Monday, July 18, 2016

Gossamer Rain

Now Playing: Nine Inch Nails - The Day The World Went Away (Still)

When we studied Shakespeare in ninth grade, I was one of those weirdly elitist kids who took pride in "knowing" what the real message of Romeo and Juliet was.

Maybe it wasn't unfounded. I watched Shakespeare in Love and I read New Moon and I heard the play be discussed by classmates; every time someone called it the most romantic story ever written, I did audible gags to ensure everyone knew how smart I was and how I "got" what it was trying to say.

In reality, I never reached any kind of conclusion about the play that I didn't already hear from someone else. It was also that, at fourteen, I understood what love was in theory. I understood that Love at First Sight was an impossibility, because love was this complicated, intense, powerful feeling you could only reach once you truly knew someone. You could never love someone you just met because you could never know who they truly were, what they wanted, how they behaved, their best, their worst. If you couldn't love a person's flaws, you couldn't love that person.

So I didn't know yet what "love" felt like, but I knew how to define it. Of course Romeo and Juliet wasn't about "real" love. They were too young, it was too quick. Infatuation isn't love and Shakespeare knew it and he's been widely misinterpreted, but I understood.

I knew better.

A few months into ninth grade, I started speaking with a guy who was four years my senior. He lived far away, but it didn't stop him from filling my head with sweet compliments and endless possibilities--about me, about us. He could be sweet and he had this air of superiority that ensured his infatuation with me became flattering; like only I was smart and intriguing enough to draw in his favor. Eventually, as things got more complicated between us, when he started on the insults and the aggression, I had this delusional sense of control. He could insult me, but it was okay, because I was strong enough to take it. He could trash my values and ideas, berate people who were like me or who shared my circumstances, and set me up to earn his affection--and it was okay, because I wouldn't let it get to me or I could take on the challenge. He would threaten suicide often and vacillate about the tragic circumstances surrounding his affection for me and how it was better to leave him but also how I saved him and believed in him, etc, etc, and it was like the difficulty of our relationship made it all the more real. I could truthfully, wholeheartedly, reassure him I would never leave him. Because I loved him.

I learned his flaws. His indecisiveness about us, his lack of empathy for others, his self-assurance to the point of delusion; I loved him with those imperfections. Which isn't to say I thought they didn't matter or that--as the cliche goes--they made him perfect. There was plenty about him that I hated. Mostly I hated how dismissive he was of my fears and my struggles. Because he wasn't apathetic towards them, he was more condescending, like it was all so silly compared to his own struggles.

But even with that, I did love him.  And he loved me too. This widely insecure, naive, directionless teenage girl. I figured we were perfect for each other because we were the right kind of fucked up for each other.

I was wrong, of course. It took me a while to see how destructive his words were. Took me even longer to realize a lot of his manipulative tactics and aggressive behavior could be labeled as abusive.

But the thing is, I've never questioned what we had together. I've never thought back on that relationship and concluded, "that wasn't love."

It probably wasn't given people's definition of what "real" love is. Love is respecting each other, caring for each other, wanting one another to be happy. Before I broke things off with him, there was a lot of hostility between us. More so than there had been in the beginning of our relationship. It's harder to manipulate a sixteen-year-old than it is to manipulate a fourteen-year-old, so when I truly did start fighting back, I managed to hurt him. Maybe not as much as he had hurt me, but enough that it made a difference.

Yet I'm sure a part of me still loved him through that, just as he loved me. Even at our worst, I know we loved each other. Even when I can label him as abusive, I can still say I loved him.

I was thinking about it on Wednesday.

Or no. Actually. I thought about it on Thursday. It was, after all, Thursday morning by the time I got back home and had time to consider it all.

Wednesday I dragged a boy I like--a boy who talked about cities and their colors with me, who gave me a Harley Quinn plushie--to the movie theater. Mostly to escape the horrifying Miami summer for a few hours. Near the end of that movie, he told me he wanted to say something but he was afraid it might scare me off. I thought this isn't going where I think it's going and encouraged him to just spit it out.

Then it went exactly where I thought it was going.

I heard his heart and I felt it too, hammering hard against his chest. He was trembling a little, and I realized this level of vulnerability--particularly so early on--was more than I could have ever expected. So I said very little. Thought very little too.

On the walk out, a bunch of words kept running through my head. The obvious ones were, no you don't no you don't no you don't no you don't.

The second set was really faint, way in the background, utter nonsense. Rain on the cobblestone. I don't remember where it came from, but it kept looping. As we were walking down the steps of Sunset mall. As we headed to an ice cream shop. As he explained floats to me--the horrifying, enticing, teeth destroying concept of combining soda with ice cream. Rain on the cobblestone, rain on the cobblestone, rain on the cobblestone.

It wasn't about the words, though. It was about the image. Rain calms me and saddens me. Makes me feel safe, makes me feel uneasy, makes me conflicted. I hate the rain and I love it. I've smiled and squealed and laughed in the rain, and I've wept in it because it hides the tears while its thunder masks the cries.

It should have scared me off--hearing him say that to me. Because it's so early and because I'm still so unsure and because I can't look at the future and be optimistic even though it's so early there are no visible, tangible flaws to tarnish any dreams or hopes or wishes. However unrealistic.

But it didn't scare me off. Because in the end, I have no idea what it really is. My only frame of reference for it was some fucked up, destructive relationship I managed to keep alive for two years despite all its efforts to implode. That relationship has time and the presence of imperfections on its side. I knew his flaws, he knew mine, and we tried to stay together, somehow, for as long as was possible. But is that love--because it was there for a while, because it developed slowly--more real than whatever infatuation I might have with another boy after just a few weeks?

I'm not trying to be naive. If anything, I can't help but think I over complicated things when I was younger. In the end, it's all chemicals and electrical impulses rattling us up inside, forcing words to run through our mind whether or not they make sense.

I'm not gonna tell this boy what he does or doesn't feel. I can't even tell him how I feel, and it might be a while before I figure that out.

But I'm not as frightened at this as I thought I would be. And maybe hindsight will bring me harsher thoughts and negative emotions, but it's okay now. I'm okay. Still cautious, still unsure, still a little frightened. But like I'm allowed to be those things for now. Because it's real for him and it's a possibility for me and we're allowed to be right about it now and wrong about it later.

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