My back felt wet against the grass, the mud oozing onto my mother’s dress. It wasn’t made for my 8-year-old self, but it was ideal for my wild imagination. It was one of those fall nights that still felt warm, where the fireflies still danced across the backyard, where you could smell a fire burning somewhere beyond the mountain range, but you didn’t need to feel it to keep your breath from showing in the air. The sun was setting and my stomach was growling, ready for something fried and something green, the common supper staple of North Carolina, a state I called home, but not a state where I would live one day.
I looked up at the rich, deep blue Southern sky, counting the stars – one, two, three, three hundred, infinity – and trying to find the Little and Big Dipper because my grandmother once told me it was good luck if you could find them both fast. I always made the same wish when I did: I want to be in love. It was on that green field with a farm to my left and a trailer park to my right, that I did all of my pretending. In that tree with that swing, my name is carved along with every boy I loved until the eighth grade when we moved. Underneath the back porch that was full of cobwebs and potential rattle snakes, I painted hearts with red paint, believing that if I kept drawing what I wanted, I’d see him some spiraling down our gravel driveway, ready to take me away. To where, I never knew but that’s how the fairytales ended.
Sure, I sometimes was a princess in my never-ever land, but most of the time I was much more than that: I was Lois Lane and Superman was coming to my rescue while I got the story to press on time. I was the female-version of Indiana Jones, running circles around my childhood home, pretending a giant bolder was chasing me. I was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, all sass and red lipstick, oblivious to the plot line, and desperately in love with Richard Gere. I was Princess Buttercup and I just knew my Wesley would roll down that giant sledding hill in front of my house yelling, “As you wish.”
I didn’t need to know what it felt like to be in love as a kid – I was already in love with love.
I wrapped the long phone chord around me until my legs were stuck together and wobbled to the washing machine to close the pantry door. I needed privacy to listen to my very first crush talk about his very first guitar and how he was playing in his first band and that it was going to be epic. So epic. I didn’t pay attention to most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it. Especially when I imagined those curly black locks that seemed to shape into a floating bowl around his head. He was different than what I was used to and he hung out with a crowd that wasn’t my kind, but I was smitten.
We met on a school field trip to Camp Greenville and when we sat down at this chapel at the top – appropriately called Pretty Place – he rested his hand on mine and smiled. It would take me a month to talk to him, six months of obsessing and doodling his name on my notebooks, and a year until we finally were more than friends. And on some very cold January night while a friend slept over and we played Dream Phone, he asked if I’d be his girlfriend. After carefully putting him on mute, I screamed so loud that our motion light came on outside in the driveway. And now, two-whole-months later, we were holding hands outside of class and going to dances together. We had nicknames and he gave me a Valentine’s Day card that my mom put in my baby book for safe keeping. He kissed me before he caught the bus and I went to meet my parents, and though I always wanted more time alone, we were allowed to walk the mall downtown together for an hour on Saturdays.
It was love. He was love. I didn’t need to fall in love, I just knew.
I could hear him screaming my name from far, far below. His head was bopping in and out of water so clear you could see the catfish at the bottom, waiting for their chance to feed at something or for a fisherman to take a chance to feed them. I knew I couldn’t actually see his grin from way up here on top of this bank, covered in Georgia clay mud – the reddest you’ll see this side of the Mississippi – but I could feel it looking up at me. My high school sweetheart’s love was so effortless and sweet – he treated me like I was as delicate as the honeysuckle bushes, something to be savored because it only lasted so long. From the time I slipped my number in his pocket outside of biology class, inviting him to my dad’s annual smokeout to when he kissed me harder than anyone had in our clammy basement on a futon that smelled like mildew, I knew he’d be mine. I knew he’d be someone so very special in my life that I didn’t bat an eyelash before telling him so.
And now, he was telling me to grab that rope and swing into the lake where my family was all waiting for me. I wasn’t afraid of heights – but I was terrified of this fall. The ground had turned my feet orange and my hands were caked in it from the climb up. What if I didn’t let go when I was supposed to? What if I let go too quickly? What if I wasn’t strong enough to run and jump? You can do it baby, I love you! Come here right now!
But I didn’t fall – I splashed right next to him and he helped me onto the boat, rubbing his skinny little arms around me to keep me from shivering, even though it was the dead of July. I loved him – and I didn’t need to fall to feel it, I just needed to leap.
I stepped out of the fancy car that he called for me, leading to a destination that was meant to be a surprise. But I had studied New York for the past 15 years, so that wasn’t quite possible. We were at Lincoln Center, right at sunset, and he was wearing a tailor-made suit while I was trying to rock a dress that was on sale at TJ Maxx. My feet felt unsteady, both in these heels and in this city. It was becoming everything and nothing like I had imagined, consistently mesmerizing and demoralizing me, every other block – but I kept at it anyway. Especially since he – this blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 6’4″ man – was there to support me if I couldn’t make it. I had grown accustomed to him in the way I felt comfort seeing stars, something so rare in a place with energy from every other direction but up. He was something to wish upon – someone still in the making, someone I could play make-believe about in my mind, imagining the time when he decided to step out of his frog disguise.
Maybe tonight was when he’d do it: why are we here? I inquired as he led me up the steps to the fountain in the middle that was bursting with water, sparkling with little white lights. When we made it, he twirled me around as we locked eyes and he dipped me, just so my hair caught a runaway droplet, and kissed me. You said in one of your blogs that you wanted to be kissed here as the sun was setting.
Had I? I wondered as he led me to destination two of our ultra-romantic date – dinner and then a staycation at the penthouse of The Empire Hotel. I didn’t remember crafting such words, but how could I possibly remember everything that I’d ever written? I watched the taxis that night wearing a robe that costed more than my rent from the window while he slept, questioning what it feels like to be in love. And how to know when you’re falling, without actually… well, falling.
Two-and-a-half years later, I’m still figuring out the answer.
Because though I’ve known love and I’ve craved it… I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love with anything other than, well love.
This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.