“Remember that time you drove all night / Just to meet me in the morning?”
—Conor Oberst, “First Day of My Life”
Once, during my teenage years, I was sitting on a sticky chair of an airport gate, writing in my journal about a destination now forgotten. Unable to focus on the page in that soft chaos that pervades even the most orderly of airports, I looked up in resignation, only to catch sight of a father and his child. The father, who couldn’t have been older than thirty, was bouncing his infant child up and down. At first, the bouncing boy’s face was blank, unsure how to react to the forced movement. He then exploded into a fierce grin, accompanied by a rollicking laugh.
Touched by the child’s happiness, I looked to his dad, who was staring at his offspring in pure wonder. Until then, I thought of having children as nothing but a logical step of any long-term relationship, originally compelled by evolution and further encouraged by societal mores. In that moment, however, I realized the selflessness required to have a child, to put someone into the world with no conception of that creature’s ultimate fate. I closed my journal, content to watch a father witness his creation transcend biology and tradition by merely being in the throes of its own existence.
In the summer of 2015, my family brought home our very first dog, a golden doodle we named Ginger after the muted colors of her fur. So incessant was she about jumping onto new acquaintances to greet them, we quickly learned to tell house guests to “just push her off.” Over the next few months, Ginger became particularly attached to our dad. Whenever Dad leaves the house, Ginger follows him to the door, where she waits until he returns. When the pandemic forced him to convert our basement into a home office, Ginger decided to shift her preferred nap location from the rug in the living room to the false putting green next to the desk.
One February in college, Claire fell ill with mono. Despite having spent significant time with her over the preceding weeks, her partner Dylan did not meet the same fate. She, on the other hand, missed an entire week’s worth of classes, spending most of her time either in bed or else on the couch in her common room. Feeling bad that she was suffering without him, Dylan took charge of her recovery, doing her laundry and bringing her fluids. Her favorite was blue Gatorade, which she would guzzle down in generous gulps anytime she awoke from a nap.
One evening towards the end of the week, as Claire was beginning to feel better, the couple decided to watch a movie in the common room, where she fell asleep with her head in Dylan’s lap. Once she had fallen asleep, Dylan stayed with his girlfriend, stroking her shoulder with his thumb. Upon waking up, Claire asked, “How long has the movie been over?”
“About half an hour.”
“You didn’t have to stay, you could’ve left me here!” She reached up to touch his cheek.
Dylan kissed her on the lips then handed her a bottle of blue Gatorade sitting on the floor.
“Kangaroos and wallabies allow their young to live in the pouch well after they are physically capable of leaving, often keeping two different joeys in the pouch, one tiny and one fully developed.” —Wikipedia
At the beginning of 2020, my best friend left Princeton to study abroad in Denmark for the spring semester. Believing I wouldn’t see him again until the fall, I made sure to be the one to escort him down to the Dinky, where the two of us could say goodbye in peace. Standing by the train tracks, I told him how lucky I felt to know him and how much I would miss him in the coming months. After we embraced, I added one last comment, a reference to a lewd inside joke from our freshman year. Before he could say anything, I bolted away in the wake of his laughter.
Because of the pandemic, our reunion was delayed from September of 2020 to January 2021. When I saw him again for the first time in nearly thirteen months, we chatted as though no time at all had passed, as though we were still standing there, waiting for the train to arrive.
The first time you know you love someone, you find yourself unsure of how to proceed. Do you tell him? Do you wait for her to say it first before reciprocating? Indeed, maybe you don’t actually love them anyway, since you’re just horny or emotionally developing or else concerned about various youthful woes whose antidote you project onto your new partner. Under such flimsy pretenses, you spend weeks repressing yourself, kissing him whenever you fear you might let your feelings slip, moving the mouthpiece of your phone to your chin while she is speaking so you can whisper “I love you” into the evening air, which waits around you to intercept the message.
There are very few people I have encountered in this world who embody the spirit of love as much as the great Dr. Cornel West. At a 2017 address to an audience at Harvard, Cornel West proudly proclaimed, “I am who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, somebody attended to me…the highest honor I have ever received in my life, which has nothing to do with Harvard, nothing to with Yale or Princeton…it’s being the second son of the great Clifton L. West and the very present Irene B. West.”
His charisma is undeniable, but when West speaks, he is more than just a poet, performer, or preacher. Instead, his charisma stems from his commitment to enact the values he espouses. If people like Dr. West continue to engage in that hard, wonderful work of love and living, of inspiring us all to care just a little bit more for one another, of leading by example—maybe we’ll all turn out alright.
In 2015, La Blogothèque released a video of a live recording of Father John Misty’s “I Went to the Store One Day.” The closing track to his album I Love You, Honeybear, the song condenses the entire narrative of his relationship with his wife Emma into five minutes, revolving around their meeting in a grocery store parking lot. Just as he sings, “I never thought it’d be so simple,” the camera focus shifts from the artist on the left of the frame to his wife on the right, who’s sitting there with her eyes closed. When he finishes singing, the camera cuts over to Emma, initially blank-faced before erupting into a soft smile. After the credits follows a brief scene of the couple walking down a street in Paris, where she reaches over to rub his jacketed back.
