I love both of you, all of you, forever

“Mom. Are you kidding me right now?” I shook my head from side to side, staring at the picture and feeling incredulous. “You’re covering the wrong face!” I continued, laughing at the sheer insanity of it.

“Am I?” she asked, walking over to the refrigerator with a spatula in her hand. A vegetarian casserole, handmade by Grammy, was about to come out of the oven.

My dad was already standing there beside me, coffee mug in hand. He stuck his right hand out quickly and fixed it, moving the magnet over.

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REALLY, mom?! Covering up your own daughter’s face so you can stare at her ex’s? Ha

After this, my dad helped me settle into my bedroom for the weekend by taking down old pictures of Christopher and I together and stacking them upside down on the computer stand (why they’re still hanging on the walls, I DON’T KNOW). Feeling a mixture of sadness and amusement, I laughed while he did it: flipping one, two, three, four pictures over…

I drove into the actual boondocks of Tennessee to visit with family this weekend.

We spent time talking around tables, taking pictures beside rivers, and driving through the countryside, passing by railroad tracks and deer and dogs and chickens and lots of broken things — bikes and swings and crushed cans and the like. I noticed a cat walking ahead of a farmer in this one yard, and the cat was walking with the gait of a dog — very interesting. And when we drove past another yard with a single chicken pecking around in it, I commented on it.

“Yeah, they have chickens,” Sierra said. “Sometimes, they get smashed. I’ll be driving down the road and see–”

“MOM!”

We also cruised right past Helenwood’s radio station, which is sandwiched between two country homes, and a little way’s past this radio station, there was a home with a dog fast asleep on the ramp leading up to the front door.

“Hope he’s asleep and not dead,” I murmured, worried.

“Oh, he’s asleep,” Sierra said. “That’s his spot.” Sierra knows the story behind every animal in town. I laughed in the dining room later on that day as she and Grammy relayed their closest friends’ most recent adventures: Nelly and Tank and Blackjack and Jazz and Pandy. There are others also: straight-up strays as well as dogs of neighbors who just do a real shit job taking care of them.

On Saturday, I pulled out my new audio recorder for the first time, and while everyone was sitting around the dining room table, I asked them to share their most embarrassing memories with me. We heard some good ones, and I don’t need the audio recorder to remember them: first periods happening at school and soiling the backsides of skirts; a certain grandfather reading the back-of-book summary as his essay because the book itself had been too boring to read (the teacher called him out on it in front of the whole class); and I talked about accidentally going to school with a hole in the back of my dress, as a child.

A little boy had pointed it out to me at the beginning of class and I was absolutely furious with him for noticing. I was so indignant over the whole thing, in fact, that I refused to acknowledge it as a fact and, instead, walked around holding a chair to my rear end all day. Walked home still in the dress and without the chair. Not sure if you’d call that extreme resilience or stubbornness or what.

The fam and I visited a cafe in Kentucky on Sunday — one I’d found on Google that looked cool. When we pulled up to the place, it turned out to be inside of a gas station. The group seemed kinda bummed, but I thought it was pretty novel: I’d never visited a gas station coffee shop before! They had amaretto on their flavor menu (a rare favorite) and made a really fantastic latte with it.

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We slipped into a booth in Subway’s seating area (also within the gas station) and I pulled out the audio recorder again. Twenty minutes passed and the digital film kept rolling as we discussed childhood memories, my new boyfriend (I promise I’m getting there — hang on!), and what JB stands for (JB = an old nickname Grampy gave Grammy, and after something like 40 years of mystery, he finally revealed its meaning!)… and then somebody brought up Christopher.

As they talked about him, laughing as they recalled certain things he’d said and done, my face flushed. My dad picked up on it and told the group to change the subject.

“Well I remember when he came to our church for the first time,” Grammy continued, eyes twinkling — again, I don’t need the audio recorder to remember any of this. “I think we saw him before you did, Rosebud, and when you went up there to do special music, I was watching him and saw him staring at you the whole time!”

I was getting up from the table before she’d even finished. “I’m going to walk away with my coffee now,” I said, bolting to the gas station’s restroom (a cafe, Subway, and restroom — gas stations are pretty versatile, really!). I cried for a minute and then washed my hands of it.

***

So, as you could probably already tell, it was a hard trip, Christopher-wise. Like my girl friend reminded me recently, I spent a full five years falling in love with the guy, and I’ve only got three years of unloving him under my belt now. It takes time to get over things. I’m doing what I can; I dropped the name, gave the ring away, and steadily keep him out of sight so he’ll stay the heck out of my mind…

But I can’t get it out of my head — this idea that no one will ever love him as much as I do; this absurd notion that he still misses me, in his own way.

