It was a long time ago. We were in a smallish theater watching a tremendously overpriced spoken word performance. She was staring at the stage, her eyes bright with wonder; I was staring at her. I didn’t really hear much. They performed a poem about Love. Love was a person. But Love is not the person, because when Love dies the person – the people – go on.
So what is Love, then?
Of course, I don’t know. I’m automatically suspicious these days of any term so general. It makes no sense to me to apply the same word to
- a friend I care for deeply and would help out without hesitation, yet feel no anxiety or loss if I cannot see them or talk to them with any regularity
- my mother, who has never given up on me and yet maddens, and is maddened by, me
- the one whose breathing and heartbeats and walking pace and, hell, even periods involuntarily sync with mine, the one I reach for without thinking, the one for whom I have patience, the one whose hurts I feel as if they were my own, the one I feel responsible for, the one I look to for comfort and caring and security and sex (when the position is filled, that is.)
Of course, that last one is what I’m thinking of.
What is the nature of that Love?
I think it’s like a cat. Sometimes you go out and get one, from a pet store or a shelter or your friend whose cat had a litter. Sometimes one just shows up unannounced and asks to be let in. (Be suspicious, that one probably has rabies.) Sometimes you rescue a helpless kitten. (Be careful, though, not to accidentally steal one from its mom.)
And sometimes, you see it around. It’s beautiful, but it looks gaunt. So you leave food out. It lets you come closer and closer every day. One day you come too close and it runs off.
Sometimes it comes back. And the next time it lets you touch it.
You wait. Time passes. And one day, proud and cautious, it asks to be let in.
Then it turns out that it sheds too much and likes to leave claw marks on your furniture. Nothing will dissuade it. But it’s so cute and it sits so warmly in your lap. But that cherrywood was so expensive and your friends complain that there is cat hair everywhere, and sometimes it claws and hisses at you when you hold it wrong so one day, well really you had no choice, you throw it out.
You miss the warmth and the softness and sometimes even a stray hair here and there brings you close to tears, but then you see the irreparable marks on the cherrywood and the scars on your skin, so go ahead, applaud your painful decision because you were right.
You lured me in, you made me think I would be safe and loved in here, you made me need you. Monster. I was all right on my own, there was nothing wrong with my life.
Well, how the fuck would I know that you shed so much and that your claws are so goddamn sharp – hey, I’m talking to you, come back here!
(Which one was I? Oh… both of them. At the same time.)
Oh, Love, I did not mean to lure you in under false pretenses.
Love is never very far, but these days leaves quickly when I come too close.
As you probably know, if you’re well acquainted with cats, there are infinite ways in which one of these mysterious things can come into your life. I have only listed a few.
One last –
Sometimes it sneaks in. It doesn’t ask. In fact, it doesn’t ask for anything. It’s just around. You don’t want one. You can’t have one right now. The marks and the scars aren’t even gone yet. But there it is. And it looks so soft and sweet. Maybe you could feed it just a little.
You catch yourself looking for it when it isn’t there.
More and more often, though, it is.
Maybe it would be okay if you didn’t name it. Oh, this cat? It’s not mine. It just comes around like this, and yeah I do feed it and it sits on my lap sometimes but it’s not, like, MY cat or anything –
Would I know it anymore when it comes? There have been so many impostors.