Love is warmth, I say, and always have done. They say it too, and paint it one way, and for years on years, I believed it. Be they movies, songs, novels thick and sprawling, be they short episodes of long series, be they poets that haven’t yet seen, haven’t yet felt. They call love a bonfire flame and explosion, they call the heat cataclysmic, that which creates the earth we stand upon, dance atop. I believed it, sought it out like Marco Polo, both Asiatic explorer and swimming pool blind, and told myself if I wasn’t burning, I wasn’t loving, if I wasn’t scorched and ash and the aftermath of some great flame, it couldn’t be love. It didn’t match, after all.
Love is warmth, I say, but paint it different now. Scarred hands and skin that knew blister and bandage, I speak of love in hushed tones these days, I speak of love as one who has seen the firework, and seen the embers, low and glowing. All this seeing, all this speaking, and I’ve rounded many corners to come to where I am, how I feel about love, especially on days like today, this the eve of some holiday designed entirely around it and its saccharine manifestations. Here’s what I’ve come to understand, the knowledge I hold tight and believe in more than any drivel they, all the theys, could pour like sweet honey poison in my ears, here’s what I feel of love, and I hope you hold it too as tomorrow’s silly holiday washes over us:
Love is warmth, this I stand by and repeat like echo in canyon deep. Love is warmth, and love is a fire, but it’s a fire that warms, and does not burn. Real love is steady love, it’s not all bonfire flames and explosion, it’s simmering, it’s soothing, it’s a slow rumbling heat that asks not for gasoline to fan it higher, but for a log or two added to the embers each day, a gentle tending over days and weeks, months and years. Love is the understanding that we are more when we admit that we are half a soul, not less. Love is the understanding that what fills another is what fills ourselves, and the slow transformation from thinking inward to outward, putting someone else first without question or hesitation, first without even prompting, first because it’s unimaginable any other way. Love is soft fingertips on the canvas of our skin, so much more often than it is anything else.
For some in rarified air, and I am beyond lucky to call myself one of these privileged souls, love is and can be a combination of heats, so I will not lie and say that the warmth we feel is only one kind. Sometimes, love is those soft fingertips on our canvas skin, but sometimes it’s pinning one another against a wall and kissing like we’ve not the air for anything else. Sometimes it’s a passion that ignites the bed frame and makes charcoal the sheets we wrap ourselves in. Sometimes, it’s comet fire and the melting of all the ice it carries, sometimes, it’s volcanic. I believe this, too, but I stand by what I said, and what I will always say: At some point, some beautiful and fragile and shaking point, love will calm, and quiet, and hush, and simmer instead of boil. At some point, some great friendship will emerge beneath all those glowing embers, the hidden source of fuel that keeps that warmth alive and thriving, that lets it throw its fever wider, deeper, and longer.
Tomorrow, when we wake to the pink and redwashing of the grocery, when we’re told again and again what jewelry means you mean it, which boxes of which chocolates translates to your affection, I ask you to pause and ask yourself what love is to you, I ask you to define warmth by which version you’ll crave in your own life. I ask you to pause, and question if you’ve run at the dying of the bonfire when you should have stayed for the embers, and what’s more, I ask you to question if the warmth you have now is warm at all, or are you settling because you’re afraid to find a fire worth fighting for? So many of us sit in a cold room and hold our hands to a hearth long since extinguished and swear we can still feel its heat, if barely, for a moment. It’s hard finding a love that begins as firework and melts itself into something steady and soft, but it’s possible, I just think somewhere along the way all the lies told to us by all the different films and albums, novels and magazines, added up to some collective misconception as to what love, what warmth, should be.
I’m no expert, so you can ignore all I say, all I whisper of on this Valentine’s Eve, you can laugh me off and say I’ve lost the plot, and I will accept that. I just know what I know from enduring what I’ve endured, and the truth — that will maybe one day come out in some beautiful and long-winded way — is that I was alone longer than you’d ever believe, alone and staring out at what seemed to be a promise of emptiness eternal. I was alone and sad and terrified, but somewhere in me the nagging belief that it was all going to add up to some great happiness, that waiting meant not settling, and not settling meant one day, one beautiful day, the love, the warmth I spoke of would find me. I believed it until it broke me, and then believed it again, and again, and never stopped. I think I felt the warmth reach from some other place, I think I felt it inside, and so I waited.
Do what you wish, believe what you need to for your own survival, but believe it with an ear open to these words I offer up. Love is warmth, and we all deserve to feel it. Please, know that you’ve earned it, please, know that some soft fingertips are waiting to find the canvas of your skin, like paint, like heat, like promise.
Happy Valentines Day.
Your soft fingertips
like brushes on my canvas,
like paint on my skin.