I used to think love was a thing I could only do one at a time, like putting quarters in a gum ball machine. I used to think love was a competition that hinged mostly on never being more vulnerable than the other person. I used to think I needed to comb out all my own tangles before I could love someone sleek and glossy, like a perfect blow out, only natural. Since loving him, I’ve changed my mind about all of these things.
I was waiting to stop loving him, until I finally realized I was waiting for the wrong thing. Love, it seemed, had settled into my heart like a dog on a favorite rug, unable to unnestle. I wanted to unlove him, unlearn the ways I’d grown to care about him. But I rarely get what I want, and that mostly stems from wanting and grasping for the wrong things. Instead, I learned how to live with a love that’s dormant, how to put it on a back burner, simmering away. Acknowledging that it was still there felt much better than trying to snuff it out, anyway. And so what if I loved him? So what if it was years gone, and he’d stolen from me—things I could never have back; he’d hurt and taken, and molted skins, become a shadow of the man I’d first loved? So what to all those facts—the love stayed.
I grew fond of it in a new, distant way. I learned that you can love someone but not respect them; you can love someone, and not want to be near them; you can love the parts of them that may never surface again. Some love won’t be melted down and recast, some love insists on existing in its original condition, useless or outdated though it may be. Love like an antique; useless, but still beautiful, and still worth something. I learned too, that love doesn’t always get in the way of other love. They can fall in line, tucking like feathers in a peacock’s tail, increasing in splendor and fanning out wider than seems possible, as if to impress one another. So I fell in love with someone else, too. The loves did not displace one another.
The more I marveled at this insistent love–the one that wouldn’t go away though it had even been eclipsed–the more I realized that I clung so tightly to it not for him, but for me. This persistence was a chance for me to hang onto the version of myself who loved him; a way to measure how deep my loyalty runs. This love was a fierce thread that existed for its own sake; it served no purpose; it was a road to nowhere.
Or maybe it was a circle, never-ending, eternal, closed circuit–a snake eating itself, but never finished with the meal. So instead of wasting energy trying to unlove, to unlock this section of my heart, I let it grow wild. Untended, it keeps mostly to itself, but even without care, it doesn’t die. I used to think love would come to me with the measured stinginess of coin slots and victory points. Now I know love grows like a weed, ugly and unnecessary, but so full of life I can’t help but admire its conviction. My love is an abandoned lot, a walled-off garden. Though I can’t get rid of it, I don’t need to visit. But I don’t root it up either.
Caitlin White is the Music Editor of Brooklyn Magazine. Follow her on Twitter or Medium.