Say the Words. Again.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and although I resent the insulting commercials on TV this time of year—have you seen that freakin’ Twilight one where they basically say “get her this DVD and you’ll get laid”?—I do get hit by the Sappy Bug™ from time to time. Take this old post originally published in March 2010, for example.
One time when I was a kid I drank a glass of milk, and then I threw up. Now, it wasn’t that the milk was bad, it was just that I had some icky tummy bug. However, because the two events occurred with little time between them, the thought of tasting milk made me want to barf again. And for the next month I winced every time my mother put a glass of milk in front of me.
Love is kind of like that too. Once upon a time someone told me that he loved me. He said it a lot. He’d say, “I love you,” and then yell at me for not making the bed. Or he’d say, “I love you,” and then leave his wedding ring on the bathroom counter. Or he’d say, “I love you,” and just as we were getting ready to turn out the lights and go to sleep, he’d start closing up his laptop, revealing a letter he’d started in one of the windows he forgot was open underneath. “Dear PersonForWhomITakeOffMyRing…”
For months after that, every time people said the word “love” I wanted to puke on their shoes and dunk their heads in dirty toilet water. Lots of people thought I was bitter. Hell, even I thought I was bitter. But I think the “bitter” label put a little too much of the onus on me. Remember, it only took one glass of milk and one good puke to put me off of the moo juice for a month. For nearly two years I had been conditioned that “love” was always followed by a violent, emotional retching. So…point taken? Good.
Enter Dan, stage left.
When we started seeing each other, I made it pretty clear to Dan that there would be none of this “L” word crap for a good while. He told me he was fine with that. We had fun together. He drove down from Milwaukee and stayed in Indy for weeks at a time and it was awesome. But when he went back home, the goodbye was always awkward, at least for me. One time Dan stood at the front door. Taubensee and I were silent. He reached down to scruff up Taub’s ears, and he said, “I really don’t want to go.” Then he nuzzled up to Taub and said, “But it’s just because I’m going to miss this dog. It has nothing to do with you, Suess.”
Dan came back a while later. The time flew, and suddenly we found ourselves standing under a looming goodbye cloud again. It was raining softly as Dan stood on my deck, looking across the yard and taking long drags from his cigarette. He had a charcoal gray sweatshirt on, with the hood pulled over his head. He looked back across the threshold at me where I was standing just inside the doorway, keeping dry and warm. Then he mouthed the words, “I love you.” I gave him a confused look. And he mouthed it again. The second time, I scrunched my face up in a show of my irritation. That shit was off limits. I wouldn’t say it back.
He packed his things in his Jeep. “I’ll be back,” he’d told me.
“You always say that, but you never do come back,” I teased him. “Can you stay? Is it the money?” I asked him, pulling a pound and a half of loose change from my pockets and holding it out to him in cupped palms.
We laughed, and then he left.
The next time he came back to Indy it was more of the same. Fun, laughter, jokes, walks, secrets, cooking. And one night we were all snuggled up and had been chatting for hours when he teased me saying, “It’s just easier for you to hate, isn’t it Emily?”
“I don’t hate you, you goof. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
And it was like someone had hurled a duffel bag full of bricks at my stomach. I couldn’t breathe and I wondered what in God’s name I had just done. Dan wasn’t saying anything. He stood up, grabbed his cigarettes and lighter, and headed for the deck.
“You love me, Suess!” he called back to me. “I heard you.”
Footsteps as he walked farther down the hall.
“You said it.”
The deck door opened.