No one ever warns you about romance. We hear all the happy stories, grow up in wonder at the fantasy movies and books. We are a generation that was raised on unrealistic princess stories, of princes ready to sweep us off our feet. A young girl plays dress up weddings, sets up elaborate dates for her barbies, and dreams of a day when it’ll be her in love like the character’s on her favorite show. This isn’t every child, but this was me. I would swoon at the thought of someone wanting me one day, of me finally understanding what my favorite pop stars were singing about. I fantasized about love and being loved, and I know there are others like me as well.
But there’s a secret the grown ups never tell you. All those romance movies, all those love songs. All the dreams, sighs, and journaling never tell you one thing- love is an absolute and addictive drug. Finding that other someone is like having your special fix, and falling for them is eagerly embracing both the highs and lows. Love can cause pain, it can destroy, tear down. It’ll leave you shaking in a cold sweat, body aching as you’re curled in a ball wishing for the pain to end. Love can wrap you in a tender embrace, warming you to the bone, the smell of cinnamon and warm apples wafting from a Christmas kitchen. It can save you, repair you, show you your strengths. Love is one of the oldest and truest forms of both agony and ecstasy. The human mind craves interaction, it demands intimacy, and over our ever-changing development, we have given a name to the feeling we have when we can look at someone and our heart races, our skin tingles, and our heads go foggy. We have wrote endless sonnets, poems, songs. We have plays dedicated to the act, some hundreds of years old still playing on stages, school teachers have directed and mastered the art of teenagers knowing the line “Oh Romeo, Oh Romeo. Where art thou Romeo?”. Students always seem to see the love, the sacrifice given, without ever truly understanding that in reality- we would actually die for the one we truly loved such as the fated pair in Shakespeare’s drama. We’ve had scientists try to explain the chemical makeup of love and why we desire it, and surprisingly… It is the same as how one’s brain reacts to other pleasure inducing drugs. The first high on meth is not compared to one winning a championship, or one jumping from a diving board. No, it is correlated as imagining an orgasm and then multiplying that sensation by ten. It is related to one of the most intimate things we can do with another person, and the same chemicals that are released when we are in love.
I remember the first time I saw him. I was 13 at the time, waiting on my birthday. I was still oblivious to feeling needed, nor did I have many friends. I had come from a home where I was alone most the time, and a school career where the other students had picked on me and shunned me for my size and awkwardness. He had shown up the end of September or so, ducking and shying as he smiled at newly made friends. I remember even today, that smile he had. He still has that true smile when he’s happy, and I think I’ll forever love him because of it. It was a glimpse at his soul and my god, did it shine. I was enthralled with the new boy from across the cafeteria, never pointing him out to my friends, but now looking back and realizing they must have known. He must have felt that awkward twinge on the back of his neck, the one when eyes are on you, intently staring, but by the time he turned to scan the cafeteria, I had scrambled from my seat and ran off to my art class. I played this game of Stalk and Run for months. He relayed years later that he thought I hated him, bless him, but in reality I just thought that it was better to admire from afar then to ever get my hopes up that he liked me as well. I remember the dull drone of the cafeteria, the way it could deafen the whole half of the school, but every teen seemed to be able to tune it out. Come spring, the now warming sun shone in the west wall of glass along the length of the cafeteria seating, allowing everyone to admire the purple, blues, and whites of the Rocky Mountains. And although many clamored for the tables nearest the windows to enjoy the spring weather that had finally graced our cold mountain state, I always took a moment to appreciate the watercolors that seemed to melt into the mountain ranges.
I remember acting as if I wasn’t paying attention, nose in my notebook, watching curiously as he and his obnoxious, almost leprechaun short friend argued quietly back and forth while he slightly paced towards the exit along the western wall, a little too close to my seat. I was, as always, in my corner by the windows, back to a low half-wall, headphones in my ears, busying my hands to keep from too much people watching. Teens are such self conscious creatures. They fear anyone observing them and think if one does, you must be a freak, obsessed, or in love. Other than my slight obsession with this boy, I was just observant. “If I don’t move, they won’t see me..” I thought, “If I keep my head down, he’ll just walk out that door and my heart can stop trying to escape from my ribcage.” But he didn’t. He was shy, so shy.. He awkwardly turned, weaving through the tables. He would fidget slightly, his hands would reach for a pocket, headphones, or the hem of his shirt. He still does this today.. It reminds me of the boy I fell in love with.. If I remember correctly, he really only said hello, or something to that degree. Nothing big, but my god I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, my cheeks were lakes of fire, and I was slightly going dizzy. Such a small action was all the introduction I needed.
