I never liked writing about love. I always thought it was too grand a topic for any one poet or novelist to pin down and then pen down. I always thought it was too much for Spielberg to capture on the silver screen, and it was definitely too much for Michael Bay to do any justice shoe-horning into some action-y subplot. The way creators seem to ignore love is not out of neglect. We hesitate because love shines too brightly to even think of touching. Still, we reach.
The first time I fell in love was back in the rose-coloured days of childhood. His sweet brown eyes absolutely hypnotized me. I was smitten, love-struck, slammed into like a freight truck. I wanted to take him home and never let him go. And then… he scratched me. It drew blood. I think I cried. But how can I blame him with those claws?
My neighbour’s guinea pig is probably what ignited a deep love of animals in me, creating a rumbling in my tummy – an absolute need to take care of cute, mostly-helpless things. And from then on, I declared, deeply in love the way only a six-year-old can be: I will be a veterinarian.
You can imagine my heartbreak when, four years later, an allergy test made it crystal clear that I would, in fact, never, ever be a vet. I kissed an apology onto my stuffed animals that said, “I’m sorry I’ll never be able to take care of you properly,” and set my sights elsewhere.
The second time, I was a bit older. I was a teenager filled to the brim with angst. I was going through a rough mental health period and, without consciously realizing it, needed anything to escape. I threw myself into media. I threw myself into games, into books, into movies. From screen to page, I wanted to live as many lifetimes as I could that weren’t mine. On my worst of days, movies were a blessed respite I took for granted. They were my antidepressants before I could muster up the courage to tell my mother I needed store-bought serotonin. Afterwards, I would stand up from my couch, stretch, and only then realize I had spent the last two hours enthralled and revitalized. On my worst of days, nothing was so immediately effective as a good movie. Movies became a huge part of my identity. On the worst of my days, I had fallen in love. I was a kid, but I fell in love the way grown-ups do: Slowly, like falling asleep, like floating down a river, like real life. I didn’t just love movies for how they made me feel when I looked at them; I loved everything that movies were.
Funny enough, the last time I fell in love was just like the movies. We had been friends for a while and didn’t get off to the best start. (His first words the first time we met: “You’re shorter than I thought you’d be.” Mine: “Excuse me?”). Later, he would tell me of his gallant plots to get my attention. He’d invite me to the soccer pitch outside my dorm and act like he just happened to be in the neighbourhood. He’d wait for an hour before realizing I either wasn’t home or coming outside. Once we fell in love, I had him tell me these stories over and over again until I could see them in every movie we watched. These little scenes of our history, these amber-resin memories, were superimposed onto every silver screen. Every love story I watched was somehow also our love story. I found us in all of them.
The moment I fell in love with him, it was 3am and we were walking home from the library, bantering back and forth. With the sweetest, most charming grin, he threatened, “Sass me again and I’ll throw you in a snowbank.” Then, he picked me up and placed me atop a nearby snowbank as gently as a snowflake. That moment hit me like a shot to the chest. It left a hole just big enough for thousands of butterflies to make a home in my stomach, just like he’d made a home in my heart. The first thing we watched together was Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008). He lied and said he’d seen it before. I’ll always remember it.
From then on, he became my favourite series. To paraphrase Pam Beasley, my life was like a book I didn’t want to put down, and there wasn’t a day that we didn’t have something to say about the TV and movies we watched. We discussed everything from the grand heroism of Hercules (1997) to the avant-garde elusiveness of Wavelength (1967). We discussed Hitchcock. We discussed The Expendables (2010). Through speaking of films, we whispered everything from our grandiose dreams to what it means to be human. Though we talked most often of movies and media, I understood so much about him just by what was said between the words.
It needs to be said that he was never fond of sharing too many details about himself. We’re constantly reminded that I am the chattier of the two. At first, getting to know him wasn’t like pulling teeth; it was more like dragging dark matter. But when we talked about movies, his eyes lit up like the way he made my whole world feel. He would never directly say it, but I learned to understand his words inside-out through a camera lens:
“Let’s watch ‘Lilo & Stitch’” = “I know you had a bad day”
“My favourite movie is ‘Digimon’” = “I’m still a child at heart.”
“I love ‘Spirited Away.’” = “I love you.”
I am lucky to love both fiction and a great devourer of fiction. Know that if you, too, are in this position, you have been given an unimaginable gift. For people to be able to live a thousand lives together, and to be in love in each one, is so great a thing it is almost sacred. I will always be grateful to have seen ourselves in The Notebook’s (2004) Noah and Allie, in Les Miserables’ (2012) Cosette and Marius, in The Princess Bride’s (1987) Buttercup and Westley. Equally important, I will always be grateful to not have seen ourselves in Twilight (2008), in Romeo and Juliet, in Rebecca (1940), or any other romanticization of a dysfunctional or unhealthy love affair.
This is not to say that we are a fairytale. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We’re just two people who watch a lot of TV in their pyjamas. Still, both he and movies have helped me understand what it means to love the other.
Whether it’s an idea or a person, to truly and fully embrace one means to accept that neither is actually an escape. Neither is a means to forget your problems. In truth, to love something, intangible or tangible, means that its very existence gives you strength. To truly love something, you must understand that they will always be independent from you. To love something is to understand that it has its own complex existence.
People often believe that to love a movie or a person is to become a part of something or someone else. On the contrary, it means you can spend two hours getting a better idea of your best self. To love something means to transform yourself. It means that on days I can’t find my feet, there are always two mantras burning in my mind. One is a quote from Game of Thrones: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” The other is from him: “On dark days, I focus on bright things.”
I have long given up on escaping away to the beautiful green earth of Rivendell or the fantastic world of Hogwarts or whichever iteration of Los Angeles Rush Hour (1998) takes place. In fact, I’ve long given up on escaping at all. Instead, I’ve chosen to live beside my love. This beautiful love that I cannot ever fully contain or understand or have. This thing with a mind and a soul that is constantly changing. I’ve chosen to love this thing for which I have only the utmost respect and affection, of which I only hope to grow alongside. This thing that I have accepted will sometimes frustrate me, or confuse me, or even bore me.
How beautiful a thing love is that it has this power over us.