Love in the Time of Fear

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“You called?” I inquired. I was responding to a missed call on my cell. It was the waning hours of Valentine’s Day and the late night was winding down; I was ensconced in a short hallway by the bathroom, inside a hipster bar in central Florida. The young man on the other end was visibly uncomfortable. I could hear his discomfort through the phone, and I could see his face in my mind—sapodilla brown, and probably scrunched up with that squirmy look of his.

“Uh, happy over commercialized holiday.”

“Aw, are you telling me happy Valentine’s day? Did you think of me?” An emotionally inaccessible man is ever tortured by me and my endless turns of the screw. I am incessantly excavating—or attempting to.

He might have sighed inwardly then, if he was the kind of guy who sighed—he wasn’t. He dodged my emotional curve ball and tried to deflect away from the matter at hand: the fact that it was Valentine’s and he called me, because he cares.

“Well it’s almost over.” He noted. “And I was also calling about something else.” It was, arguably, 11: 56 pm when I hit the call button.

Of course, I quibbled, “Well it’s not quite over yet though.” I almost cooed it. Almost. Everything is strategy when you love a guy who cannot love you back the way that you want. When you love someone whose emotional maturity level may not always match up with yours. So many things are elusive, too. Sometimes even impervious. It is hard. But yet, I am still here after all these months, with the phone in my hand and the thrum of my full heart in my chest.

When I make him an offer to come by later if he wants to, he doesn’t want to drive over the bridge to my neighboring county, yet he is irked that I am, in fact, out on Valentine’s. I can hear it in the snap of his reply. He worked an eight hour shift until 11 pm and never tried to make plans with me. He buries disappointment so fast sometimes you could almost miss it, but I catch it because I am always on the look-out. I don’t tell him where I am exactly (strategy, remember) and it feels silly because, it is, and I spend my Valentine’s late-night alone in bed with a dull ache in me. I miss him terribly for a while, then I sleep.

This all began when I met him in a mutual friend’s party about a year ago. We’re from the same island nation, Trinidad and Tobago. He was funny and he could dance. He was younger than me, tall, and a lover of carnival and music. We wound ourselves around each other slowly, at first—texts and short phone calls and exceedingly random and sporadic Facebook messages—now my spool is a hot, frayed out mess. We grew to know and like each other more, letting each other in. As communicative air signs, we reveled in conversations, long succulent ones; after his shift as a CNA and my stints at teaching, we talked overnight into several mornings. Conversations like those I had as a teenager, trying to get to know every nook and cranny of each other’s minds. He grew to be one of my dearest friends. I was loving him beyond friendship and one day (night really), we finally talked about it, albeit under the heady influence of Caribbean rum and we acknowledged that we loved each other (me first, naturally).

And because “I love you” is a spell caster, I clung to the magic and reverence of the words in my head and fed myself from it often: the idea and the words. And what about the practice? Actively loving and expressing love fearlessly takes courage and it takes more than simply admitting that you love someone. I have never been in love before, not in this way, so I don’t know what to compare it to. There is so much I don’t know about love and I have considered that it’s also possible that the language has simply failed me. What if I just really like him a lot? And want him to be the best person that he can be? What is it? And if it is love, why would someone try to run from it?

I had two choices when he told me he was afraid of trying to love me the way that I wanted: either that it was crap and he was playing me for a fool or it was true. And even if it was true, then what? He loved me but had never lived on his own before, far less away from home with freer rein than ever before to flex his mettle at being a man. While his mother raised him in the West Indies, his father resides in the US and they have a decidedly terse, though working relationship. His dad is what we call a “sweet man” in Trinidad—a Caribbean ladies’ man who is good looking with light colored eyes. He tells me he is trying not to be his father but he also admits that he knows he is.

But he could just love me, right? Commit to me? Be brave. What good are these musings on cosmic connections and synchronicities that leave both of us occasionally flummoxed and transfixed otherwise? He is there for me even when he is mad at me and I have been hurtful or petty; and I am there for him likewise. He emotionally shows up when I least expect it sometimes, but he doesn’t show up in the other ways I want him to. It feels Sisyphean, between the love and the fear. Between what I don’t know and what I think I know. We exhaust each other sometimes. Breaking up and coming back together, then again. But he is also lovely in the way that he tries to crack himself open to make a call on one of the most stereotypically romantic days of the year. It’s a small bone I gnaw at hungrily.

Last summer, we were on the same flight to Toronto; he went for Caribana and I to visit my sister and wander a city removed from the south east mugginess. We weren’t talking before that flight and I threatened to change seats but couldn’t because I checked in too late. When the turbulence started, I was glad that he was next to me: to talk to, laugh with, his presence was a calming energy and his forearm was where I wrapped my fingers. Our touch often feels familiar, like in a parallel universe somewhere, we love each completely and our souls remember echoes of this. February was also his birth month. I got him two shirts and a pair of socks. He really digs funky socks. I love him but what I fear most is that maybe, he cannot ever love me the way that I want. Or worse yet, he just doesn’t want to. Maybe the fear resides in me.

Image via: Strawberryposh on Tumblr

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