I loved you before:
Before Twitter, Trump, “I’m with Her,” “Build the Wall,” MSNBC, Fox News, and #fakenews.
Before I knew there were wars to wage, sides to choose and casualties to count.
Before either of us could cast, much less comprehend the impact a checked ballot box could have on connection, community, and consciousness.
Before vitriol became the primary, preferred means of collective communication.
Before cell phones, selfies and Bro Country; the latter of which I imagine you hate, almost as much as you do me.
Our love was once pure, flawed, gut-wrenching and gorgeous, living long after we were each other’s one and only. Through decades we morphed from star-crossed, to friends, to a kind of family. You taught me many a tender tenant; to love and be loved with reckless abandon, that heartbreaks both hurt and heal, to laugh until I cry, that “chicka-ba, chicka-ba, no chi no” were not lyrics to Charlie Daniel’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and that no matter the scars, love endured.
For 25 years, I’ve kept every penned letter, picture and playbill with your likeness or name; not because I longed for you, but because remembering us erases age. The part of me that loves you is forever seventeen — innocent, vibrant and alive with the hope and promise of a life well lived and loved. Of course, there’s a woman here now too. She’s wiser, wider, and worn. Her love is more fierce than frivolous. She craves control and comfort in her sweet, hard-manifested life, fracturing with fear at the ultimate undoing of it all. We’re an enigma, this woman-child. Together we see this world in Technicolor, both for what it is, and what it’s meant to be. Better or worse, our world includes you.
Even though we’re now the “other” in your existence, a grey-glob comprised of half the country and all you loathe. No longer unique. No longer cherished. A once cosmic connection, evaporated in a social-media-minute.
It’s true. We have few reasons to love each other today — opposing sides in nearly everything we believe, begrudge and hold dear. There are millions of “yous” and millions of “mes,” this very minute, flush-faced and raged at keyboards and crowds, screaming for screaming’s sake, never changing a mind or impacting a heart; combatants in a contemporary civil war. What chance do they have if two, once-twined souls can’t hold a space for love within the complex chaos of the American dream?
I try and explain the fracture to the me who once clutched you close. I tell her you’re angry, righteous, and maybe a little afraid, believing the worst of us at every tweet and turn. But seventeen is stubborn, and she’ll have none of abandoning you. Each time she sees your face or hears your name, a smile steals into the sliver of our heart you conquered, before time beats to present day.
I could force her to submit to what severs instead of binds. But to do so would diminish what is left of her, and that I cannot abide. Because maybe she’s the best of me, fighting for the best of you. And maybe the world would benefit from a little more doe-eyed, force of loving will.
At this moment, on another plane, she’s leaving young you a final, clumsy origami hidden beneath a dilapidated desk. In eternal ink, she’s etched what she most wants you to know; that the dreams you co-conjured in car rides and cigarette kisses came true. That she loves her life and thanks you for your part in it. That when she’s afraid she still “screws her courage to the sticking-place,” knowing she will not fail. That she loves her friend. Always. And Still.
Maybe there’s hope for (all of) us yet.