I’m thirteen, love is a girl and a phone. She calls everyday like clockwork and I pretend I don’t look forward to it. I hold my breath hoping she sees through my pointless ruse. My friends still think girls are uncool and I nod silently in agreement. I think she is amazing, cute, and the way her hair falls into her eyes makes me smile in a stupid way. Feelings that I won’t understand for a few years overfill my heart; I just know I’m happier when I see her face, or hear her voice than when I’m alone. She says “I love you,” and I say “I love you.” We don’t really know what that means but it’s a moment that will remain in my heart forever, and I pull it out when I need to smile in a stupid way.
I’m fifteen and love is a chameleon. I shape, mold, and color myself to fit whichever girl’s eyes I happen to catch. I’m a counterfeit bill in a bank vault, and I hold back paranoia that they’ll notice my minute, but meaningful differences. I close my eyes, this jersey doesn’t quite fit right, but she likes jocks. I shift my weight, and I’m lighting a beautiful girl’s cigarette. She’s telling me why they just don’t understand us. I’m holding a pale hand, and she’s explaining her savior to me; He will help me, then she can love me. I smile right on script. I step back to catch my breath, my friends say it’s all bullshit, they say I’m ok. I wonder if they see my skin struggling to keep its shape.
I’m eighteen and love is lust. My bed has never been warmer with her skin pressing on my side. This car has never gone faster with her hand tracing shapes through my hair, and my hand trying to repeat them on her thigh. “Can you even remember the last time we talked about something serious?” She asks again. I trace the curves of her body with my hand because it makes her feel good, because I can’t remember. I hesitate. “I love you.” I say. She hesitates. “I love you too.” We mean every syllable. We just needed to be sure it was mutually assured destruction.
I’m twenty-one and love is buried under an avalanche of anxieties. I placed each worry haphazardly in the back of my mind until the weight crashed down on my head. Underneath it all there isn’t much room to breath, and I’m grateful for every quick breath. I’m grateful for the pills that keep my shaky legs ambling out the door, they keep my body sturdy while the spirit crumbles. The doctors tell me how much to take, and my heart screams to take more. I don’t fit my body anymore, and every smile feels awful. Each is grotesque, they look almost right, but are flawed in deeply fundamental ways. My heart is buried so deep in my hate, I don’t really notice the missing beat.
I’m twenty-seven and love is trepidation. Every hug from a family member, every friend I talk to, every pretty girl who smiles as she passes, threatens to lift me up; I’ve worked hard to build my home out of the rocks here at the bottom. I don’t want to feel the warmth or see the bright colors of the sun just to plummet back down. My eyes have finally adjusted down here. I have no love for misery, but we’ve formed an understanding.
– Austin Stark