‘Seeing Love’ is the eleventh installment in Daniel Boscaljon’s literary nonfiction series Becoming A Ghost. The previous installments can be found here.
I walk past the hospital and a service station, not attending to the bodies being repaired. Everything is broken: although some things might be mended, for a time, all things eventually make their homes in a state of disrepair. Death’s work of love provides a final completion. I see this.
I hear a dark form limp to an old car parked across from the hospital. Urgent cares spill from his mouth, mumbled into the darkness. The silence of the night communicates his distress without technological mediation. I hear his unseen tears. Love’s anguish is loud: I see this.
Houses populate the darkness, and I intuit that they are lit against the night. Occasional music floods from open windows. People on porches smoke cigarettes and speak speculatively about success and failure. I see that they are close by the space between them, which demands the respect of whispered communications anchored in the touch of fingers to a wrist. Something glows in that middle space at the edges of my visual field. Yesterday I would have noted nothing but fondness, but tonight I realize that their distance allows love: I see this.
She and I had been too close for love. Voracious, we were heedless in our pursuit of connection, whose potency obscured the work of identification achieved beneath a social superficiality. I disguised my differences, avoiding the opportunity to love her as myself. I became the lover she wanted to see greet her, one with an illusory strength that remained obedient to her fears. In becoming hers, in asking her to become mine, we desecrated the fragile space that demands closeness instead of closure. Our love, materialized in the moments of our inattention, despite ourselves, was lost before we found it gone. I see this.
I feel cobblestones beneath my feet and remember how my bike jolted as I had raced home against the day. The lights guide me forward, under sky and over stone, illuminating the tree that had sheltered our soft kisses and the sidewalk where I had lifted her after she stumbled. A car drives by, its formulaic noise splashing over me, dampening the reality of love that beckoned me forward. It drives away the faint echo of her laugh, a proud and glad song that defied the demons that tormented her. Love was present in that laugh. I see this.
I find myself at the top of the hill, and look to my left, allowing my eyes to follow the steep hill’s sharp slide to the river. Light shines out by the river, gathered by memories of happy days spent by the water’s side, sitting in my car and talking, walking near the water’s excess. Our love was a flood: an abundance whose ravages cut new channels within us, spilling ghosts from the depths onto the surface, leaving a muddy desolation in its wake. What I had thought nothing was the unprocessed raw material of myself, awakened and unfamiliar to even me, that had covered the illusions which I had erected to shelter me from any question that would cause distress. Something had become unearthed in the rapid torrents of longing, and I had disdained its fruits as mere lust, as simple friendship, as quiet concern. But it was love: I see this.
The flickering shadows of a bonfire attract my gaze, as the dwellers in the Gaslight Village celebrate the passage of time by transforming solid wood into windswept ash. The loud noise of a guitar mingles with a proud voice singing, accompanied by the ephemeral melody of bottles clinking onto the ground. A laugh. She had spoken of moving there together, of inhabiting a space as unusual as our love, surrounded by a community that could know us as one. We made plans for the first year, plans that continued to the end of our lives spent together. Focused on the bounties we would harvest, she and I forgot to plant: our love was starved; it withered. I walk past the driveway that led to the revelers, past the cars of partiers parked along the street. Intent on intuiting love, I ignore the tenacity of the darkness still trailing behind me. I walk with confidence, knowing no homes are in my past. We had hidden love in a future we failed to explore. I see this.
I realize I am heading to the park that sleeps within the embrace of a hillside. She and I had visited this space. Together. A mother and her children played on the swings as she and I walked near the slides. “Tell me about your favorite playground,” I had asked. She had smiled and claimed that such a serious question demanded months of preparation for her to feel confident in an answer. I pointed to the children. “That’s a good mom,” I told her. “You can tell she loves her kids.” The mother gave each toddler a gentle push, smiling at their rush of brief terror that generated a squeal of joy as she caught them.
“Is it safe?”
“Nothing about love is safe. That’s what she’s teaching them.” I smiled. It was fun for me to play with love, then, seeing it without appreciating it. I did not credit love’s propensity for devastation. I remained unaware of its capacity to saturate things and places and sounds and smells with an added dimension—I was only aware that life seemed lighter, and that I was stronger. But my ignorance exposed me to the danger of love’s removal, the need to live without what had once supplemented—and then had become—life. I see love: it is not safe, but its dangers do not make it evil.
It is late. Swings move without bodies to weigh them down: nobody laughs down the slides. I see the space awaiting the joyful sweat and short-lived tears of children, but it sleeps, indifferent to my presence. My indifference to love, my inability to see it, had kept me safe. The price had been steep: I realize I had existed without life. I had valued plans and the self-control necessary to see them through, and I therefore feared love’s chaotic interruptions, its wild invitations to enrich my life. I never wished to suffer love or to survive its termination. I now see love’s capacity to permeate more than what the fragments I discovered when she walked away. Love lies in shadows, waiting for us to glance at a person or a place or a thing through its peculiar illumination.Then, I saw only that it could reveal pain. Now I know that it exposes other potential as well. It shadows our whole broken human world, waiting only for undefended hearts to share its light to the cold parts of the world. Too late, I see this.