“I love you.”
Abigail stared at me for too many seconds.
“I love you.”
She didn’t mean that.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
I sat down, and I looked down. Everything about me felt down.
“Reve, I just don’t know how I feel.”
I looked up, but I still felt down.
“I fall in love too easily. And I don’t want it to happen again."
“You don’t want to fall in love with me.”
Abigail moved her eyebrows around in a way I didn’t like.
“I don’t like that word.”
She nodded her head, and I looked back down. She kept talking.
“I love pancakes, I love my life, I love this weather, I love my shoes, I love The Sun Also Rises, I love kissing you, and I love you. I say that stupid word all the time, and it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
“I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I still feel it.” Not the smartest thing I could have said.
“How do you know you feel it then?”
My head was still down. I wanted to sink into the floor and be sunken away forever. But I am also an optimist, so I was still hopeful this conversation would go somewhere that I wanted it to go.
“I don’t think love is special –
“Can we stop saying that word?”
I looked up. And I looked into her eyes. People often romanticize eyes, but they’re just eyes. I did like her eyes, though.
“I care about you more than anything. Is that not love?”
Abigail wasn’t looking down or up. She was pacing around with a stern look.
“How would you define love?”
Before I could answer, she continued.
“Love doesn’t mean anything until it does.”
I must have looked confused. She went on.
“When my dad had a heart attack, I had a panic attack, and I thought I had lost him. And I was depressed because I never told him I loved him. And now I tell him ‘I love you’ every time I see him because now it means something. It doesn’t mean anything until it does. I always cared for him and felt the same as I do now, but there was no point in saying the phrase. And now there is. But I don’t tell my mom the phrase. And I feel guilty about that sometimes, but that’s the way it is.”
She took a deep breath then continued speaking.
“I don’t think I’ll ever tell the person I marry that I love them. If something happens like a heart attack, then maybe I will. Or maybe something I can’t even fathom will happen, and I will say it all the time. But for the most part, it’s a meaningless phrase.”
She paused and stood still.
“You told me love was joy.”
I was watching her eyes, so it was difficult for me to listen at the same time.
“Do you remember that? Do you remember saying that to me?”
"Well if love is joy, what’s joy?”
I squinted my eyes and watched her feet walk around the fuzzy carpet. It felt good to walk on that carpet.
I don’t think anybody knows what joy really is, but I spend some time almost every day thinking about it. This is why I despise the English language sometimes. You can’t describe anything. You can’t understand anything. Nothing really means what you want it to mean. And you can’t articulate what you want to say because everyone feels the same way. I like speaking Spanish because they have words for everything. Like the word sobremesa. It’s the word that means the conversation you have after you finish dinner, and are still seated at the table, talking. That’s a real word. That saves time. That makes sense.
But I thought a lot about what joy means, so I felt I might as well say something.
“It’s something more.”
“Something more than what, Reve? Something more than what exactly? More than happiness? More than fun?” She always has a specific intention when she raises her voice.
“Well it lasts longer than happiness. And it lasts longer than fun.”
“So it’s permanent. That’s what you’re saying. Joy is permanent. So love is permanent. So you and I are going to get married and have kids and will always be in love. That’s what you’re saying.”
“I hope so.”
Her jaw dropped, but she wasn’t amazed or anything like that. More dumbfounded than anything.
“I hope so? That’s about the worst answer you could come up with.”
I feel the need to say that we might sound drunk, but we were both sober. Abigail has never even had a sip of alcohol. But I lie about things, so she may have lied to me as well.
“Joy is laughter,” I said. Another incredibly broad, meaningless statement. “Joy is the feeling you have when you smile for no reason. It’s the feeling I get when I sit alone at home during winter, and I stare at my Christmas tree. I sit on the floor alone and stare at the tree for hours. And I smile. And it shows on my face, and I feel it in my bones. It’s also the feeling I get when I run in the street. A rush of joy comes over me when I realize how incredible it is to be alive. So I run in the street and yell, maybe sing, and I feel joy. And it’s also the feeling I get when I’m with you. When I see you smile, I have joy. But it’s weird because when I see you cry, I have the same feeling, but it doesn’t show on my face. I just hold you tight and we cry together. That’s joy.”
Abigail stopped pacing as she listened to all this. She really did listen. She came and sat down next to me, but not too close. When she started to speak, her voice sounded different. She was trying to whisper but was not successful. It just made her sound nervous.
“But does it go away?”
