“How do you know if you truly love someone or if you just love being in love?”
“What do you mean?” My friend rolls over to look at me. It’s almost midnight.
“I mean, how do I know that I actually love someone for who they are? Not just the feeling of being loved or being in love.”
A thick bolt of lightning shoots through the ceiling and splits the bed in half. My first thought is that I will never hear her reply. I reach out to grab her but the room is already being split in half and my portion of the bedroom takes a slow dive into the river below.
As I sit in the corner of the room, hanging onto the ceiling fan, dirty Berlin river water flooding into the half-open bedroom, I realize that this might be a dream. Although, you can never really tell, can you?
The river disappears and I’m transported to sunshine, sticky air, and lush greenery. I’m sitting on a beach eating fried tempeh with rice out of a thick banana leaf.
“Want to go surfing tomorrow?” The boy next to me asks, he’s already finished his meal and is patiently waiting for me to finish.
“No,” I laugh. “I already told you I’m terrified of surfing.”
“Worth a shot.” He smiles and I quickly look away.
I know that his face will change before my eyes and it will scare me. His perfect image will peel away like the bark of a eucalyptus tree. But I look back anyway.
I don’t like what I see. All of the features are the same—almond eyes, curly black hair, freckles spattered across the cheeks—but they have lost all meaning.
“I wrote a list of all the things I like about you.” The stranger says, handing me a giant pizza box covered in writing. “I didn’t have paper,” he laughs.
“Thanks,” I take the pizza box.
“You know, I haven’t met anyone like you before.” He smiles shyly.
“Thanks,” I repeat, trying to smile back. I’ve heard that a lot. And it always makes me strangely uncomfortable.
“What do you like about me?” He asks eagerly. I’m reminded of the kid in middle school who would ask others what they scored on the test just so they would ask him and he could brag about receiving the top grade.
I stare at the pizza box, sharpie words bleeding into grease stains. Crumbs stand guard at all four corners.
“I don’t know.”
“But yesterday you told me you loved me.” The boy looks sad, I can tell he wants to take the pizza box back.
“I do,” I reply unconvincingly, staring at the ocean. I can’t look at his eyes again.
The beach disappears, the boy disappears. I’m still holding the pizza box. That was very sweet of him to make this, I think to myself.
I’m back home, wherever that is, in bed.
A knock on my door. Someone lets themselves in before I can reply.
“Hello,” it’s my first-grade teacher. I don’t remember her name and I feel it would be rude to ask. “How are you? Did you finish your assignment?”
I realize that I had forgotten to turn in a drawing of my family tree. I had completely forgotten. This means I won’t get a gold sticker in class tomorrow.
“I forgot, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright.” She smiles kindly and sits carefully at the edge of the bed, patting my feet.
I sit up on my elbows, looking around the room. I don’t recognize it but I know it’s my room. “You’re still married to Mr. Denton?” Mr. Denton was the gym teacher.
“Yes. Ten long years.” She smiles and shows me her hand, a sticky pink ring pop is on her wedding finger. A fat glob of pink lands on the bed. I’ll have to wash the sheets later.
“How do you know that you love him?”
“I’ve never thought about that. When you know, you know.”
“It seems like everyone says that,” I sigh. “Have you ever been in love with the idea of someone?”
“We are all in love with the idea of someone. It’s almost impossible to see the world objectively.” Mrs. Denton’s face melts into her body and from the gooey, swirling mess, a vaguely famous actor appears.
I ignore the change of character. In this universe, it makes sense that Mrs. Denton just transformed into another person. “So we can’t ever truly love someone? Because we never really see them for who they really are?”
“I didn’t say that.” The actor says, adjusting his shirt. He is wearing a bulletproof vest, he must be from one of those cop shows I’m watching. “But maybe. All we can do is try our best to see them for who they are. The big question is whether you want to see them or not.”
“That’s insightful.” I look down at my lap and see the pizza box again. “I think sometimes I don’t want to see someone for who they are. The character I create of them is much better. Or the character that they’ve created for me. The fairytale we create is so lovely and even though I know deep down it isn’t real, it can be fun to play pretend.”
“It is.” His walkie-talkie buzzes and he picks it up and mumbles importantly before turning to me again. “I have to go, duty calls.”
“Okay, thanks for stopping by.” A thunderbolt smites him and he disappears in a grey fog of ashes. I place the pizza box on the table and lay back in bed and notice that my friend is there again.
“Sorry, I hope I wasn’t making too much noise. I didn’t know he would be stopping by.”
“I’m a deep sleeper, no worries.” She mumbles, not opening her eyes.
“You know, I really thought I loved him.”
“Who? The surfer?” She asks, still not opening her eyes.
“Yeah, but I think I just loved the idea of us more than anything.” I settle into the pillow and stare up at the clear ceiling and watch as raindrops splatter above, reflecting the white moonlight. “I couldn’t fill out a pizza box about him, not even a personal pan pizza—”
“Oh, that was from a different part of the dream, sorry.” I clasp my hands together.
“Alright,” she laughs.
“Goodnight, see you in the morning,” I close my eyes and turn over.
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