I was proven wrong, I had not been invisible. I was proven this repeatedly for the next year and a half. His attentions never left me once they began, and I’m pretty sure we were that sickening teen couple that made our friends queasy and a bit relieved when one of us couldn’t be at school.
It began with in-school suspension. Neither of us were very good at attending our classes, and back then the deans would shove you in a room, give you the assignments from all your classes for the day and you were locked in with one of the iconic characters from Smoky Hill’s security team. That day had been the most iconic of all. A loud, smart mouthed, witty man named Howie. He was never seen without his stack scratch lotto tickets, and he happily would announce to a student nearby when he won, no matter how small the prize. He would sit at the teacher’s desk, black plastic rimmed glasses on his nose, looking down as he methodically scratched away at his tickets with his little candy red plastic scratcher. He had a drawer full of them, all colors, and rarely he’d have to hunt for a coin, grumbling under his breath that he had lost another one. I had just been introduced to Twilight from my best friend and three hours into the day I had already had it halfway finished. I had needed something to keep me distracted from the kid I obsessed over that slowly kept moving seats across the small, quiet backroom to get closer to me. The distraction came when a dark mocha hand’s long fingers slipped a small white square of paper folded up onto my desk. I peeked, already knowing who’s hand it was as he busied himself with something of his own. I can’t remember the conversation we had, I truly wish I could, but it was the ice breaker we needed to keep talking. It sometimes seemed we were getting in trouble just to spend the day together. We had the same dean, and he suspected as much as well. Surprisingly, he never stopped it.
From running from the dean, having in school suspension together on more than one account, and finally getting the good idea of moving our classes around so we had the same hours off, something had begun. I was proven wrong and he had seen my every move. With this, I got my first taste of this thing called love. I ached for it. I dreamed of it. He was my first boyfriend, kiss, dance. He was my gateway to an addiction I still can’t understand.
That next October was cold and gray. There was rain drizzling and I remembered how much I hated that he was moving on my birthday. He had grown since we first met, stuck between an awkward spurt, limbs too long, and his body catching up. He now dwarfed me when I hugged him. My head rested on his chest, easily able to hear that he was still mine. I remember never wanting to let go. That I wished over and over his mother would have stayed in state. I kept thinking it was all a joke, or that he was trying to dump me, and he was really going to stay. My mind raced to all these horrible possibilities, but I was begging god for anything other than him completely leaving. Something told my soul I’d never hear from him again, even as he promised me repeatedly that his mother allowed him to buy stamps and that he had permission to call me regularly. I didn’t want to have hope, but I did anyway.
The next day, after he had left, I thought I was dying. Everything was muted at school. It seemed darker, almost ruined. I hid away to cry, and when I came out the bathroom I slipped my headphones in and went into a trance. I went through a silent withdraw that was nothing like the shows had said. My heart felt as if it was ripping from my soul, my body ached from sadness, and I felt incomplete. I trudged through classes, patiently waiting for a letter or a call. After six months, I stopped checking the mail daily, stopped making sure the voice-mail box had room. My hope had died, slowly. It was like watching a plant wilt and fight for life in a darkened room before finally drooping and giving up, realizing the sun would never shine brightly on it again.
A year or so later, I attempted to date again, dissatisfied with the realization I couldn’t stand people trying to care. I didn’t believe the promises, and I never truly believed the decelerations of love either. The boy that tried to love me afterward was a need I thought I had to meet before realizing I was better alone. I remembered that I thought of that boy I watched so eagerly Freshman year, I wondered if he were okay, my friends and I would brainstorm what had happened to him, and I wondered why he never reached out to me, nor his friends he left behind in Colorado.
I moved on, accepting the reality over the years that I would not find contact with him, nor would I find someone I could even tolerate. I graduated, moved closer to Denver to be with my father. He had ended up spiraling after his parents and his twin brother all passed in roughly a three year time-span, and I was concerned about him and my sister’s well being. I ended up meeting a deranged cowboy through a mutual friend and for a moment, I thought I could love him. He had a way of entrancing a person, convincing them he was something else altogether. He took me on adventures all over the state, showing me beauties I never even knew we had nestled here. I had fallen in love with the idea of love, but was careful to make a decision on loving him. We ventured over the state while he worked, enjoying the false freedom. That Christmas I never expected to be asked to marry. When he proposed, my mind dragged me back to the drizzly cold October day when I hugged that boy goodbye, as if it has just been the day prior. I could remember his touch, smell, the way his heartbeat felt on my cheek when he hugged me tightly. It scared me that my mind had coveted a moment like that, as if I needed it to survive the previous four years. He was etched into my memory in a way that shook me to my core.
