"Trite," I always thought when I heard the phrase on stage or screen. Doubtless a cliche from its conception, an ironic Aristophanic eye-roller intended to satirize the hapless adolescent plebian waxing romantic in The Birds or The Wasps or some other unknown ancient work rightly lost to posterity.
Utter nonsense, in other words. Bullshit.
"Say what you mean, ass," I would say out loud to the television. "So much it overwhelms me, surprises me, just makes me really fucking happy. It doesn't scare you. Stop trying to impress me." But the oh-so-sincere and bright-eyed boy with the big heart playing foil to the lovelorn loser bound to find his One True Love by the top of the hour would always continue with his addle-brained Venusian rhapsody until the next commercial break, with no regard for his reckless devaluation of the very real connection of love to mind-shocking, chest-crushing, stomach-clenching, paralyzing Fear.
Which, to be fair, is rather a lot to contemplate over the new McSalad and 0.0% APR financing from your local Honda dealer.
She's a brunette, 5'8", despite her pretentions to another inch, and ten years older than I am, not that you'd know it to look at her. I'm 5'7" (regardless of my driver's license's pretentions to 5'6"), red-haired, and twenty-six, not that you'd know it to talk to me. "Old soul," my Dad calls me. She calls me a "crotchety old gimmer." Fair enough; I fell out of touch with what the kids call music when the cable went out, and I think clubbing as a participle should be reserved for baby seals. We meet somewhere in a psychotemporal middle. She has more energy, she's in far better shape, and whatever the age difference now I strongly believe she'll outlive me from sheer force of will.
I love her, and she wants to marry me. Until she wanted to marry me, I wanted to marry her. Put that in your brain and obsess over it.
"We could have so much fun together," she said over the phone. "Don't you want to stay with me?"
"I do," I say to her--'remember those words' to myself--"I'm just...terrified."
LA Law was a good show in the mid-eighties. Not appropriate, necessarily, for an eight-year-old, but kids get up to a lot more than they should. In 1986 I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my parents' bedroom, a small gray Sony television with a wire antenna bringing me the best NBC had to offer in a time before Must See TV. Two adults screaming, two kids crying, a flustered woman with thin lips and immense shoulderpads sadly shaking her head. My mother came in and sat down behind me.
"Promise me that won't happen to us," I asked her, during the commercial. "Promise you guys won't let that happen."
"Oh, sweetie--that won't happen to us," she said. "I won't let it."
She promised me.
I wasn't a particularly vindictive kid, so even at the most opportune moment, I didn't bring it up. I don't think it would have done any good anyway.
The age difference is a wrinkle in all this. Anyone under thirty gasps or grimaces at it, gives me the same clenched teeth look I'd get if I told them I'd just been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Everyone over forty seems to know that if I love her, it won't really matter, or will matter less and less. I get to use it as a straw-man, a scarecrow, a reason it can't work out. I've done it before. I should really have a perpetually young rocket scientist neurosurgeon lingerie model who adores me utterly without being a doormat and treats me like a Man but accepts my fear of bugs.
While we're at it, she should also be rich, and--fuck it. Able to fly.
"Not good enough," my Father says.
"It feels good enough."
"You can do better. You have done better. This one's not gonna fly. You have to get yourself sorted out. Then you'll realize it. I think."
Makes sense, I want to believe him. He means the excuse, not the girl.
"It bothered me at first," he said. The girl, not the excuse. "But when I saw you together--what you were like together--the age thing went away. It just vanished."
Then how come I'm freaking out.
Closer, my love, closer, closer...ack! too close! Run away, run away, run away. The little man in my head says I could be making a big mistake, marrying this insane older woman, who, according to her, is just hips, lips, and hair. But this may be the same little man who keeps me from sending out my writing, who settled for a Masters instead of the PhD, who whispers again and again, "nobody moves, nobody gets hurt." This is a stick-up. It's hard to be sure; the little bastard keeps changing outfits.
"If I were you," she said to me in an elevator in Chicago, somewhere between the lobby and fourth floors, "I'd be straight out the door."
She's not above the self-defensive gesture. She's cut and run once or twice herself. I always expected to be the next for the treatment.
"Why would you say that? Is that what you want me to do?"
"Do you want me to decide?"
If it's up to her, there can be only the one decision. I'm not prepared to hear it.
"The thing is," I tell her, and I swear I meant it, "is that I love you."
"That's good. I love you too."
"I'm actually in love with you." All the difference a preposition makes.
"Yeah. I am. I'm fucked."
"I don't blame you."
The doors opened, and we stepped out. The invisible man has been doing chest compressions on me and talking in my sleep ever since.
I had it all sorted. My mother was gone for a while; she came back. My father was gone for a while; he came back. I let the past be the past, it didn't touch me. Too smart for the psychologists in my family or out, I had a line on all my motivations, I was fully nosce te ipsum'd. There was nothing I needed to "deal with," and frankly, I find the phrase irksome. Despite everything, I was fine, and my life was going to be as easy as the next man's. I would "just know" the way you're supposed to, feel right the way you're supposed to, and approach the future fearlessly. The way you're supposed to.
Somehow, I never saw it coming.
For the first time, I'm forced to look behind in order to move ahead. If I want to keep her--if I want to be happy with her--I have to face everything I've never wanted to. Every unpleasant memory I've ignored, every barely buried truth I've always been able to put off because I had a good enough reason to do so. I can't stand still any more. I'm going to have to change, because I love her.
So much it scares me.