He cupped my cheek in his hand and said, “You are beautiful, and I love you.”
I knew he was looking at me, but my eyes refused to meet his. I didn’t even know what those words meant anymore. What had I been taught of love except that it was a bargaining chip? I knew I had loved. I knew I had been loved, but the meaning had been lost over the years. Or maybe I’d never understood it in the first place.
Looking back, it was difficult to distinguish whether, I’d misinterpreted love or had simply meant something different. Maybe it carries a different meaning for everyone which would explain a lot. There was a general, all purpose definition and then there were all the re-interpretations through metaphor and whatnot.
I knew what I meant when I told my family I loved them. I knew what I’d meant when I’d told the men in my life I loved them. The nagging question in my mind remained how I’d interpreted their interpretations. Over analyze much? Yeah, I do, but I’m making up for too many years of trying not to think at all.
Like with any human being, youth had given me too many excuses to be impulsive. Okay fine, but that time had passed. On to dealing with the consequences – not to mention dealing with the consequences of dealing with the consequences. Never ends, does it?
“I know it’s relationship suicide to tell you that,” he smiled, “I know how you feel about those words.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about much of anything these days,” I shrugged, “Everything use to seem so clear, but after the last few years…I just don’t know anymore.”
“Like you always tell me,” he replied, “It comes down to what you really want.”
“I know what I think I want,” I whispered trying not to break down, “but what I think I want doesn’t ever end up being how I thought I wanted it.”
Two of the most significant relationships that I’d been involved in had twisted the word “love” to point of being unrecognizable. With my father, it had become an obligation of gratitude. With my husband, it had become a bargaining chip to get what he wanted. Both used materialism as a means of expression. Both had claimed they’d saved me and knew what was in my best interest. Both were mired in manipulation and were based on the unspoken condition that if I loved them, I would do what they wanted.
In the end, the mechanism behind both had become glaringly clear, “Give me what I want or I’ll punish you and take it away.”
A repeat of the past definitely wasn’t what I wanted. It had taken roughly half my life to break away from the tendency to mold myself almost completely to another person’s needs. I was determined not to fall into the trap again.
“It’s up to you,” he said, “but I figure we just see how it goes.”
It seemed simple enough, but it was like I could see down the road all the way to its end. I already knew exactly how things would turn out because I recognized my own behavior patterns. After that, human nature would would take care of the rest.
“I already know how it will go,” I said, “We’ll be fine for a while, then I’ll start seeing red flags and get skittish. I’ll start pushing you away. If you don’t leave, then I’ll make it impossible for you to stay. If you still insist, then I’ll find a reason to walk away.”
“That’s your baggage talking,” he replied, “because you always see a trap closing in. I know you’re worried about your freedom and not just freedom to come and go, but freedom to be what you are – to become something else if you choose to.”
“I know,” was all I could say as I looked down at my hands.
“I’m not here to change you,” he smiled and reached for my hand, “If the time ever comes when you need to leave, I’ll understand, but for now just know you don’t have to be alone. “
“Then where are we going with this?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, “Unlike you, I don’t see the inevitable. Just know that I’m not here to plan out your life or push my goals on you. I don’t believe in that sort of thing. The way I see it, we exist separately but we’re there for each other. Simple.”
“You make it sound so,” I laughed, “but you know I’m wary of “simple” because I’ve seen the damage it can do.”
Nudging my shoulder, he smiled knowingly and said, “And you’ve seen what over complicating things can do, too.”
Perhaps, he was right. The previous years had taken such a toll, but I’d somehow made it through despite all my fears. On some level, I’d even managed to thrive. Why did this one subject make me feel so defeated?
“Honestly, I’m tired of thinking about it,” I sighed.
“Then don’t,” he replied, “I know you hate answers like this, but things will turn out to be the way they need to be. I understand your need to feel in control, but sometimes you just have to let things be.”
Exhausted, I laid my head on his shoulder, closed my eyes and dreamed of the possibilities.