I couldn’t give an answer. Not until I knew he was happy with someone else. I needed proof that he had moved on, and I was a long forgotten interaction. My sister found me up late one night, hushed, wrapped in blankets in my cowboy’s living room to battle off the deep freeze temperatures the fireplace just couldn’t combat. I was doing something I knew would anger my cowboy. I could never let him know what I had attempted. She asked me what I was doing, and I remember feeling that twang of guilt when I admitted to my late night searches.
I had wondered if we had never mattered to him, if Colorado was a loss to him and maybe, he had long forgotten even my name. I searched and searched for him. Never once did I find his face in the lists of names. Never once did I find an excuse to tell my cowboy no. I figured he had moved again, maybe my friend’s theory that he was under witness protection was right, as ridiculous as that had sounded. I wish I had known what I do now, because he had moved back that year, I was a mere three hours from him.. My whole story could have been rewritten differently, We could have been happy, I could have left that small town that slowly turned into my prison, and I could have been free. At least in one aspect.
With a small baby on my hip, designed of rolls, dimples, and a single tooth, I took on the reality that my marriage was a mistake. I had taken on the abuse and neglect, and wondered how I’d ever escape. The constant supervision meant I was never allowed to leave. I had to make him aware of all activities and was expected to abandon friends and jobs at his command if he didn’t like them. Although we had moved back towards my family, I rarely saw them except for secret visits when he was out of town working. I was an object, a trophy that he had conquered, and our son had become an achievement. We were to be kept on the highest shelf, away from dirty fingers, in the back of a dark closet for only him at admire when he desired. After almost a year married to him, my child failing to meet milestones, and my being slowly being chipped away, I had asked for a divorce. I was denied this request, as I expected, and tried tediously to convince him that it was for the best. The control had gotten worse, the assaults and late night tears were a daily experience when he was home. I was to obediently follow my cowboy where he went, I was to keep my mouth shut and my head down to avoid his anger. I did this to survive. After a while, I had accepted that this was my fate.
It was August 21, my grandmother’s birthday. He had allowed us a visit to say happy birthday and to bring a gift. My grandmother was like a little angry bird, feathers ruffled, breast puffed, and a grumpy look on her face when we walked in. My grandfather was wearing is housework clothes, a pair of old weathered jeans, and a raggedy tee, one of a few he kept for chores. He was bustling around in his floppy, worn down black house shoes, his Army Veteran hat well creased and dirtied on his head, his long black and silver curls hidden underneath. I sighed inwardly and wondered what chore he was determined to do that he swore he would have done far enough in time to still take grandma out to her birthday dinner. From the look on her face, it was a big one. My cowboy, always eager to win approval from my grandparents, offered to help. Never once did I think such an offer would change where my life was headed.
It was an hour drive to a middle of nowhere northern town far up I-25 that housed my grandparent’s motor home. Nothing before this town was seen along the highways but farmland and emptiness. My grandfather had sent it in for repairs and swore he could get up there, pick it up, and park it an hour away with time to spare. It was already one in the afternoon when we headed out. Grandma’s feathers ruffled farther out, her aloof attitude told us all that if we didn’t work a miracle, grandpa might be doomed to a cold shoulder or the guest bedroom that night.
That August was still warm. My little one was finally trying to crawl, so we allowed him to play in the waiting room, before wandering to look at luxury motor homes. It was my turn to feel eyes ever so closely watching me, but never to be caught. Stalk and Run was back in session. After finally sincerely getting the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, feeling someone watching me, I excused myself back into the waiting room. I looked up when a door to the garage opened, hopeful that it was someone to rescue grandpa and say we were ready. Instead, I chuckled to myself because the tall, awkward back of a man I was looking at reminded me of the 13 year old I had admired so lovingly. When the stranger turned, I felt my heart drop to my toes. My ears rang and my eyes grew wide. It was like having someone shoot the purest form of a drug into your veins and then letting you loose on a roller coaster. My stomach flipped and I laugh now at my thought, “Well I’ll be damned, he isn’t dead after all.” I remember I thought I was dreaming. There was no way this man was standing in front of me, and there was no way he would even say hello to me with a ring on my finger and my big, bald-headed baby clinging to me. It was like Freshman year all over again, he was stuttering, I was red in the face. When I realized I had introduced my grandparents and my child without ever introducing my husband, I realized again, I had made a mistake marrying my cowboy.. I realized again, even if we never spoke outside of that shop, that I needed to be free.