I can’t help but remember certain things: how he mentioned blowing too much money on a vending machine while he was in Japan, trying to snag this stuffed rabbit for me; how he stopped me in the grocery store the DAY after I’d published a blog post about going on a date for the first time in a long time to tell me about how he managed a bakery now and how he was going on tour with his band soon, etc. etc… saying these things like he was trying to say something else…

And how he looked me straight in the eye a year ago while I was passing through his bakery and told me that he wasn’t happy. “This is the world YOU put us in, Rose,” he said. Those spirited green eyes — I’ll never forget them. There was so much I wanted to say to him then, but I didn’t want to be a bad person, so I didn’t say it.

I say I hate him now because I still love him. Duh, you’re saying. Yeah, I know.

But my cousin said something brilliant yesterday while we were driving to a bookstore together, and it made a lot of sense to me. It was something like: “Once you start loving someone, you can’t stop.” Simple, right? But I agree with it… and I’m going to add onto it a little: Once you start loving someone, you can’t stop, and once you’ve loved someone and it’s over, you can’t un-love them. But still loving them doesn’t mean you still want them. And that’s the key thing it’s taken me this long to realize.

I was driving my dad back to his truck stop yesterday afternoon… we were about to say goodbye again. During the ride, we talked on and off with comfortable silences passing between us, but before we reached his exit, dad said something important: “If things get serious with you and James and Chris ends up wanting you back someday, just remember: Pet Cemetery.”

I laughed and smiled at the car in front of me. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said. “They never come back the same, Rose. He’d come back bitter and vengeful. Sleep around, cheat on you.” He paused. “Pet Cemetery, man.”

I thought about it. “Dad — we’ve given each other some good advice over the years. So I think I’m going to take this.”

Now… would Chris do those things: be mean to me, become a cheater? No; I do NOT believe that at all. Christopher’s always had a beautiful soul — he’s honestly goodhearted. But I believe that Padre was super right about one thing: He wouldn’t come back the same.

I always imagine him as being the same person today that he was three years ago because it’s hard to separate who he is in my mind from who he actually is right now — I replay these old memories of him and picture the same person as being alive today. But he’s not. And the girl playing in his memories isn’t here anymore, either.

And here’s the thing of it: I wouldn’t want to revert back to who I was before, no way, and I wouldn’t unwish any changes on him, either. We’re better people now — much more ourselves. And the real truth of it is that we’re better not together. I know this; I just needed to realize (yesterday!) that you can love someone with all of your heart and soul, be ready to give up the damn ghost and die for them, without actually wanting to be with them.

So there it is; I’m not falling out of love with Christopher or any of the others ever (see exhibits a, b, and c), but that’s okay, because you can’t fall out of love. Meaning: IF it was really love, then it’s not going away, ever. Period.

So leave the old love lying there, darling — leave it right where it is. Let it be what it is, and don’t fool yourself pretending you could ever let it go.

***

While leaving the boondocks for Knoxville yesterday morning, I pulled onto the side of the road and got out of the car, crossing the street to touch the water that was running down the side of a mountain. It was cool and clear. Back in the car, I kept sticking my hand out the window to feel the cold air and then placing my cold hand on my cheek. “This is what’s real,” I whispered to myself, more than once.

I remembered something my grandfather had said when we visited that river in Somerset: “I thought I remembered it flowing in the opposite direction.”

I thought about that some more. Water doesn’t exactly change direction, I guess, but when you watch it like I watched the Cumberland River, you can see that the water goes through this whole process: flowing, crashing, dripping, creeping… just like Bruce Lee described it. And sometimes, when it crashes, it flips over on itself a little, sort of seeming to reverse. But whatever it does, whatever part of the process it’s in, it’s always moving, and it’s generally either circling around or moving steadily forward.

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Well I’m going to keep going with the flow, the creep, the drip, and the crash, because I’m committed to staying with the whole process now… I’ll be here until it ends, ready for but not rushing whatever comes next.

***

I haven’t really told you much about James yet, have I? He’s a special guy. It’s hard to describe him, but I’ll try.

When his picture popped up on my app (just ten days ago!), he looked like a real dork: quirky, unpretentious, strange. I was intrigued by him.

And usually, I make quick decisions (ten, maybe twenty seconds), but I hesitated with James. I looked at him for a while… re-reading his bio and revisiting the pictures of him with an otter and him in a chicken suit. So odd. I almost swiped left on the guy but decided that he and I had to AT LEAST be friends, so I swiped right and discovered he’d already swiped right on me.

