All You Need is Love
My first love and I met in college, freshman year. We didn’t fall in love at first sight, nothing so dramatic. I thought he was funny and he thought I was interesting. We were in the same art history general education class and it seemed natural that we be friends.
I remember the first time he kissed me. We were on the roof of the astronomy building pretending we could see the stars. He had just pointed out a constellation made up of two satellites and an airplane. I looked up at him and I couldn’t resist the laughter that was plain in his eyes. This was a man who could see the ridiculous in everything and still thought it was amazing regardless. That first kiss was like coming home after being somewhere uncomfortably unfamiliar. I felt safe and warm.
What followed was inevitable. People would question us, “You’re really still together?” they asked. Yes, we were. There was nothing else to say, no explanations seemed necessary. I loved him and he loved me. It was all we needed, each other.
We moved in together straight after college. We starved for the first couple months, forfeiting food in favor of rent until we could find jobs. The problem was the recession was still keeping its choke hold on the job market so starving became a real possibility and not just a cute phrase.
He did odd jobs and I tried to sell my art to tourists at the weekend farmer’s markets. We barely made ends meet, until we didn’t.
I was trying not to look hungry, and trying to sell a middle-class matron on the idea of garbage really being trash, and the energy needed to do both at once was draining. The woman walked away empty handed, my pitch needed work, when a young woman walked up to my blanket. I had seen her ilk before, polished I think the word was. Her hair was perfectly in place, make-up without a smudge which was still a skill I did not possess. Her pant suit had firmly pressed lines and its color complemented her skin tone beautifully.
I looked up at her and started my spiel but I had no real hope of convincing her. This kind of woman knew quality and she knew my work was not. She crouched down and started fingering a necklace I had made out of old beer bottle glass and caps.
“That one is…” I started trailing my hand through my hair nervously.
She held up a hand, effectively cutting me off. It was just as well I wasn’t sure what I would have said: very weird? very sad? very please buy it?
“I see you here every weekend, but you are still selling the same trash.” I through my head back a little at the harshness of her words. I knew it was trash, nothing like the grand projects I imaged I’d be creating. No glorious sculptures or awe inspiring paintings that captured what was in my mind or heart. Instead I searched our damp apartment’s trash and recycle bins each morning for something that wasn’t too dirty or broken to use.
“Not everyone can see the, the beauty..” I tried to muster up some pride for my work, to defend it.
“Let me stop you right there. It is trash, not up to your potential at all.”
What was this? My potential? Did this woman know me, could she see my artist’s spirit behind the despair that was beginning to creep into my every movement?
“You don’t need to stoop to this level. You can have everything you’ve ever wanted. You already have what you need.”
This all seemed too good to be true. Perhaps I should have been more suspicious. This is the part of the story where I yell at the heroine that it’s all a trap. It seems too good to be true because it is. It was, but I didn’t figure that out until much later.
“It’s easy enough. You use your love to pay.”
It started out easy enough. I would tell her about a moment when I loved him. Something he’d done that day that made me smile. It happened so slowly I almost didn’t notice.
One day his inability to wash the dishes would make me smile and shake my head and the next I would be slightly frustrated but still indulgent. I became shorter with him. When before I may have been miserably hawking my substandard wares in a crowd of indifferent tourists and housewives, at least I went home and could forget it all in his arms, content that we still had it all.
That started to disappear. Slowly, so slowly. Our standard of living increased, I never told him what was happening, I instead let him assume business was picking up. He got a steady job, and I could have stopped but it was so easy. It was just me telling stories I wanted to tell anyway, and here was an audience who seemed completely interested.
Every time I left her, she seemed a little brighter, a little happier. Still polished but not as intimidating. He face was more approachable, she seemed lively like a friend you were eager to make. I didn’t notice the changes that I myself was undergoing but they were happening none the less.
“Last night we went back to the astronomy building roof.” I started.
“Where he first kissed you?” she asked her hands trailing through her hair in an achingly familiar gesture.
“Yes, where it all began. It’s my last story, and the most important. I wanted so badly to see the stars, and he showed them to me. It was the moment I knew I loved him.” I said the words even though they had long ago lost their meanings. I was going through the motions of love with none of the spirit.
“At that moment I loved him.” She said and she was me, as she had been becoming all along.
I looked down at my perfectly pressed suit she had been wearing and I touched my hair in its neat bun. I looked at her across from me and I could see her glowing with love, the love I had possessed not too long ago, squandered away for an easier life. I couldn’t even feel the regret I knew I should have.
I didn’t love him anymore, she did. It was like he was a man I had once admired from a distance but had never gotten close enough to know.
She reached across the table and pressed my hand before grabbing my bag and walking back to my blanket of trinkets I knew she would sell.
I had paid with my love, just like she said I would, and I couldn’t understand what I had given away.