This Messy Thing Called Love

Sara Brink is a girl who spent her whole life living within arm’s reach of me, neither of us knowing it. She’s also probably Taylor Swift’s biggest fan and writes her stories in a way that has you sure this was your memory, not hers, flashing onscreen. If you haven’t already, find her on Twitter + keep up with her on her own blog, where she’s making her way toward an editor’s life, love lettering the streets of Philadelphia and NYC along the way.

My first kiss was unexpected.

I was leaning against the giant sink basin in the basement of our youth group center, washing baby blue paint from my hands when he reached for my hips, spun me around, and planted his lips against mine. Just us two, in our faded tee shirts and paint splattered jeans, surrounded by bare concrete walls with only the sounds of a gushing faucet and faint footsteps overhead. Instinct kicked in and I surely kissed him back, but there was a solid marquee of “I have no idea what I’m doing” rattling through my head. My thirteen-year-old heart was caught completely off guard.

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But his fifteen-year-old mouth wasted no time in saying “I love you.” He wasted no time before slipping his hand into mine, before stealing glances across the room, before calling me “baby” through instant messages on school nights. And I wasted no time in returning that sentiment, because it tasted so sweet lingering on my lips and it seemed like the right thing to do.

You don’t know the animal of love when you’re thirteen. You know the simplicity of “like.” You know that you like the boy who plays center field for the community baseball team, and you like that he wears his favorite hockey jersey as if it’s the only shirt he owns, and you like how he meets you at the swim club in the middle of Saturday afternoons, because it’s the halfway point between your houses.

But you don’t know love. You throw that four-letter word around thinking it’s so simple, that it encases exactly how you feel all tied up in a pretty package with a pristine white bow. But when you’re thirteen, you don’t realize that love is complicated, and powerful, and messy, like the mud puddles you splash in on your way home from the bus stop.

And you especially don’t know that people can so easily throw that four-letter word around. Like that hockey-jersey-wearing, sweet-smile-giving, center-field-playing boy, who breaks your heart a mere two weeks later by saying, “I love you” to your best friend.

Love can take you from sailing through the clouds to plummeting to the ground in mere seconds. It can break your thirteen-year-old heart with just a phone call. It can make you laugh, cry, sing, scream, spend hours on the telephone, smash a vase on your kitchen floor. It is the almighty emotion that some people spend their whole lives searching for. And you were naïve enough to think you’d found it at thirteen.

I eventually forgot about that boy. My wounded heart healed, I moved on to better things, and I used that four-letter word again. I learned more about love, and how it can unexpectedly wind and twist its way through your bloodstream to your pumping heart, how it can knock you off your feet for both the good and the bad.

And even ten years later at twenty-three, I still don’t know all the facts and figures about that dangerous four-letter word and the emotional avalanche that comes with saying “I love you.” But I can assure you that I “like” it.

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