The first time I loved a boy more than he loved me, I remembered my father. I remembered how my mother loved him more that he did her. I remembered how at times, she loved him more than us. It was almost infuriating, and at times it was a fuzzy feeling at the pit of my bosom.
I grew up watching people choose other people over me. In grade school, I was one of the poor kids in class, I was always the last one to be picked during group work. When I told my mother about her boyfriend dismissing me from our home, at ten, she chose him over me. My father chose his girlfriend over me— her birthday mattered the most, although we shared the same birthday.
Here I was— a 20-year-old, in love with a boy for the first time in my life. I watched him choose someone over me. It was the thought that killed me the most. The thought that I was inadequate. That I was not gay enough, lough enough or careless enough. My chest grew with heaviness.
There was no way I was going to un-love him. How else was going to forget about his mystifying smile? Or the way his eyes twitch when he saw me pass across the room? Perhaps the way his cheeks tightened when I read him my poetry? He loved my poetry. He loved my poetry in the same way my father loved my mother’s food. He said my poetry reminded him of the things he wanted the most. He said he wanted me. I was never sure of what that meant. I was not sure if he loved my poetry more than me. I was never sure if he loved me at all. Perhaps that’s what drew me closer to him— like a dog seeking a bone that doesn’t not belong to it.
It was as if the more I wanted him, the less he wanted me. It was as if my love came straight from a Shakespeare play. I was Lysander and he, Hermia— I had convinced myself that the course of love never did run smooth. I was delusional. Love does that to people. That’s what made my mother stick around longer.
I had always wondered: what is it about my father that my mother loved? What made him irresistible? There was nothing beautiful about him besides his deep and stingy pockets. He did have a mesmerizing walk that I wanted to have. His lips were smaller than mine, yet his muttered lies through them. And he was tall like a giraffe—his presence in a room was always strong; an expensive smell and a loud ego. There was no kind of substance in him that I found woeful. I am man in love with other men— I am qualified to make that judgment.
But the more my mother loved this pitiful, shallow grave of a man, the deeper she dug herself to her grave. If the pillows in my mum’s bedroom could tell the story of their lives, they would recite a song my mother sang every night on nights he was never around. Songs with a melody that sounds like funeral hymns. Songs that are hopeless yet persistent in their pitch and delivery. Songs that cut through the diaphragm and make one weep, just like my mother. So, my mother taught me how to love in the ways one was never supposed to love. She loved like a person without choice.
I expected more from my mother. I expected explicit lessons on love. I understand that it was never her intention to put her life on display and teach me all the things I know about love. Like the things, she never taught me. Like the possibility of loving someone to a point it suffocates you. Like perhaps that’s not love and but a void in my life is trying to fill itself. Like how it is possible to convince yourself that you love someone so much that you can’t live without them. Like how it is possible to write and rewrite suicide notes and negotiate with depression, anxiety and ultimately survive death.
But, can I blame the poor woman? Can I blame her for the many ways she loved in the ways she was never meant to love? Could I blame her for twisting herself into shapes to please this man? Aren’t lessons on love the ones we are never told but shown? — just as her mother showed her, and I, through her?
I wanted my mother to choose herself more. I wanted her to quit soaking her pillows with tears. I wanted her to speak out more against my father. There was a way in which she shrunk herself around him. At times, like a mouse looking for a place to hide and most times like a wrinkled paper waiting to be tossed around. The older I got, the frailer her skin became and the more hair she lost. My aunt told me that my mother once had a beaming face. I missed that face as if I knew it. It was this love that I knew. This uncontrollable love. So, I grew up watching my mother chase an illusion of love. I watched her get beaten by one man after the other. I listened to her cry herself to sleep, night after night.
When the boy I loved left me, I was broken. My heart felt like a shattered glass and my body missed the tingling touch of his cold hands. I was a 20-year-old version of my mother. I was young and felt like I had lived enough to un-love myself. The more I loved him, the more I taught myself to choose other people over me. It was as if I needed saving.
My anxiety was numbing me. It was a void I wanted to fill—the void of his loveless absence. I longed for the scent of his skin and the ways his arms would meet my waist on days I needed to be held. For months, I wanted to be held by him. I wanted to feel his touch again. But I loved him and I was addicted to him because for the first time, he chose me. Someone chose me. I was no longer worried about my mother loving my father more. I was no longer worried about my father remembering my birthday. I had found a savior.
I know love is empty.