Read enough novels and you gain a skewed standard for life, especially in love. At least, that's what I thought. I didn't think real people loved that recklessly—persistently, desperately. I think only broken people can love like that, people who have nothing left to lose. People whose hearts are so shattered, they figure they might as well pursue something with all they have left, even if it kills them. This might sound like a paradox to some—those who understand brokenness as the source of reckless self-preservation—but I know it’s true. I know because that’s how you loved me, and I’ve never met anyone as broken as you.
This morning, the world outside was white. Not all of it—just the part that mattered. This was the part that I could see from the bed without untangling myself from the sheets. This was the part that I could see without untangling myself from your arms. In any case, it was too cold to think of removing myself from your embrace just yet.
It felt like a thousand years ago that you’d asked me to be more than friends, despite us having tried and failed repeatedly at a relationship before. You loved too wholeheartedly, willing to sacrifice anything and anyone. That’s a dream for some people, but it meant I could never reciprocate your love appropriately. I loved too broadly to ever give all of myself to you. Giving me everything when I didn’t give 100% back meant I owed you a debt I would never repay but would always, always feel guilty about.
The world was white. The window had frosted at the edges overnight, the ice spider webbing over the glass as though to trap us inside a sticky cocoon. I turned to look at you, at the scars on your arms that I knew vaguely crisscrossed and pockmarked up your shoulders and down your back. I knew they weren’t only skin deep. They trapped you inside yourself, like the ice trapped us in here. You woke up when I couldn’t help but run my fingers lightly across that web of scar tissue, feeling places it dipped into you, places where it swelled beyond the old wound. You grabbed the offending hand in yours and kissed it before pulling me closer to kiss my lips. How were you so warm when I was so cold? Something in the caress of your lips on mine told me it was okay. Something about the way your warmth seeped into my body as you held me close, nothing separating our skin.
“No strings attached,” You said. “I’ve tried to stop loving you and I can’t. I know you still love me too.”
“I do love you,” I replied, “but how is this different from before? We don’t work as a couple, in your heart you know it as much as I do.”
“This time,” You started, “you can live your life, do whatever you want, go out whenever, even sleep around if that’s what makes you happy,” You sighed. “As long as I get to come home to you most nights—actually, not even that. I just know if I can wake up next to you, I’ll be happy. And if you want to end it, I promise, I can handle being whatever you want me to be, even if what you want me to be is a stranger.”
How could I say no? You have no idea how desperately I wanted you to be happy. How much I still do.
When you released me from your kiss, I said, “We can’t keep sleeping naked like this,” only half teasing. “It’s simply too cold.”
“Oh, but Love,” You sighed, “how will I warm you up like this?”
I giggled as you squeezed me tighter. We play-fought a little as I tried to wriggle out of your grasp. When you relented, I slid out of bed and started pulling my clothes on. You did the same, then began stoking the fireplace. I sat down at the foot of the bed and watched you coax the flame back to life from its overnight smolder. The glow illuminated the angles of your face, the warmth licking whatever the light could touch and casting dramatic shadows over what it couldn’t. I wondered if your demons hid in those shadows.
It must’ve been only a few months later that your mom died. I was in bed with you, snuggled up after a night of—ahem—”adult fun,” when you got the call. You didn’t cry, nor did you speak at all for the rest of the night. I held you anyway. There was nothing else I could do to calm the storm I knew was raging in your head. It was supposed to be temporary, this thing we were doing. I wanted you to find someone who could love you all the way, the way you wanted me to love you. And, I’ll admit, I wanted to find someone who was okay with my detached kind of love. We weren’t ever meant to be together. But after that night, it seemed impossible to leave.
I got up and sat back down next to you, steadying myself on your shoulder. The warmth of the fire tickled my shins as I tucked my knees into my chest. You turned your head away from the fire to look at me, your dark eyes finding mine quickly. You scooped me closer, nestling me against your chest. Once again, I felt the sensation of your warmth leaching into my body. We sat there for a while, letting the fire lightly toast our skin, before I spoke.
“Thank you for taking me here.”
“We’ve been coming here for years, now,” you said, looking down at me. I felt your unspoken question, why say this now?
“I know,” I said. I felt your body tense in the silence that followed.
“Well… thank you for coming with me.”
“Do you think,” I said, looking up to return your gaze, “that there should be an end to this?”
“I don’t really want there to be,” You admitted. You squeezed me a little closer.
“Are you getting tired of me?” You asked, smiling a little to soften how serious the question really was.
And then I looked, really looked, into your eyes. I saw how they turned down a little at the edges, how they arched up a little to accommodate your smile. The fire illuminated the true depth of your gaze, so soft and loving. That gaze should be displayed in the dictionary under the Greek agape. My heart swelled a little in my chest, but to this day I couldn’t say if it was from pure love or heartache.
“Of course not,” I said.
Maybe I’m more broken than I thought.