To all the boys I’ve loved before

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? You look good. Really. The boy I liked at seven, Jaime Olaiz the fall of 1993, the ones from that golden summer of 1996, the med student I had a thing for in my early 20’s, the tech CEO, the one with dark eyes and curly tendrils, even the one I was married to for a while.

I want to thank you. Loving you allowed me to daydream while twirling hair around my finger. It got me through boring road trips and sleepless nights. I felt less alone because my heart was connected to someone somewhere out in the word. It kept me from chasing validation where only danger and self-destruction lurked. It sustained me through years of drought, like manna from heaven.

You might not have loved me back. You might not even have known that I loved you. Or you may have caught on because the one thing I’ve never been is subtle. Never, ever that.

I’m sorry if I tried to manage you or looked to you to fix me or expected things of you you couldn’t give and then resented you for not having given that which you didn’t have in the first place. These things are complicated. The love vouchers I received had certain claims and guarantees that were far beyond what one should expect from love. I thought it meant ownership, exclusivity, overlooking of faults, endless passion and focus, abandonment of all responsibility and obligation in favor of time spent with me, and of constantly shoring up my weak ego with compliments and reassurances. I know better now.

It took a while, but I learned that promises of forever are merely promises to try. Anything more is a prison sentence. Love is not a handcuff that keeps someone attached at the wrist. It is a kite string that allows the other to soar. If you love someone when they’ve yet to belong to you, you shouldn’t want to shackle them and change them once they’re yours. That’s the kind of unintentional cruelty you’d expect from a precocious child with a bug collection. She loved the hop in the grasshopper so she trapped him and pinned him to some styrofoam, to hop nevermore.

I tried loving you the right way–the way that I was told to love. But it took a long time to realize that love is not a written composition. At most it is chord progression sheet. The rest is up to us to improvise as we vibe off each other. Rigid structures crumble under stress. Flexibility allows a bridge or a building to sway in the wind or ground tremble and continue to stand. I held on so tight to you for dear life that you crumbled in my strangling fist.

And to some of you, one in particular, I thought that if I could just meet every one of your needs that you’d be so grateful you couldn’t think but to love me. But that isn’t how love works either. When you put a price on your love, that being your object’s affection in return, you’ve put a price on something priceless. Love is too precious to commodify that way. So no wonder you treated my love as an obligation…and you felt like a share cropper, always coming up short. This is avarice. I know better now.

I’m sorry for how things unfolded. I really had good intentions. If you made it to the list of those worthy of unquantifiable love, then you deserved the best. Even if you too had yet to figure out what love was about yourself.

Thank you for the hand holds, the playlists, the compliments, the meeting of eyes in dimly lit rooms, the flowers and gifts, the candlelit dinners, the vacations, the sex (not all of you, of course). You made this girl very happy, if only in fits and spurts.

All of you contributed to this current iteration of me, of Vene, who can love profoundly without need of return, and who can allow people in her life to breath, to catch wind and soar, without worrying that they’d fly away and forget her for all time.

It’s a very nice place to be.

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