Monday, June 19, 2006

The Terror Writer

Few words in the English language conjure such abject fear - such extreme reactions. It’s right up there with War, Murder, Mother-in-law. Yes of course I’m talking about Love. Every relationship gets to that point where you feel it. You want to say it. But then what? By now you’ve been around the block a few times and you know the sometimes unpleasant results confessing your love can have.

For us girls especially it gets drummed into our brains early. The quickest way to send a man running for the hills is to tell him you love him. If you’re like me, you have been fortunate enough to have someone run screaming from the room never to speak to you again all because you said the L word. Pure theatre, I highly recommend it. Actually, it’s amazing I even got to that point considering my anti L word training started in first grade.

I was madly in love with Gary. His big brother played on the Denver Nuggets so he was cool. He also insisted on wearing a belt buckle with our Catholic School uniform that said Tuffy. Only now do I see the absurdity of an eight-year old proclaiming his toughness but at the time, Gary was heaven in plaid wool.

As a child of divorce I was sent to a therapist which was the hip thing to do with your kid at the time. I didn’t understand it but I knew it was significant so I shared this with Gary. Surely such heart-to-hearts would forge a bond that would last us a lifetime. He seemed interested so I chattered away to him about the Lincoln Logs and the Battleship game I got to play with at the therapist’s. I felt Gary and I were really clicking. I wanted to take it to the next level.

He’d mentioned his love for the T-rex. Not to me but I was getting good at eavesdropping. I labored one night on a dinosaur drawing for him. I wrote his name at the top and “I love you” in proud crayon letters across the bottom. I marched into class the next morning puffed up and happy. I was going to deliver to Gary the most important dinosaur doodle of his life.

When I gave him the drawing, he looked at it blankly and mumbled a thanks. I thought to myself that this was fine. He just needed some time to process the enormity of this declaration. Later, at the pencil sharpener, I found my drawing in the trash can. Surely this was a mistake. You don’t just disregard something of this magnitude. Do you?

It turned out Gary wasn’t content just to trash my sentiments. He wanted to be sure his friends knew that he wasn’t about to get reeled in by all that horrendous love stuff. As we formed our neat Catholic School single file lunch line, Gary stepped out of the front and turned back to face everyone.

“Guess what everybody?” Everybody was ready to guess. My heart leapt. Is he going to tell them we’re going out? That we’re in love?

“Heidi has to go to a shrink ‘cause she can’t make friends.”

All eyes swiveled to me. Was that why I had to go? If not before, it was now. No one wanted to hang out with the therapy freak kid. Thankfully the teacher who somehow hadn’t heard this deflation of my heart herded us into the cafeteria and I didn’t have to actively address Gary’s claim.

Needless to say, that pretty much killed that. I moved on to Mike who was taller that Gary and in truth seemed tougher. Mike never spoke two words to me but later stole my book bag. It was a positive relationship as near as I could tell. I sure as hell never said the L word to Mike. It was far better to love from afar and not have to deal with public humiliation.

So we grow up. We learn our lessons. Despite occasionally sending someone running for the hills, we still love. We can’t help it. We fall hard and we dance around the subject while our heart does flip flops every time he smiles: “I like you,” “I’m crazy about you.” We may even venture a tentative “I love being with you,” which uses the L word in a more indirect way but at least we got to use it in a sentence because it was just driving us nuts.

So what do you do? How do you know when it’s time to say IT? Well first I’ve learned there should be something more than a single conversation and a dino drawing. I have also learned to listen. Not for him saying it, but for him being it with me. And even then, when I’m sure it’s a safe space, sure he feels the same way, I snap from being the self-assured, lion-hearted woman that I am back to being a little girl holding a picture of a T-rex. So I guess my best answer is take the plunge, trust and just say it.

Or, alternately make him a lovely drawing and hope he’ll say it first.

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