Love is a choice.
“Love is a choice,” Father Mike advised his college-age Sunday congregation. “It is not an emotion,” he attempted to further clarify in his homily.
So puzzled. So very puzzled. Who at that sweet age of twenty or so could understand what that meant? EVERYTHING in my life was emotional at that age. I was still “in love” with my high school sweetheart who, after suddenly halting all communication with me while in high school, had reappeared into my life. And now he took long trips to see me. And we’d make out in the car forever like old times. And that was love, wasn’t it? Yes, we were opposites. Complete opposites that fought at the blink of an eye. But, opposites attract, right? All that crazy emotion WAS love.
I wondered as I listened to Father Mike whether maybe it was a subtle attempt at warning us on that whole premarital sex. Maybe that’s what he was really aiming at. Because emotions, which you think is love, lead to sex, etcetera, etcetera, hell.
No. Father Mike did not have a hard time using scripture to get that point across directly. In fact, it was, I’m pretty sure Father Mike’s homily on the sinful nature of premarital sex that scared my testosterone-driven high-school-love-turned-momentary-college-boyfriend away.
In an effort to impress me he had attended Mass that one time! Bless his heart. Though, true to form, he once again abruptly ceased all communication with me within 24 hours of confessing his “love” on Valentine’s Day. I suppose he concluded he wasn’t gonna get any (or so he thought. Wink. Wink. Idiot.)
So Father Mike’s words stuck. A riddle that fourteen years later finally found its answer.
One foot in. One foot out.
Ten plus four years later I’m in bed on a hot summer day in Brooklyn. At home in a house shared with five other courageous souls. It’s mid-September. Mind in reflection. Well, maybe not so much reflection. More like a face-off with a bombardment of memories.
“You’ve always had one foot in and one foot out, Vanessa.” Feeling betrayed, my eleven-year- love could not understand anything with which I had rationalized many of my decisions leading up to my move to New York City. Our relationship had suffered, he expressed, because of my inability to commit.
“What do you mean I have not been fully committed?” I could not understand what he meant. In my relentless attempt to fix things I had gone through so much pain to figure me out, to figure him out, to figure us out. I became angry at him for accusing me of being afraid of commitment when I had clearly invested so much time and energy in us.
Earlier in September our relationship had officially come to an end. After one year of separation hanging on to a hopeful resolution I had decided it was best to fully let go. And I was scared. If things went wrong I wouldn’t have him to turn to anymore.
That summer day on my Bed Stuy bed, the momentous decision to renew my lease and stay hit me. The honeymoon stage was over with the Big Apple. No more school. The safety of home and my beloved ATX far away. All the training wheels were off. It was now about the work. The high emotion driven phase of the journey would no longer sustain.
“This choice to stay…to commit…Had he…”
“Yes.” He had been right. Throughout our relationship I had had one foot in and one foot out. Every time it got hard I drove away. I threatened to leave. I smiled too much to a guy that wasn’t him. I fantasized about being single. I failed to own up to my love for him before others.
“Shit…much like my relationship with acting.”
My eleven-year-love had loved me proudly. And I had loved him. Yes. Profoundly. Without a doubt. But, in the same way I had always loved the stage. Fearfully. Kept to myself. Not fully committed. Running away when it asked me to give beyond the emotional phase.
“Yes, I had had one foot in and one foot out because I did not know then what choosing love meant.”
It was so much easier to love the potential.
90’s Hip Hop is booming from the park about a block away and streaming into my room.
A memory of Joey Sanchez in seventh grade pops into my stream of thoughts.
Joey. A skinny, tall teenager with a face of puberty in full swing. He hanging out with me. Following me. Me looking for something. “I’ll be right back,” I told him one lunch period. And I never did.
There was nothing I craved more growing up, especially in seventh grade, than a best friend. Finally, there was Joey. And I ran away.
I’m gonna take a stab at my testosterone-driven-high-school-love-turned-momentary-college-boyfriend and conclude (for purposes of proper closure after all these years) that the moment he allowed himself to fully experience that love for me he got scared for what that meant. For him.
For me, allowing Joey to get close meant to allow him to see me in all of my awkwardness. By that point in my development I was already very much an outsider. A social misfit. And I was so afraid he would run away first. A pattern that followed me into adulthood.
For me, running away when things got hard through the course of our eleven-year relationship meant not facing truths about myself that hurt. It was so much easier to love the potential of me and of us than to accept myself in my rawness. Accept us in our imperfections.
For me, stepping away from acting as soon as it got difficult meant not facing my fear that I actually sucked. That how good I was was all in my head. It was also very possible that I’d find out that this is what I wanted to do with my life. And making that decision terrified me.
Not running away anymore.
The gentle breeze is dancing with my Indian-shawl functioning as a curtain to my Bed Stuy window. The memory of saying goodbye at the airport the day I flew out to India enters the stream. That love in his gaze. That pain of separation.
Yes, I missed him. Chingos. Yes my heart had hurt! so very fucking much every night I went to bed without him over the last year. Yes there were moments when heartbreak felt literal.
But, I had also lived through the most satisfying, fulfilling and joyous year of my life. I was exactly where I needed to be. Without a doubt. I had not hesitated to renew my lease because for the first time in my life I was not running away anymore.
I was choosing love.
That day in Mass, my twenty year old mind could not understand love outside of a boyfriend context. And even when, eventually, my eleven-year-love taught me what love looked like by loving me unconditionally through the darkest years of my life… it would not be until I chose to follow my heart’s desire that I would understand.
Here’s the deal. When you go years denying your own truth. Afraid of it. Suppressing the source of so much of your joy, how can you love anyone fully? How can you choose to love anyone when you haven’t yet chosen to love you?
Emotions come and go. Life is both Nutella and cold rain.
Three years ago when I set off on this journey, I was acting on a mad crush I’d had for twenty+five years. As of September 21, 2016, I am engaged. Committed to this artistic journey.
And now I know.
Emotions come and go. One day you delight on a Nutella crepe and a cappuccino on a perfect sunny seventy five degree weather day. You are in Madison Square Park with a friend laughing.so.loudly. The next day you are walking to work on a rainy and forty degree weather day and you step into a puddle. Now your foot is soaked because rain boots are not a part of your budget yet.
Choosing love is staying constant. Knowing that life is both Nutella and cold rain. In good times and in bad you remain steadfast. A witness and a student of all that is revealed as you unwrap and unpack. You don’t drive away. You make the choice to act on love and stay.