“You seem like a total weirdo and I definitely think we should be friends,” I said.

He responded right away and then called me thirty minutes later. The second I heard his voice, I knew it was him. Do you understand what I’m saying? He asked if he could see me on Christmas, as he would be driving through Birmingham on his way home to Chattanooga, and I said yes. I’m so glad he asked, and I’m so glad I said yes.

We texted for days and then met at the park on the 25th, around 4:15 PM. I was talking with a park ranger when I turned around and saw him walking toward me, smiling — again, the soul recognition was unmistakable. I’d heard it in his voice already and then I was seeing it in his eyes — like: You! THERE you are. He told me later that he’d seen, heard, and felt the same thing; he called it kismet: destiny.

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We walked together and then – having vetted him for craziness – I told him he could stay the night at my place (with the rock solid promise of absolutely no funny business). He agreed. He’s told me since then that he’ll wait however long — that he just wants to see me (just me) and take care of me and read to me. Read to me?! Yes, I’m in love.

We got Indian food at the best place in Birmingham that night (one of the only places open on Christmas) before heading to the house. He sat across from me at first and I watched, curiously, as he fidgeted awkwardly for about a minute. Eventually, he got up, walked around the table, and sat down next to me. He said he wanted to hold my hand (and he did — the whole time we were there!). We spoke now and then, over the course of the meal, but mostly sat in a comfortable silence together; unlike usual, I didn’t feel like I needed to fill the space with a million billion questions. I was just content to share space with the guy. It felt so nice to be there with him.

Out in the parking lot, we paused by my car and he asked: “Should I kiss you now? Should I try to?” I laughed and said yes; he kissed me and then pushed me up against the car and kissed me some more until we could see a car’s light beams flashing from under our eyelids. We both laughed and he followed me home.

Cuddling in bed that night, he asked if I’d marry him someday. Sure, I said.

Later on in the night, I woke up with his arms still around me. So you’re my girlfriend now? he said. Sure, I said.

He left around four in the morning and I told him I’d see him on Friday night, on my way to visit my parents in Tennessee.

***

And I saw him on Friday (heading up) as well as yesterday (coming down).

We had dinner at a weird cafe and cuddled in bed last night… grabbed coffee, packed a fun picnic, and hiked up in Cloudland Canyon Forest together this morning and afternoon. Every single second was wonderful.

“I miss you already,” he said, about twenty minutes after I’d hit the road.

“Same. Crazy about you, James.”

“It won’t be long. Tell me when you’re home.”

He’ll be driving down to Birmingham to see me this weekend, and he’s mentioned that he’ll only be signing a lease up in Chattanooga that runs through May.

= James eating a banana in front of a waterfall. My perfect weirdo. 💙

***

James is wonderful. He wears his heart on his sleeve, has kind river eyes, and says exactly what’s on his mind (I’ve received texts ranging from “I weigh 177 pounds”, “I want to sell my ps3”, and “I’d marry you wherever” to “I’ve got lots of red blood cells” — okay; the last thing, he said in-person; still!). He likes to read and ride his bike and travel, and he’s a lot like me, but different — like: He likes watching sports, and he’s kind of, sort of a christian. I know.

When I first got on the app seven weeks ago, I had a firm policy of swiping left on anyone a. religious or b. super into sports. But I learned these things about James after talking with him and meeting him — after I’d already fallen in love with the guy.

“So I’ll just read and write and play the guitar while you watch sports,” I told him, and this was a fine way of resolving the matter. But I also told him that I’m a convicted agnostic and directly asked him if I was some kind of project for him, because I needed to know that I wasn’t. He said no. And while he’s religious, he’s a mild and obscure kind of religious: good-hearted, for sure, but vague about the details… so I think I can live with that and the football.

So yeah! I’m falling in love with someone new again. I’ll never stop loving the old ones less, or love the new ones less because of the old ones, because you can’t destroy or repurpose or write over old love; it’s born within you, its beneficiary is permanent, and the scope of that love of yours is limitless. It never dies. It’s always there. And your special love for that other person, for all of those special other persons, can change them, yes, but it definitely changes you. Beautiful and heartbreaking, isn’t it?

I started this blog nearly nine years ago when Christopher and I first got together. Crazy, huh? It’s helped me process through a lot, and I’ve got the feeling (I’ve had it for a while now) that its purpose is coming to a soft and quiet end.

So — while you might see an occasional post from me, please know that I’m going to spend the majority of this year focusing on growing and improving other areas of my life — things like school, stories, music, friendships, and my new relationship with James.

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Still here wishing you ALL a magical, happy, and healthy year…

Love always,

Aun Aqui

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