Sealed with a kiss
—Eros, Agape, Philos— This Valentine’s Day, ask yourself the question: Are there really only three kinds of love?
Don’t say it. Don’t even think it. Every Valentine’s Day, some cliché-ridden hack will use the words, “Love is a many—blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, you know that. But the sad fact is that clichés, like legends, often are built on the stuff of truth.
When you look around your own life, don’t you see love everywhere? The love of a boy for his cat, the love of a good book, Grandma and Grandpa’s love, the love of a dog for a busy fire hydrant.
So, too, we express our love in different ways. Sure, there’s sex, but there are also the terse e-mails we send one another when we haven’t communicated for too long; there’s the punch-in-the -nose love between brothers; there’s the hand-holding, shoulder-wrapping, knee-patting familial love; and, of course, the gut-wrenching expression of love of a man for his remote control.
In this year’s Valentine’s Day issue, we asked some of our regular contributors to think and write about love—just love. Love is truly bittersweet. Did you ever think you’d read about how the scent of boiling pig lard can warm the cockles of a young woman’s heart?
Gather Ye Rosebuds
by Brad Summerhill
About nine months ago, as the crocuses’ seasonal protuberance withered in my yard, and the robins complained of a scarcity of earthworms, a student of mine from the community college phoned me on a Saturday. Zack had tracked down my number in the book, and I wasn’t pleased.
His voice was shaky, and he pleaded with me to meet him at Dreamer’s Coffeehouse downtown along the river. I wondered aloud if he didn’t have any family for this sort of thing, but teachers of literature—even remote, standoffish ones—understand that these students find attachments within the realm of language that aren’t to be had from your typical boxer-wearing sports fan of a father. Zack needed my wisdom, and who was I to deny it?
The problem, of course, revolved around a young woman. I happened to know her slightly, but I pretended ignorance and asked Zack to describe her.
With a soft gaze she could transform a cocoon to a butterfly, he said. She floated into a room and existed on a fundamental plane of otherness to which young men had no access.
Like all maturing males, Zack worshiped Eros, that primitive deity who drives procreation. He had worked up the courage to ask her for a date. He had something “erotic” in mind along the lines of dinner, movie and a peck on the cheek, but what he got was a bluesy case of Agape—that is, love in its spiritual form.
“She’s got me going to church with her,” he explained in despair.
“Love has many forms,” I mused, “but only a single pronunciation in English. It’s limiting, don’t you think?”
He nodded eager agreement. (Zack wound up with a “B-” at semester’s end, distracted by Eros’ unreasonable demands.)
We spoke for some hours. I recited from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” the poet’s famous exhortation to a ripe femininity. “Had we but world enough, and time,” I sighed, “this coyness, Lady, were no crime.” I told Zack the poem was only published posthumously, perhaps for fear of scandal. He nodded vacantly. If they were immortal, he’d spend 200 years adoring each of her breasts, but since he always feels “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near,” he sees that they must—to use the crude popular phrase—"get it on” right away.
“I can’t stand that church anymore,” Zack replied in a non sequitur. The brumal Episcopalian hymns drove him up a wall. He observed, irrelevantly, that he figured the priest for a homosexual.
I recommended he memorize the Marvell poem along with Robert Herrick’s “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May,” likewise written on a theme of carpe diem. I just wanted to preoccupy the lad. To myself, I forecast that this boy’s storm of lust would surely pass. In the meantime, he might as well learn something.
When the new school year began several months later, the long-enduring moonflowers around my yard still laden with drooping blossoms and prickly seed balls, I heard the story’s conclusion from a breathless Zack, who stopped mid-stride as he scurried to his biology class. The girl, Melissa, had made a remarkable turnaround over summer, foregoing religious matters in favor of this punk who could recite poetry.
“I’d say thanks, Mr. Summerhill,” he told me, picking ponderously at a zit, “except that it kinda got all whacked out near the end.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, oh, I forgot, I gave her flowers—carnations—just like you said, on that Sunday.” He looked at his watch.
“Zack, is there something you wanted to say to me?”
After a mealy-mouthing minute or two, he came out with it: “Melissa’s claiming I’m the father, but I don’t think it’s possible.”
“So she had a choice between God and you—and made a suspect decision.”
He laughed, but I curled my lip. Of course, all young women eventually make the same decision during the hormone-infused springtime of their lives—it’s how the species survives. Flowers, sweets and poetry hasten the decision-making process—although I never actually believed it worked, despite my numerous lectures on the vital link between sex and language. Zack mentioned something about a lawsuit and a vengeful father who lived out of state—it was clear that Eros had pointed him away from Melissa—but the final twist only presented itself long after Zack had faded into the hazy student body of my memory.
Rumor wafted through my department chairman’s phone lines that Melissa had forsaken her family and secular life for a life of poverty and isolation. Being unable to take refuge with a local nunnery—not being Catholic herself—she was recommended to a breakaway sect of Trappist monks living in spare cabins near the headwaters of the Feather River. Only there, without risk of sexual predators or poetry-wielding students stalking her, has she found true love—her newborn—and true friendship with the celibate monks who practice a kind of love called Philos.
