Falling in love was easy. If it were a test I would have got an A+. I had watched the movies, listened to the right music, had practiced looking strong and manly in the mirror; biting slightly at my cheeks to make myself look fierce. I was prepared. Ready. Come at me, Love, show me what you’ve got.
And it did.
But not in the way I was expecting. It came in the form of Cíntia, a pocket sized Brazilian with eyes that turned ice to water; water to ice. You’re a tricky little fucker, Love, I thought, I’ll give you that.
We were in North Carolina, both doing a year abroad. The Irish poet falls for the beautiful Brazilian. A movie script of sorts. I wrote lengthy, metaphor-laden sonnets and watched out of the corner of my eye as she read them.
I remember the first movie we watched: Moulin Rouge. Camped out in her dorm room, the floor a fortress of blankets and pillows, our legs twiddling, our hands snatching at the other’s body, our kisses all tongue. And then I dozed off, my weight leaning against Cí’s until I was woken with a slap.
‘I hate when people sleep during movies.’
I thought being woken like this was cute, I thought her charming. I thought it would have made a funny scene in some silly movie. If she did that to me now, I’d probably throw her out the window. Love changes.[pullquote]Movies don’t show the awkwardness of love, the prolonged silences between fighting phrases, the constant uncertainty of knowing who your lover is, of knowing who you are.[/pullquote]
The problem with the movies is they skip through the difficult parts. The sex scenes end with an orgasm instead of the woman cupping at herself and skipping off to the bathroom. They don’t show the awkwardness of love, the prolonged silences between fighting phrases, the constant uncertainty of knowing who your lover is, of knowing who you are. They breeze through the insecurities of love with a mirage of images set to an old Joni Mitchell track and then love is big and fat in the faces of everyone, once again.
It’s not like that.
For starters, there’s the distance of love.
After the year was done, I had to go back and finish my degree, as did she. We were twenty-one; children scrambling to be adults. We dreamt in the romanticism of it all. We believed that our love would survive unscathed and grow stronger. That our love was better than yours. Yes, much better. We fooled ourselves into thinking that the love we felt for each other was more than that of another couple; that our sex was in another league; that we understood each other in a way that others simply couldn’t. Then we had to separate, peel ourselves from each other. Distance makes the heart grow fonder? Bullshit. Distance scratched and tore at my heart until it resembled more a dog’s chew-toy. Distance pasted its ugly, smitten face on strangers, on waitresses, on my family and friends, until everything became a stark reminder that I was thousands of kilometers from the one I loved.
Sitting at my desk, loading Skype, counting the time difference between us and wondering if she still loved me: this became a pattern. I can’t say how many times I checked her Facebook page, and each new photo with any man present was reason enough for me to open the whiskey. I don’t need this shit. And then I’d think of those eyes, or those freckles on her shoulders, or the way she’d say, “Dream with me”, and I’d crumble under the weight of memory.[pullquote]Distance pasted its ugly, smitten face on strangers, on waitresses, on my family and friends until everything became a stark reminder that I was thousands of kilometers from the one I loved.[/pullquote]
And the year in North Carolina was proof to me that time is anything but linear. It’s got some sneaky relationship with love – they are both playing us all for fools. A year (my shit – more like three months!), and then it was back to whatever had come before. We were faced with the looming, insurmountable question: what now?
And the easy option was heartbreak. A story to tell in years to come. An elongated fling. A trophy picture that I was able to hook-up with a ridiculously beautiful girl-woman. It’s what I think was expected of us. Our parents thought our relationship was cute but incomprehensible. Our friends thought it a long shot. We – well, we didn’t think. We were in love. So we stuck it out. Months of Skyping, and emailing, and using Google Translate to see what males were writing on her Facebook page. I remember once I signed into her Facebook. (Yes, another one of love’s sins – I had figured out her password and surveyed everything from a silent distance.) I read an email in Portuguese from some handsome, buff, bearded Brazilian. (I was, and am, scrawny and beardless.) Google Translate told me what I needed to hear: ‘The news will leak in December.’ Now, I took that for an affair. It was there in front of my eyes. My biggest insecurity put into black and white. Of course there was much more to the context of this email, but Google Translate has its limits.
