I am five years old. I am standing in the supermarket with my mother. A boy from my kindergarten class walks in with his mom. I know he likes me. I know he does. I kiss him. Not an everyday kiss. More of a full-body tackle with a kiss chaser. Our mothers shriek, pause, laugh. He scowls at me with shock. I am proud of myself and can’t wait to tell Grandpa.
I am eight years old. I am in church, of course, as it’s Friday. I pray after communion because this is when God listens the most, when the signal is strongest. I am on my knees, my head on the banister. Please God, please Jesus, please Mother Mary, please Holy Spirit. I want a boyfriend. Melissa has a boyfriend and so does Shelly. I would be a good girlfriend and I wouldn’t ask for anything else for a long time. Please St. Anthony. You always help me find what I’ve lost, can you help me find something I never had?
I am sixteen years old. I wear the white football jersey of another girl’s boyfriend because she is already wearing his blue one. She lets me borrow it just for this one game because we all really need to show our school spirit. I get a job thirty minutes away, in the rich kids’ school district. The kicker on the rich kids’ football team cleans the grills at work. I make him my boyfriend. In four weeks we cause enough drama to fuel three rockets. His car is weird. His mother says, “You’re a pretty girl,” but I sense she wants to add “and that’s all.” He decides he still loves his first girlfriend. I throw eggs at her door.
I am nineteen years old. My family is in turmoil but I distance myself with miles and drinks. I have enough stamina to go Thursday, Friday, Saturday, then Sunday morning champagne brunch. I am too green to realize that respect is indispensable. I have a series of boyfriends, none sticking around more than six weeks.
I am twenty-two years old. I am sitting dockside at my favorite island harbor. My roommate nudges me and says “there’s your boyfriend.” I turn, expecting a joke, but there’s a beautiful sight before me. I spend six months driving back and forth to Atlanta every weekend. I waste gas, time, energy, and emotion. I get stuck in a freak April snowstorm. I don’t want it to end but it does.
I am twenty-seven years old. I believe I have reached my peak. I meet a rock star via email. I stay up late waiting for him to sign onto AOL chat. I write songs, poems, pleas. He starts out strong, slowly fades. I sit on the windowsill in our hotel room and watch the 57th Street sidewalk gyrate. He returns four hours later, full from shrimp and chocolate lava cake. I lose my self-respect.
I am thirty-one years old. I follow an uncle to a rodeo. I waste four years dating cowboys. They are untamed and unattainable. I know at the time that I’m grabbing handfuls of sand but I push the truth down.
I am thirty-five years old. I live with my boyfriend. I wait and wait for affection that never comes. I stay. I enjoy that I am part of a unit and the inexplicable respect it brings. I watch my friends raise their children. I feel like a stalled car in the middle of a downtown freeway. My anxiety rises as the next decade approaches.
I am thirty-nine years old. I am not totally at peace with being alone but I carry on as though I am.
I am forty years old. You are here. You sense the slightest catch in my breath. We battle, not ragefully over jealous perceptions or hurtful slights, but whimsically over who has a playlist that better tells our story. There are two hundred country songs about us. Your flair for the dramatic is rivaled only by mine.
You sauntered in when we needed each other most. Smoke in the air, slot machines rattling, a terrible cover band. Who could believe this is where love begins? But there is nothing unseemly about us. We stumbled through life with equal passion, but ours spewed into the atmosphere and evaporated before it could be appreciated. We never received what we deserved.
Until we became us. Your touch feels like electric current. Just glancing your direction, peace washes over me. There are no despites. There once may have been but they’ve since become becauses. I’m reignited, long lost creativity bubbling up, depths of emotions replumbed.
For the first time I don’t doubt. Laughter is unremitting, harmony is unwavering. Cliches are affirmed and joyfully embraced. Forty years I have dug, crawled, sweat, wailed, fought, begged, screamed. The chaos opened into a clearing. There is sunlight here, soft green grass, gold and bronze trees, an unending soundtrack. I blow the dust off faith. I exalt the heavens and with joyful tears, finally, finally, thank God.
But you are not mine.
I am fifty years old. Our son is eight. I laugh every day at the light he shines on our lives. He constantly surprises with thoughtful insights and glimmers of brilliance. My older stepdaughter and I have grown to love each other, but the journey was shorter for me than for her. I hear music when she walks into a room. My younger stepdaughter gave us a beautiful gift and chose an education only one zip code away. There is a golden glow around her. She loves her little brother with all she’s got.
The wait, the voyage, the struggle. All are distant, nearly forgotten. Nothing else matters. The history doesn’t matter. The players don’t matter. All that matters is that love, at last, arrived.
I am fifty years old. I live in a sunny apartment close to the ocean, but I can’t hear it. My beauty is tenuous on its very best day. I am good at my job, though getting weary of it. I find shards of joy in clever humor, difficult crossword puzzles, temporarily owning dogs. I never learned to cook.
Love has, I can say with finality, eluded me.