By Rebecca Ann Eckland
Sometime around 1960, scholars decided that, instead of Love (with a big L), we have now only love (with a little L) or, perhaps more accurately, a multiplicity of experiences that culminate into something like love that can’t be defined exactly. Just an hour ago, the person who made those experiences for me left. I expected a brief shouting match, an exchange of teary-eyed goodbyes, or in the least some vaulted projectile toward the wall. Instead, there was nothing. He walked out the door, and I sat on the couch, sipping coffee, wondering, “What the hell was that?”
I looked into the dark mass of caffeine in the off-white colored mug. I could see my face dip and contort as the liquid undulated from one side of the mug to the other. It was my cue to cry—to be sad. But I wasn’t. The word “car,” followed by the verb “drive,” flashed into my mind. So the mug went in the sink, my jacket over my shoulders and I was out the door.
I wish I had been going on a spontaneous road trip—that would have made a great story—but I was just on my way to work. But while I was driving, the mundane became noticeable as the radio started playing this song that made me think of him. The missing comradeship had left a gaping hole in my chest. He could always make me laugh. One time, he’d grabbed someone else’s cart mistakenly in the grocery store, and, when he arrived home, I exclaimed, “Oooh, you brought me cashews!” to which he only returned a puzzled expression and the question, “I did?” Or the time we’d been talking in his room, and the workers patching the roof had fallen through the ceiling, crashing into his closet, speckled in drywall. What else was there to do but laugh?
But “love” demands multiplicity of experience—which is why I don’t feel so bad changing the station to something that makes me smile while I cross the California state line. I have a life to live, too, and he isn’t the only person who can make me laugh, stay for a time, and then move on. That’s what love (with a little L) is all about, right? Remember the good times, look for better ones. There are plenty of us out there. And that’s what I say—and we say—when something like this happens. More fish in the sea, more bread at the buffet, more of everything to go around—or at least I hope so.
Maybe no one else will like my paintings (or say they do) as much as he did or allow me to knit him a scarf and actually wear it in public even though it’s too feminine and makes him look ridiculous. But someone—sometime—may make “love” seem like it is capitalized even if that isn’t the Truth. Illusion is all we have sometimes.
Tis better to have loved and … ah, screw it
By Soumitro Sen
Have you ever been in love? Do you treasure that bauble you got as your first Valentine’s Day gift? Does your heart tingle when you recall the first time you drove into the sunset with your lover?
If you cherish each person you ever wanted and can’t yet get over your last affair, which actually ended way before last February, just tell yourself, “I am not alone.” For truly did someone say, the heart has reasons that reason does not understand. Not surprisingly, young people—in spite of suffering hurtful heartbreaks—often believe the cliché: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
“It’s a great pity if someone hasn’t loved someone,” says Yan Yang, 24, a Chinese graduate student in UNR. “It’s something you have to experience. For example, if you’ve never had spicy food in your whole life, it’s a pity.”
In the midst of a fulfilling relationship herself, Yang feels that “knowing that there will always be someone there for you” is the best part of being in love.
But what about the pain of a break-up? What about those long, tear-drenched nights? And days when the world seemed meaningless without the right person around?
“That’s life,” says Juan Marcos González, 24, a Puerto Rican graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno. “You get things; you lose things. That’s how you get to know the worth of things.”
González, who ended an affair in early 2004, feels the agony of a rift is temporary.
“The pain eventually goes away,” he says. “What remains are the experiences that you had with that person. And those are always nice to look back upon.”
Now, does that remind you of the character of Rose Dewitt Bukater in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic—the old lady who treasured the memories of her beloved decades after the fateful voyage?
But not everyone is like Bukater. Or even like González.
“At certain points, it’s easier not to have loved at all,” says Drew Johnson, 23, an undergraduate student at Truckee Meadows Community College. “The whole ‘love’ thing sends people into these crazy emotional fits. You almost lose all consciousness of what makes sense, especially after you have lost. It tears you up.”
Johnson, who is single, adds, “Love is the greatest thing when it works. When it doesn’t, it sucks.”
David Oakes, 27, a UNR graduate student who married in May 2004, agrees.
“I have been through a horrible breakup,” he says. “All it did was made me feel vulnerable. It was like I knew the last page of the book, so I never needed to read the first one.”
Oakes had his breakup in 2000. He didn’t get into his next relationship till 2003.
“The feeling of having lost is way worse than being lonely because you come out of it with baggage,” he says. “You are afraid to get close to somebody after that. You are scared it’s going to happen again.”
But Oakes found love in 2003 that culminated in marriage. Today, he’s none the worse for his former involvement. So putting the past behind and starting afresh is not a bad strategy after all. Better still, if you can believe the line from Celine Dion’s title song from Titanic, which said, “Love can touch just one time and last for a lifetime.” It is best, however, if you can learn something positive out of all the loving and losing. As Yang says:
“Losing someone is not a sweet experience. But it helps you understand life and love better.”
