Love is Grammy walking away from Pop’s casket and knowing she’ll never love again. As it goes. Love is the same thing you’ve heard before. It is not an alien invader. It is the book you already read, the genre fiction you found all the flaws in, the literary technique repetitive and tiring. Love is the shameless ripoff. It is the lines of literature directly quoted to fool and impress. Love is kidnapping Tao Lin’s “Love is…” short story titles, adopting Robert Penn Warren’s laborious, comma-ridden consciousness, and passing it off as ingenuity that of which the world has never seen. Every person tells every other person their love is unique. Love is not unique.
Love is the cat laying on your ribcage in the morning. Love is the poking elbow. Love is walking into the woods behind the apartment complex or crossing the water to the houseless side of the lake and finding that beer cans exist there, too. Love may or may not be your first kiss, but it’s where your first kiss was – a place already conquered and civilized by generations before you learned how silly smooching was. Love is when you drive by your old house in your old hometown that you had moved away from seventeen years ago and still feel a sense of ownership not over the item but over your memories (“It’s still mine to me”). Love is not only the ever-present Living God but also the Dead One. It is the nap in the backseat. The nap in the backseat while the hot air balloons pass over. It is the meaning of memory.
Love is mewithoutYou. More specifically love is mewithoutYou when they are the only band you really listen to and they’re just a group of guys on a bus that can break down or drive off a railless mountain pass and kill the music with it and you’re forced to drive home alone from the cancelled concert listening to hushed voices on talk radio. But most of the time love is when Aaron puts his arm around you and forces you to look him in the eyes.
Love is not a DVD collection but is seen within the DVD collection when any movie you play conjures specific moments in a friend’s basement, your first viewing of a film that changed your life, a joke delivered perfectly after an epic hero’s monologue. Love is writing a good critical paper and feeling proud of it, and it’s also skipping an assignment to watch the sunrise. Love is never about violence or abuse or punching a friend in the gut, but occasionally it’s about you getting punched in the gut and dropping to your knees, looking up to find the perpetrator, and finding no one in sight. Love is divine revelation and what we pretend is divine revelation.
Love is above the river on the train tracks on the bridge you can barely make out from miles away. It is the impromptu trip to nothing. The romantic element of adventure. It is also the routine. Love is between dusty graduate theses and it is in the steam coming from Miso Sushi. Love is the tympanic membrane getting the news of the day. Love is accountability. Love is me being wrong and thinking damn, damn, later, I guess I was. It is always the truth. It is always nature.
Love is the salat on kitchen floor tiles. The phone call from the cops. The firemen who stepped foot in your living room. Love is the crazed fervor, the sleep, and then no longer the crazed fervor. Love is writing a joke on a sheet of notebook paper and watching her take it seriously. Then the smile as you lie on the couch and realize what’s really happening. Love is too long for a Tinder profile. It’s also too short for life.
I believe I have given up on love as performative showmanship. I do not value immediate gratification as I once did. I am less focused on labels, of “in love” versus “not in love.” I no longer toss and turn about virginity and conquests. Love, however, is not hypocrisy and I am in all likelihood a hypocrite. But I am just a sign and never the signified. I am not the thing to hold onto, though I hope to do my best in maintaining the greater thing to hold onto. I am no easy task, no warm, enveloping blanket, no divine revelation. Just a messenger. Love is making it up as you go along. Love is what you’ve done all along.
Love is the slow, stumbling steps up my stairs. It is the knock. Love is the trembling thighs as you hear Him walk towards the door. Love is the abject terror of The List of Sins, the document he surely made to judge your character. Love is planting your feet like the roots of a tree and not budging even in the face of annihilation, determined to stand up against whatever Love isn’t. Love is forgiveness. But the greatest Love of all is forgetting. We all forget.