This marked the introduction of an addiction I thought I had kicked. Throughout the next year I again asked for my divorce, when my cowboy couldn’t control me, he ran away thinking he was winning by still not signing the divorce papers, and watched someone move into my life far too quickly. I hadn’t intended to fall for that boy again. I never planned more than to catch up and to see how he had been, but it was as if our souls were in sync to a rhythm neither needed to hear. He adored my fat headed son, calling him his sidekick even though the idea of being a father himself was terrifying. He made an effort to include my son and pay him attention just as he did me. He doted and we caught up on lost time. He explained how he lost everything on the move, including the address book he filled with everyone’s numbers and addresses. The conversations blurred, as if someone had muted a television and fast forwarded the show. We couldn’t catch up fast enough, and when he was around me, I felt that spike I hadn’t felt in so long. The first time he kissed me again, it was as if someone had hooked me up to electricity and shocked my soul. He is what I was missing. He was what I had been longing for again.. I should have never settled, because this was my other half.
We embraced a barrage of challenges from both the world and our own actions. I forgave him for things I probably shouldn’t have, but love makes one blind and dumb. We see only what we want, and ignore the damage the drug is causing in the long run. Within two years together we got to listen to the heartbeat of our son at our first appointment. The awe in his face when he saw that little flicker on the on the screen. He was terrified, I was as well. He was walking into the unknown and I was trusting my heart with him in a way I had regretted with my ex husband. My insecurities and his need to fix what couldn’t be fixed caused us to split while we waited for our son. I again felt that withdraw in a way that I thought I was suffocating. I realized that I had to make myself hate him to stay away from him, but no matter what happened, I forgave him for the pain he caused me and would embrace him again, just like an addict relapsing to their drug of choice.
I thought I had fallen as deeply in love with him as I could have, but the day I saw him holding our son, I understood that I was falling in love with him all over again. My soul was tearing out of my body and rearranging to fit this emotion in and I realized that he was forever my other half. I couldn’t imagine us not being whole, and we attempted to be a family again.
Time passed, we thought we could do it, I thought I was careful. I laid out why I was broken, and that it wasn’t his fault. He explained he had just wanted to rescue me. I thought we were safe.. We promised to never let go again… But we did, and even now, I am dying for him.. My soul doesn’t understand the loss.
With a one year old sleeping peacefully in his bed, my four year old at school, I write this as little flutters and kicks remind me that there’s a third to come. That our attempt to love and make things work created another life. We seem to be an almost volatile pair. We are like air and fire, just like our signs. Although the air can feed a flame and the flame warm the air, with the wrong burst of wind or an angry storm, the fire can engulf all life. And just like a flame that dies in a sealed container from using it’s oxygen, the flame can die without. He’s reminded me why drugs end up killing their addicts. How something so small can engulf your life and tear you to shreds. That darkness that envelops you, chokes you, and makes you ask god why. He is my special cut of heroin, my personalized high. I feel I am the same to him, otherwise we wouldn’t be causing the mess we are.
No one warns that love is messy. No one tells you that there’s no way to stay clean of it once you’re chin deep. No one tells you of the rises and plummets a relationship goes through, nor do they explain what to do with the shards of your broken hearts after the fact. We have broken and repaired so much, that the two have intermingled into one. Just as a broken dish will have cracks and holes no matter how hard you try to fix it, my heart has missing pieces that jangle and clink in his pocket. Mine carries his as well. When we’re together, if we fit the pieces right, we can watch something come to life. But far more often then not, we accidentally blow things to shards again, misplacing a single piece and allowing our work to fall back apart to be left where it lays or to repaired again.
His hugs are still the same, just now I don’t want to let go, just like when we were kids.. Now, no matter how far we move apart, we are found in the middle, a gravitational pull neither can battle, and we wonder how in the world can we save us. We look at the babies and wonder why we can’t make sense of our world, wonder how we messed it all up. I personally believe we need to ride out the withdraw together and find a way to fight past just a high, or finally stay clean of each other. That ache in my soul will never leave. That longing for something that will destroy me will always be there. And I will always let him back in when he knocks. I feel like I’m dying again, but by now it’s my every day pain. It has become as regular as the run rising and setting, the mountains to the west of me, and the choking smell of rain on a warm summer night. This time when he walked away, he didn’t take shards, he ripped the whole shattered mess from my chest and left the flayed pieces of me to bleed out.
No one tells you what an ugly drug love is, because when we’re madly in love, we’re too high in our happiness to remember the withdraw. And when we’re left broken and bruised, shaking from the wracks of the drug’s aftereffects, we’re too ashamed to admit that reality was uglier than our dreams.