I have fallen in love 623 times this year.
I know that number because I kept count.
In a notebook, in my head, next to the list of sushi places that give extra ginger for free, and next to the list of books that have good covers with embossed titles, you will see this list.
My mental list is called People Who I’ve Fallen in Love With, or Places I have Held my Heart Outside of my Ribs, or I am not sure why, but I want to Touch your Skin. It’s weird—but so am I, and so is love and I think that only makes sense, given what we are dealing with.
The first time I fell in love this year was on New Year’s Eve (painfully typical, I know), but it wasn’t with my date. I didn’t even have a date, I just had a lot of champagne and a short skirt and a keen eye, and I watched how my best friend’s boyfriend held her gaze. In the corner, under a lamp that made her eyes sparkle, in the middle of music and laughter and spilled drinks, he just stood there and stared at her. And that was the first time I fell in love this year: with how his eyes fell on more than her body. He wasn’t looking at her clothes, or the skin under them. He was staring at her soul.
Then, I was in love with the doctor. He wasn’t my doctor, just a doctor. You know, the kind you meet at a whiskey bar when it’s early on Friday, and you are off work and so is he, and you both realize that your work is just words. Your work is writing them down, which is easy, because backspace. And his work is how to say those words like, “I’m so sorry,” “Congratulations,” and “We did everything we could.” He doesn’t have backspace. Words are permanent when you have to speak them like that. I’m in love with that type of courage; I want my words to be that brave.
I fell in love with the woman at the coffee shop with the braids and the perfect arms and fingers. She either twists the braids right on top of her head, or lets them swing loose when she reaches for the almond milk, or the coconut milk, or the phone. She dances when she talks, with her wrists and her hips. I’m not smooth like that and I can’t move like that, but I’ve tried when I’m alone in my apartment. I don’t know if I am in love with her or I want to be her. Maybe, it’s both.
The homeless man on the corner of Park and Stout. He flipped off the woman who honked at me when I rode my bike too close to her car. When she kept honking, he used two hands. The whole time he laughed and laughed; his eyes crinkled and he winked at me when the light turned green. There was so much joy in his space on that street corner. I love joy in strange, obscure places. I love people who show me that it’s okay to look for joy there.
To the beautiful girl who emailed me to say she read some of my writing and loved me for it: I love you, too. I emailed back on the day that I was overwhelmed by the doubts and critics (both in my head and on the comments section of my Facebook feed). Then, she sent this reply: “You are magic all by yourself. Don’t stop. Keep going. Always keep going.” And I was in love with the idea that normal humans were allowed to be magic, too—if magic is what they wanted.
The woman who flew across the country from New York to find me the moment my heart broke: I’m in love with her. She brought tea and candy and set it up in a semicircle around the hotel room she booked and said, “See? I made a home for us here. There is tea and there are Peanut Butter M&M’s and if you need, we can stay here forever.” That is love because Peanut Butter M&M’s are expensive. And so is flying to where I am from New York. And so is packing up everything I own in trash bags, and moving me out of my apartment because I couldn’t get up off the floor right then. Oh yes, I am in love with her.
My sister’s boyfriend? He set up a disco in her apartment when she couldn’t go out one night. She just jumped in the shower and when she came out, all steamy and pissed off because her friend didn’t want to go dance, the lights were turned low and Bruno Mars was playing. And she said that they danced right there…with her hair in a towel and him in his socks and I fell in love with her boyfriend at that very moment. She told me, “The real love isn’t in the perfect moments, it is in the unplanned ones when your hair is wet.” And then, I was in love with her, too.
The next time I fell in love was in a bookstore with a lawyer who used big words and laughed too loudly. He told me stories and we smelled the new books. That same hour, I fell out of love. He used big words and laughed too loudly, and I was tired of smelling new books. Short-term love counts too, you know.
There is a nine-year-old who repeatedly refers to my apartment as a tree house, and I’m in love with her. First, because, I think of my apartment as a tree house, too, and I was happy that someone finally understood what theme I had been striving for. And second, because when I was nine years old, I told everyone that I was going to live in a tree house when I grew up. My nine-year-old self would be impressed: she may even have been in love with the grown up version of herself. I love that.
I’m in love with the poet with the curly hair and bright eyes. I wish I had her words and her style and her wardrobe and her confidence. Then I thought, “Is this what love is? Appreciation of all the things you admire, but haven’t yet captured in these bottles of life we call bodies?” I promised myself right there that my bottle would one day be overflowing. It would flow over so much that other bottles would be filled. I’m in love with that idea.
I’m in love with the person who knew I was in love with the poet with the curly hair, and convinced her to write me a message in a book. The message said this: “Dear young one, keep writing. I can’t wait to read your own work one day.” Right there I decided I would write in any loving stranger’s book if they ever asked me. With that, my bottle filled up a little more.
Then, I was in love with the rain because I want that smell to seep from my pores, even when I am inside.
Then, I was in love with the doctor again, but this time with his hands—the way the tendons moved when he spoke, the way he looked up through his eyelashes when he listened.
I was in love with the gardener at the community garden with the ink black skin and the perfect sweat and the soft face.
The man at work who calls his daughter every day during lunch to see how kindergarden went.
Adults who go barefoot in the summer.
The bartender with the loose pants and the belly button ring and none of the fear.
The feeling when it’s dawn on a Sunday and I don’t have to be awake but I am because I’m in love.
Teachers who worry with creased foreheads about who their students will become.
Babies with wet eyelashes.
Girls who laugh with their mouths open.
Boys who cry.
Humans who scream or dance, because screaming and dancing is very, very honest, and I am in love with honesty.
I have fallen in love 623 times this year, but I am going to bed alone tonight.
They say you give a piece of yourself to every single thing that touches your heart. But I believe the inverse is also true: we take a piece of the things we have chosen to love. If that’s the case, then when I lie in bed at night, I am the confidence, courage, joy, and passion of all of my lovers. I am rain when it’s sunny out, disco in an apartment, a flight from New York, and the words of a poet.
They know me for my graceful arms, my sure hands, and my smile regardless of where I call my home. What more could I ask for than that?
I’ll always be in love.