By Andrea Gastelum
Side by side, sharing a box of Red Vines, the 11-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl sit watching Sister Act. Though the two kids understand most of Whoopi Goldberg’s humor in the hit movie, there is little laughter. His vibrant brown eyes glued to the screen, the young boy shoves red vine after red vine in his mouth, and the little brunette girl pretends not to want more than the two she’s already eaten.
The movie ends, the lights come on, and the adrenaline-filled hour and a half is over—or so the kids think. But the parents see no harm in taking their kids for ice cream after the movie. They stop by Scolari’s grocery store, which has the biggest scoops in town for less than a dollar. Secretly, the girl doesn’t want the evening to end; the butterflies in her stomach are making her nervous and excited. She decides to make a special valentine for him when she gets home, perhaps with some red vines attached or meaningful conversation hearts in his envelope.
The next day, Mr. Porter’s fifth-grade class is filled with red and pink paper hearts, chocolate hugs and kisses and valentine-exchange frenzy. Kids give and receive valentines, delivering their messages on imperfectly cut red and pink construction-paper hearts or commercially produced cards made splendid with cartoon characters. Conversation hearts are scattered about the classroom. Bright pink and purple, foil-wrapped chocolate lips and fun-size candy bars litter the students’ desks.
The children make sure to include all their classmates and, of course, the teacher in their valentine-drop-off list. The little brunette girl receives one valentine in particular: a white card with pink crayon lettering and a rose next to it. As she opens it, she reads the poem slowly, “Roses are red, violets are blue, it’s Valentine’s Day, the perfect time to tell you I love you!”
More than a decade later, the two meet again. This time the boy is a young man with a full beard and a bone-colored fleece pulled over his hefty shoulders. The brunette is wearing a cream-colored blazer, red blouse and jeans. She tosses back her shiny, thick hair and smiles at the rugged young man. Inside the local bar, they are surrounded with familiar faces and conversations full of excitement. They make their rounds, talking to childhood friends but making sure to “bump” into each other before the night ends. They make eye contact and head for the bar to share a conversation over a couple glasses of beer. Could this be a real connection? After all these years, could they still have feelings for each other?
Young 20-somethings begin sifting out the door, putting on scarves and heavy coats to withstand the below-freezing chill. He asks her how he can get in touch with her. She casually mentions he could call, and she gives him her number. A girl with a camera tells the two to get close for a quick picture. They share a moment of intimacy for the picture, with his arm squeezing her tight and her arm pressed to his back. They take one more look at each other and smile before he heads out the door to join his friends.
Weeks later, there is no phone call, but there is news. The young man has proposed to his long-term girlfriend, obviously having decided against taking a chance on his fifth-grade crush. As fate would have it, love is not always so simple. Connections are not enough, it seems. Timing is also crucial.
Days of swine and roses
By Natasha Majewski
The odor of love drifts in and out in many forms. For some, it is the smell of fresh-cut daffodils. For others, it is the smell of sandalwood oil on just-washed skin. For me, love wafted through in an unforgettable scent of hay and boiling pig lard.
It all started as a marketing ploy. As part of the high school student council, we thought we could make some money by putting on an event called “Kiss a Grotesque Insert-Name-Here.” It consisted of putting out jars labeled with teachers’ names. At the end of the week, the teacher who had the most money in a jar had to kiss some kind of slightly repulsive, slightly adorable animal.
He wasn’t easy to find. It took more than a few disgruntled no-thank-yous before I actually convinced someone to let me take one of his livestock on a weekend joyride.
He lived in an old-fashioned farm on the outskirts of Las Vegas. It consisted of a few run-down houses, paint-peeled barns decorated with assortments of sharp, pointy things and one small child eerily laughing as he vanished in and out of rotting cars.
The ranch hand didn’t say much as he steered us through mazes of hay, shrieking animals and a vile stench boiling out of metal trashcans. Pig lard, the man told us.
He finally stopped and nodded at a pen of squirming, pink and brown flesh.
It wasn’t exactly like picking puppies. Not one of the loud, smelly little animals wriggled toward us. We finally ended up with a small, cotton-candy-pink piglet.
And so began my love for a foot-and-a-half long, bristled piglet, which emanated an aura of innocence and a scent of pig shit.
The weekend was a blissful whirlwind. Mr. Piggy, as we called him, made his cameo at the football game and then spent the rest of the weekend snorting, squealing and bumbling in and out of his plastic dog kennel and through the house. I stayed by his side most of the time, playing with him and feeding him. Our time together was short, but by the end, my heart was filled with warm, squiggling, snout-snot love.
As Sunday afternoon approached, I didn’t want to take Mr. Piggy back. I’d look into his sweet, scrunched face, and all I could think about were the putrid pots of bubbling pig lard. When the truck came to take him back, I didn’t go with the others. I looked into his crusty, smallish eyes and made a promise.
I knew I couldn’t save Mr. Piggy, but as the sound of his squeal trailed off down the road, I decided that I would give Mr. Piggy the noblest gift a young girl in love could give. I pledged to never eat him.
To this day, the smell of bacon makes me gag, but it’s more in effort to choke back my tears than to fight off the eye-watering stench. They say you never forget your first, and I will never forget mine, my Mr. Piggy.