Box. I confide enough in her to say that I don’t care for myself, but I starve myself of honesty when it comes to caring for someone else.
I don’t know much about Love. I know that there are four types – philia, storge, eros, agape – but who could say exactly where those four filter into my life? I know that I “love” Rolos and I “love” beaches and I “love” the smell of pencil shavings and good books, but the truth is that when it comes to Love, I’m a Sherbert Love Heart that’s been left to dissolve in a glass-jar ocean. I’m a Cadbury’s Dream that’s been allowed to melt itself out. I’m a Strawberry Lace that someone likes to chew the end of.