I didn’t speak for a few seconds, but I wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
“And yet you yelled at me yesterday morning. And you punched a hole in the wall a couple months ago because you were so mad at me for no good reason. And last Tuesday you didn’t even speak to me, and you never told me why. So how can you say you have joy?”
“I blocked it out.”
“You blocked it out.”
“Yes. I have it. Everyone has joy, which we can agree now is a synonym for love, yes?”
When we first started going out I thought “sure” was a negative word, but she taught me that it really just means yes. I still don’t believe her sometimes.
“Okay. So everyone is born with love and joy, and you can always have it and give it, but sometimes it’s really hard to do that.“
"But why is it hard?”
I didn’t have an answer. But she did, so she continued talking.
“I think it’s difficult because people want to be sad. I’d go as far to say that people seek out being depressed. I don’t even think it’s an attention thing, but that might be part of it. Just think about all the people you know who say things like ‘man, I’m gonna kill myself.’ I don’t even care that it might be insensitive. I’m not offended. Say whatever you want. But that sort of thing doesn’t make sense to me. People enjoy feeling bad. People want to be near death, they want to curl up in a ball and cry, and they want people to know about it. They want the world to know how sad their life is. But people aren’t special. I hate when people think they’re special. I hate it. When people think they’re special, they isolate themselves and live in their head and feel superior but also feel miserable, and it’s this whole cycle that doesn’t make any sense. Everybody has terrible stuff happen to them, everybody has strange thoughts, and everybody has emotions. And sure, I think you’re right, everybody has love and joy, and people just don’t want to use it. They’re afraid because of their past or because of a lack of trust or something beyond my knowledge.”
Her knowledge is vast.
“I don’t care,” she continued. I really just don’t care.”
“You do care.”
“How do you know.”
“Because you think about it.”
“I don’t care about everything I think about.”
“Really? What are the things you think about the most?”
She shifted her position. She bent her knees and put her shirt over her knees and legs like little kids do sometimes.
“I think about food pretty constantly. I think about you a lot. I think about sex. I think about my future, like, stressing about what I have to do for the day…I think about Jamie.”
“And you care about everything you just said. All of that is meaningful to you in some way or another.”
She rocked back and forth.
“I suppose so.”
Both of us looked down at the fuzzy carpet. It needed to be vacuumed, but it wasn’t gross.
We stayed quiet until Abigail spoke again.
“I don’t love Jamie.”
I looked up at Abigail looking down at the fuzzy carpet. I couldn’t think of something to say, so I didn’t say anything.
“But I don’t love you either.”
For some reason this didn’t make me mad or sad.
“I know. Even though I don’t know what it means.”
“I don’t think it matters. But I do think there’s some truth to what you said about always having love. I think it also applies to loving people. I think there’s one person you meet in your life who you truly love. And maybe you marry the person or don’t speak too much to them, and either way maybe you don’t realize it, but it’s there and it’s there with that one person.”
“That’s a pretty dumb thing to say.”
I knew she wouldn’t like hearing me say that, but she always listens, so I continued.
“Love is a choice. You can love multiple people, and love fades away sometimes, and that’s just that. But don’t tell me everybody has one person. You know that’s ridiculous. You know love is a choice.”
“Love is a choice, sure. But I don’t want to choose you just like I didn’t want to choose Jamie. I’m going to choose the one person who I truly love.”
"How will you find that guy? How do you know I’m not that guy? How do you know it’s not Jamie?"
She pulled her legs out of her shirt and stood up. She swung her hair in my face, but she didn’t mean to.
“The guy will bring me joy.” She looked at me when she said this, which I didn’t particularly like.
“Do I not bring you joy?”
“You have it, you just don’t give it.”
I wish I spoke better Spanish. I want to move to Spain. I want to live in Madrid and live in one of those beautiful houses that look like a castle. And I want to be retired and just paint. I want to paint all day, and explore the world all night. And joy will always be rushing over me and inside me and I’d be spreading it around to all the lovely people I meet. I wouldn’t have a bad day. On the last Tuesday of December, I’d walk out of my beautiful home at night to start my usual exploration. And as I’d walk past La Rosaleda, I’d see a pretty girl, painting. And I’d know she was special because I am a painter and saw that she painted, but she didn’t know I painted so she wouldn’t realize anything yet. Then I’d tap her on the left shoulder because the right side of my face is my good side, and I’d say, “Eres mi persona especial a quien amo.” And she’d have the prettiest eyes in the world and they would glimmer with the reflection of the water and she’d say, “Ya lo sé.”
©2019 Jake Schick