And I felt like a fool. Like that kid in the playground with his pants pulled down with all the other kids circling around him, laughing and pointing. It was my own fault anyway, I told myself, for believing that I could manage to make someone so incredible fall in love with me.
I mean, what is that?! How can an emotion toil with you with such ease; make you feel no more than toenail clippings; and why did it make me feel the need to prove myself?!
And that – falling in love – that’s the easy part: the long-distance whining of love.
But being in love, staying in love, continuing to feel what it is we think we should feel – that’s the hard part. That year in North Carolina was seven years ago. Again, time playing all kinds of crazy tricks on me, with love in the corner pissing its pants laughing.
Now we are married, we have a dog, we bought an apartment, we live in Brazil. And we are faced with the daily challenges of love. The minute mediocrities of life that seem to suck at us from all angles.
There are the loveless periods that sneak their way into our lives. Days, waking to go to work, then arriving home to see that the plates have not been cleaned and the dog has not been walked. And I haven’t showered yet – neither have I – ok, you go first while I walk the dog. And then there is time to brush our teeth and look at each other from the mirror to make sure we still exist. And then there is bed. Sleep. And then another day, full of things to do, things that feel more suited to my father – or your father, or anyone’s father – than to me.
And there are the moments when I catch a glimpse of myself and those old insecurities come running on back, trampling me.
And the moments when I lean over in bed and grab at her.
‘Stop,’ she says, ‘I’m exhausted.’
And the moments when she leans over in bed and grabs at me.
The moments in which she brushes her teeth while I sit on the toilet and we speak about our days while checking Facebook or Instagram on our phones.
When I kiss at her neck and she says, ‘That tickles,’ and moves my lips to her lips. I think of how that changed, of how she used to love it; it used to be the easiest way to turn her on. I think of how we change, individually, how life around us changes us even though we push hard against it, forcing ourselves not to change. I imagine myself in a hailstorm of change and I am clinging to trees, and each step is monumental; and somewhere close by Cí is doing the same, and I wonder how anyone can stay in love with all that change happening against our will. And how many things about me have changed, and will she continue to love me, will she love all the changes that are still to come?[pullquote] I think of how we change, individually, how life around us changes us even though we push hard against it, forcing ourselves not to change.[/pullquote]
And then those periods turn to drought. A comfortableness returns, strides into the room and sits on the sofa and we lie on it, and every leaf on every tree is as it should be. We can change the world once more. Love has become our ally. We know how fickle it is so we dive into what comes. Wine flows and all the disagreements become nonsense. Such nonsense. And she understands me again. We are hand in hand in a blizzard and it is her hand that warms mine, and mine that warms hers. And I have never felt such soothing; a lightness in knowing that I exist and that she loves me for existing. The burdens of being adults have, too, become nonsense. It is all such nonsense, I tell her. This is what matters.
My words mix in the air with hers and it is hard to recall who said what. That unstoppable feeling is once again breathing inside us and the world shrivels against us; distance is an abstraction; time has fled.
‘I love you,’ I tell her and I want the words to truly mean something. I want to make them sound as if these three words had never been put in this order before, as if I have invented the phrase.
She smiles and her teeth are purpled from wine and I love her more than all the times I have told her before; more than the first time we said it in Boston, more than those breathless utterances after sex, more than when we are forced to say it, when the other needs to hear it.
‘Did you know,’ I start, now speaking in Portuguese, ‘that there is one language that has 96 words for love?’
‘Really! I never knew that. It’s not as if it’s the 96th time you are telling me!’ And those purple teeth are so perfect I could cry.