On saying “I love you”
I don’t say “I love you” much. I am stingy with it, miserly. I hoard it to myself as if it might get used and old and dirty if I put it on the table.
I feel deeply and hard, but “I love you” is like taking out a huge knife and carving the words into skin, pain and blood spurting everywhere, cries of elation or hurt, his or mine, both sometimes.
The feeling comes slowly to me, I don’t trust it. I don’t trust it in others and I don’t trust it in myself. And when it comes easily, I don’t believe it either. I look upon it with suspicion. I know that makes it hard to say *to* me as much as it’s hard for me to say.
I am not damaged, I haven’t suffered from the words, but the reticence is there. I can come up with a million reasons why. I remember the first time my father told me he loved me. It was when I was leaving home. I remember being shocked by the words, not because he had never shown love, but because he never *said* it.
I remember a hundred random boys telling me they loved me, not because they loved me, but because they wanted something from me. They were saying “be mine”, or “don’t leave me”, or “have sex with me” or “kiss me” or “I don’t want to lose you” or “you owe me” or some other thing that wasn’t anything close to love, but about what THEY wanted.
I can’t bear to say it even if it’s true *right now* because the idea of somehow trying to take it back or the possibility that I might change in my feelings, the act of clawing the words back from the ether because they have become a lie, that feels like a terrible betrayal.
“Oh sweetheart, I meant it then, but not any more, I am plucking those words from the air, from your mind, from where they lodged in your heart. You don’t mind do you?”
I don’t feel like a romantic, but I have some old romantic notion of love being forever and if you are in love, it lasts. The idea that I mean it *now*, but not tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, makes no sense to me. It hurts my feelings to put it out there and then have it slip quietly away, and what has become a heavy lie then sits leaden between us, made ugly and slippery and squirming on the floor.
I never told my boy that I loved him. I am not sure if I did love him or not, if I am honest, though it felt as much like love as I have ever had and at times I was sure. But saying it was too much, I wasn’t ready to wield the knife. I was waiting for it to solidify and I was waiting for it to end, wondering, almost, which would come first.
He told me in secret, he knew I couldn’t hear it, wouldn’t hear it, that it would go into some kind of void. He would send me snippets and hints, and leave it unsaid and hanging in the air between us. This song was his sneaky way of whispering it to me so he didn’t have to say the words himself out loud. And once, when we were lying in bed, he was spelling out words on my back with his fingertip, I was softly murmuring them back to him. When he traced “I love you” onto my skin, I closed my eyes and reached for his mouth and the sweetness without acknowledging that I had heard him and understood.
Why are you so far away? he said
Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you