It’s the wanting that counts.
Clouds hang low over Los Angeles. It’s the kind of day when you want to be up at least 10 stories come sunset if you’re downtown as the clouds lend a textured canvas for the light to streak with color and shadow. From the ground, you can’t see more than a rectangular glimpse of the sky between buildings.
It occurs to me that despite being surrounded by tall buildings, I don’t see the world from the rooftops often enough. Just one of a million things I could change at any moment but don’t. I choose something else.
It’s been six months since Sean and I met, which we acknowledged the morning of in a tiny, celebratory way that included hugs and whispers as I made my way out the door of his apartment. We were both a little jubilant, more, I think, than we wanted to let on to the other. Sean usually does silly little dances for no reason at all, but when he realized what day it was he stopped dancing, looked at me with what I would call a serious smile, and muttered something about how he’s not sick of me and he might actually like me more now than he did six months ago.
Sometimes we find the best way to talk about real feelings is to choose words we may have used in grade school. It prevents things from getting too complicated.
As I walked home I passed the bubble guy. He often leans against a grimy granite wall at the corner of 6th and Hill with his battery-operated bubble machine in one hand and a cart full of them for sale at his side. Sometimes it’s magic, the way the bubbles float over me as I cross the street, the way they flow around cars and shoot straight up when pressed against the current of air and exhaust that’s been displaced by the flat front of a bus. I get caught up in the surrealism of the moment and avoid making eye contact with bubble guy, like it’s an intimacy I can’t risk, as though he’s somehow touching everyone who passes by as the glittering bubbles break against their coats and bags and hair. As though my looking at him will make it so.
Occasionally you’ll see a particularly resolute bubble floating some 50 feet in the air, and just before it bursts there will be something about the way it glints in the sun that makes you think maybe it will make it all the way out to sea. Or at least as far as Grand Avenue.
This life sometimes feels like a current, carrying me somewhere and displaced by I don’t know what. One minute it’s the dead of winter and I’m signing a lease on an apartment at the heart of a city I’ve always regarded as a movie I never wanted to see, and the next there’s a super moon on Cinco de Mayo and I’m doing what I always do: trying to figure out what’s next.
As a couple it’s safe to say Sean and I have no idea what’s next. We know our lives could have continued to play themselves out without us ever having known each other; we know we can choose to return to our separate tracks at any time.
Although the former seems somewhat unlikely when you take a larger view of the geography of our existence. We’d been circling one another for decades, from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains, both of us then shifting dramatically eastward for the portion of our lives that constituted young adulthood. For a few years we lived on opposite coasts, but then we each settled into the corridor between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Pacific in southern California, where eventually we’d meet. I’ve had visions of us passing in traffic, converging after work at the intersection of Westlake Blvd and Highway 101 when he turned east and I went west, each of us headed home.
When I flip through my mental photo book of my life’s many ZIP codes, I picture Sean doing whatever he was doing not so far away. However statistically unlikely it may be, believing that perhaps we were always on this trajectory has the bizarre effect of making the memories of the most unbearable moments a little better. But there’s another feeling that comes when I think about all the near misses between us. Something like butterflies with a tinge of regret.
Butterflies because I know how I felt the first time I saw him. Regret because if we’d met, say at the bagel shop we both visited occasionally while working in Westlake Village, we may have made eye contact, and though we might have felt a little surge, a tingling, our story would have ended with him ducking out the door while I stood in line. We’d have forgotten the other by the time we finished the last bite of our bagels. It’s also possible that we were such different people at the time that we may not have made eye contact at all, which somehow would have been worse.
Between work and Sean and my pets and my volunteer jobs, I haven’t been writing much. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about love, relationships and what I want. In my last blog entry I said there is a romantic part of me who believes not only that eye contact can change the world, but that true love deepens over time, that couples are not destined to become roommates living out a routine of domestic existence. I believe in the kind of love that is palpable after half a century together … I want that and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Since writing that I’ve realized something: unlike eye contact, which has been documented and proven to have a number of benefits, there’s no need for empirical evidence when it comes to loving someone. It’s not whether true love actually lasts forever that somehow determines the strength of your connection to someone else; it’s whether you believe that it can, that love has the potential to last forever, that matters.
What I want is to believe in that potential with someone else; I want it written in the clouds over my head like a celestial vision that will set us aright at a glance amid the troubles of a typical day. It’s not so different from wanting to believe that bubbles might find their way from downtown to the Pacific.
Statistics tell us it’s not realistic to promise to be with someone forever. Instincts tell us that commitment to something you can’t predict or imagine is a scary enterprise and should probably be avoided.
Instead, tell me you’ll love me the best you can while committing to take care of yourself within the bounds of our relationship. Promise me you’ll let me grow and change and reevaluate what’s important to me as long as we both shall live. Swear you’ll never pretend it’s not over if it really is.
What I want is to believe in the potential outcome we call forever while knowing that I, and my partner, will have the guts to do what’s best if the relationship stops working. A partnership wherein both parties are willing to commit to taking care of themselves as much as the relationship is one that’s full of possibility and freedom.
We all want to believe that we can love someone enough to want to be with them forever. It’s the wanting that counts.
So when I see Sean’s impish grin first thing in the morning, and he tells me how lovely I am before falling back to sleep, I might lie there, watching him while the soft gray morning light plays against his face, and wonder where my life is taking me, and whether we’re going there together. I might find myself wishing for grandiose promises as a gesture of the depth of his love for me. And then I might feel relieved that we don’t have to bear the weight of such promises.
I don’t have to give up on the dream of waking like this for the rest of my days; I don’t have to deny myself the sweetness of longing.
I don’t know exactly where any of this is going, but I can go up to the roof and have a look around whenever I want. I know there are numerous ways life’s ordinary magic may present itself each time I walk down the street.
That’s pretty good.