Love will never be as strong as when you're sixteen and you're carving the boy's name in to your desk, pencil or forearm depending on how cute he is. I've always wondered why people say things like "puppy love" or "infatuation" when this is truly the time you feel that you will never be able to breathe again without your love, let alone laugh or even sing.
My first love was Micky. He was slim, dark and nineteen-years-old. I was four. But even now I remember how I clung to his knees, sobbing, when it was time to go. After all, who would take me swimming in the pond? Or to see newborn puppies? Or throw stones onto a pile of rocks with me? Micky was an adventurer, a dark soul, a seeker of stories. He was also our hosts' cook. But what is profession when compared with real love? Someday I'd grow up and become a cleaner. Micky would cook. And together we would raise crocodiles and walk them around on leashes.
"I blank-called his house repeatedly. I pined. Imagine what I could have done with Facebook in those days!"
It's not like I never moved on. I did. Ahil was my classmate. Everyday, his mother packed him a box of pomegranate seeds for snack time. And he'd feed me seed by seed till every last jewel was over. By the time we turned eight, the relationship was over. But he had told a common friend that he had once intended to marry me.
And then, I was sixteen, and he was seventeen. We were getting married. Only, he didn't know it. When it finally hit me that I had been girlfriend-boyfriend with a fantasy, I was destroyed. I hid in my room for days. I stopped eating. I took a knife to a couple of stuffed toys. I blank-called his house repeatedly. I pined. Imagine what I could have done with Facebook in those days! What was hardest back then was facing the fact that even though I had given him my innocent pink heart on a satin cushion with a talking teddy that I said, "I love you" in three different languages, he still preferred girls in knee-high boots who could roll a joint as neatly as they could put on lipstick. That he would rather go dancing than deconstruct Garcia Marquez.
Time passed. And I have learned a more realistic, practical definition of love from watching endless rom-coms, replaying 'the speech' - the bit when he admits his love to the girl (because, in a good rom-com, he has to be the one to give 'the speech', even if she the one who chases him down). At least I have learned that 'the speech' never comes, but the occasional foot rub does, the birthday breakfast does.
I am empowered enough to know that a dozen roses will not make me feel loved as much as a splurge at a spa will. I am resigned, but not bitter, to the fact that my love is not going to turn cartwheels over my specially cooked dinner, eye me lasciviously in my dangerously skimpy towel or even say thank you when I make him a surprise cup of tea.
Valentine's Day comes around. Adrenaline begins to pump. Anxiety rises. Should I make the plan or should I make him do it? If I'm "making" him do it, then I have a problem, right? I shouldn't have to make him do it. He should want to do it. He should want to show me his love. And if he doesn't then why am I forcing him? Maybe he isn't showing his love because there is no love to show. He doesn't love me. Worst-case scenario begins to raise its head from where it has been belly-crawling through stony terrain in preparation for disaster. If I have to leave the love who doesn't love me, I have to go to a friend who can keep me for at least a few days before I can find my feet. Friend A? Nope. Married with kids. Aunt B? Nope. Too many questions. Colleague C: Maybe. Smokes too much ganja but maybe I can keep the windows opened so I don't die of drugs. Friend D: Ah. Perfect. Single. And already hates my love. She'll understand more than anybody why I have to do this. Why I need to walk out on this man who doesn't buy me flowers, hasn't even given me a birthday card since he married me, and uses me only for my tea-making ability. I should have listened to her ten years ago when she said he was wrong for me.
Now I am stretch-marked and jaded and no one else will have me except for Friend D, who is anyway unmarried so doesn't care whether I will cry on her couch for one month or be stoic and experiment with salads for her and myself for the rest of our lives. At least it's nice to know I have that. One friend who will take me in and give me shelter from the unfeeling monster I was forced to leave.
"Why I need to walk out on this man who doesn't buy me flowers, hasn't even given me a birthday card since he married me, and uses me only for my tea-making ability."
I am consumed with hurt when Valentine's Day rolls around. I wake and complete my usual routine. Would it be better, I wonder casually as I butter toast, if I were to kill myself or walk out? Either way, this will be my last meal in this house. I look around at the pretty coffee mugs, the simple systems I have put in place. I hope his next wife will treat this home with the love that I have. I feel a bit weepy but I have to stay strong. Not let on how deeply I have suffered. I have the worst love-life ever. I carry the heavy tray laden with bowls of porridge, hot toast and tea, achingly aware of the hard physical labour I do. I set it down on the dining table and sit down. And on my plate is a gift, something I've been wanting for a long time, although how he knew is a mystery to me.
I look up and catch his eye as he anxiously searches my face for approval. I smile. Because I have always known that I have the best love-life ever.