There's this feeling she gets when she's in the middle of something she knows is changing her. It probably has a name—whatever Webster calls that mix of joy and anticipation and fear (but maybe there's a little bit of anger in there, too, because who wants to change when you don't know how you're changing, or why, or by what?).
It starts with an admission.
She's never loved a man the way she loves words.
She used to think that loving words was a kind of mediocre safe she could someday learn to appreciate. Words themselves aren't safe, but they make for an easy relationship. Words captivate her. They can fan passion, trigger happiness, or they can inspire remorse. When she feels hostile toward herself, words can be kind or cruel. They are always what she needs, and sometimes, they are everything she wants. They make her a better person.
Mostly, it's this: words can break her heart, but they will never, ever leave her.
Sometimes, she treats her heart like it's been carved in the trunk of an old oak tree, the kind that has borne the weight of laughing children in tire swings. It's there, and it's permanent in a way, but it's less than an honest thing. Honestly, it's a funhouse mirror set in front of a day years ago she doesn't remember having, something people come along and brush sentimental fingers across with curiosity.
Then, loving words or loving a man becomes something else, entirely.
Because, she believes that we never know who we really are until we know who we are to someone else. Our lives are made of titles, of roles we play, responsibilities we are given and those we take on for ourselves. Spouse, parent, child, sibling, teacher, coworker, friend—we are so often defined by our relationships. We feel their weight always.
And, when your days are a reckoning of what you are at any given moment, suddenly what you could be or could have been seems that much more important. This means that, sometimes, she thinks about all the things she'll never have—money, good health, a small waist and a more feminine form, a magnetic smile or a melodic voice, an easy sort of vulnerability—because these invariably precede thoughts of things she'll never be: a wife and a mother, a superhero, a really good friend.
And it is that last one that always disarms her, despite the fact that she's always thought that she is the kind of friend she would hate to have (which is, ostensibly, no kind of friend, at all). It usually feels like a role not written for her, an ill-fitting character she carries onto stage without inhabiting her space or understanding her motivations. Shakespeare refused to be confined by language, molding letters around his concepts until they created a structure others could recognize, instead, and she does that, too.
It's what she is good at: words, and being alone, and disappointing people.
"You told me once that you didn't know that you could be in love with someone, like love was a talent you lacked," he said.
She was walking at nine months, full sentences at eighteen, reading and writing letters at three years. High school courses in elementary school and college by tenth grade. She has dabbled in everything, from art and literature, to philosophy and social policy, to sports and manual laboring. She's never stopped wanting more—to learn, to experience, to grow.
"I can't have it all," she said.
The only thing she ever really struggled with is chemistry and her behavior. That just means this: she could have been amazing, but she thinks she wound up just being someone that's holding on.
"Them," she corrected without conviction. "Talents."
"It's not a talent."
It's not a talent. Love's not even a skill—a universal fractal ability one can manufacture with time and patience and practice. Love is a gift, and gifts are meant to be given and received, but not arbitrarily. Sometimes, love should be indiscriminate, a haphazard inundation without regard to the consequences. Sometimes, everything that makes up love should be piecemealed, a careful emigration. The hard part is knowing which should happen when, and that is a skill, one she hasn't quite manufactured.
She wants an indiscriminate emigration, because maybe she just likes when things are absurdly difficult.
"I don't think you even try sometimes."
"I don't try."
It was one of the biggest lies she ever told. She tries, and often she succeeds. She is in love with a lot of things, and more importantly, a respectable number of people. Love, especially recently, has made her a person she never thought she would ever be, and God! for once, she would like someone to recognize how hard that is for her to acknowledge. Because, she isn't good at this. She's bad at trying. But, she does, and often she succeeds, and she needs to be reminded of that.
Not that that is what he meant. She doesn't think she meant it, either.
"You want me to try?"
"I want you not to settle."
"Clearly I haven't."
Nobody to blame, really, if your perfect romance is always happening to someone else. It does sting a little, though, when most of those someones are fictional. Settling on no one is just as dangerous as settling on someone, though, and that is probably what he meant. It's a strange paradox that she's pretty awful at both—it means, she thinks, that she misses the prospect of love more than love, itself. Except when she doesn't. It's a messy situation.
She supposes anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
So, sometimes, she doesn't settle and she tries with words, at least, and love becomes the gift they give her. Shake me, she says. Shake me until you break me. This world is too beautiful to remain whole and free.
Sometimes, they do.