The first time Claire and Dylan spent the night together, it went fine: she had shaved, he had condoms in his drawer. Afterwards, the soon-to-be couple spent three hours in Dylan’s bed discussing the comparative merits of Beckett and Brecht.
The first time they made love, however, came the next weekend. This time, when they finished, each saw the other’s expansive smile, and they both started laughing. Still laughing, they wrapped their arms around one another and nuzzled each other’s noses like bears in the cold. They quickly learned how to sleep together, their bodies intertwined under Dylan’s deep blue sheets.
Years later, long after their love had ended, Dylan woke up in the middle of the night. Light from dull streetlamps spooled into his bedroom, and for just a moment, he expected to find Claire asleep next to him. But when he turned over, he found himself alone, of course, merely haunted by an echo from an earlier life. He lay there until the sun forced out the reigning softness, when he trudged to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea.
One evening last year, when people still gathered in groups without having to ignore public health advisories, I stood towards the back of the 1879 Arch, listening to an a cappella performance. Just in front of us were a middle-aged wife and husband, whom I quickly recognized as my friend’s parents, bobbing their bodies along to the bump of the music.
A cardigan wrapped around her waist, the wife was shivering and moved to undo the knot to add another layer. She ran into difficulty trying to put it on and focus on her daughter’s music, unaware that the left sleeve was inside out. Noticing the obstacle, her husband plucked the sleeve in question and guided it to her arm. To repay the kindness, his wife turned around, took his cheeks in her hands, and kissed the surface of his lips, her eyes glinting amid the winter darkness.
If I open at random my copy of Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language, I wonder the probability that I would open it to a poem concerned with love. When I experienced my first heartbreak at the ripe age of sixteen, my mom consoled me by asserting the universality of my experience. “There’s a reason there’re so many country songs all about the same thing,” she told me as she rubbed my back.
In 1985, when the two of them were first years at Vanderbilt University, my dad asked my mom to a football game based on the Dire Straits poster hanging on her wall. The date did not go well, because my future father ignored his future wife to show off his new bomber jacket to some chick named Kathy.
Now the year is 1991, and my parents have been out of college for nearly two years, and they have hardly seen each other since that dismal sartorial incident. My mother is a law student at Tulane, whereas my dad has just returned from active duty in Iraq when the two of them reconnect at a wedding between her sorority sister and his fraternity brother. By the end of the party, they have hit it off. Indeed, at least according to the way the story goes, my father, holding a gigantic turkey leg, puts his arm around my mother and says, “Jennifer, I’m going to marry you one day.”
The summer after their sophomore year, Dylan made the drive from Lexington to visit Claire at her family’s house in Ann Arbor. The journey wasn’t too long—about five hours—but the return trip took Dylan longer because of his frequent stops to acquire various salty snacks and sugary beverages. On one of those stops, Dylan unknowingly turned his phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode while messing with his Bluetooth settings, so he missed his girlfriend’s back-to-back calls at the end of his journey. Worried, she texted both his mother and his sister to see if he had arrived home safely.
Dylan soon called her back, and Claire confessed her earlier concern. Dylan comforted his lover, telling her he was safe and that he loved her so very much. After hanging up, Dylan started singing his favorite songs, if only to channel his gratitude into something tangible.
A dear friend of mine spent the summer after high school in San Francisco. There, he and his girlfriend could spend time together, unfettered by the strict guidelines of their old boarding school. They loved each other with that tender infinity that only teenagers can muster, even with their enrollment in separate colleges looming. One night, as the beginning of the school year drew closer, the couple lay in bed, hypothesizing what they might say if they saw each other in twenty years.
“Maybe I’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s you! That girl I lost my virginity to!’” said my friend.
“Maybe I’ll talk about how different you look, or how similar,” said his first love.
“Maybe I’ll bring up the time we snuck out to the golf course to look up at that supermoon last summer.”
“Maybe we’ll talk about how good those dumplings we ate today were.”
“Maybe I’ll ask if you remember what posters I had in my dorm room.
“Maybe I’ll…” she started.
“Maybe I’ll say, ‘Hey, can you go pick up the kids from soccer practice?’”
At this, my friend, known for his committed emotional remove, began to cry the kind of full-throated sobs that only accompany the deepest of losses. The two held one another and cried until they fell asleep.
They soon broke up as they had planned, and my friend told me this story a year later. I don’t know which is the greater labor of love: the story itself, or the fact that he was willing to entrust it to me.
When I was little and an even more voracious reader than I am now, I frequently stayed up later than I was allowed, reading by the light that dripped from the hallway into my bedroom through the open door. I was frequently caught by my dad, who was less upset that I was staying up late than worried that I was doing irreparable damage to my eyes.
As I got a little older, I improved my ability to detect my dad’s ascent. Would he come into my room to say goodnight and thereby catch me in the heinous act of reading past bedtime? On one such night, when I was probably devouring Harry Potter for the tenth time, I was quick enough to thrust my book deep under the covers as soon as I heard the creak of our old house’s staircase. My dad found me feigning a deep sleep.
His presence was palpable in that way you can sense the space someone is occupying through the electricity of his proximity and the rhythm of his breath. He stood there for a moment before approaching the bed to wrap me in his arms for a long moment. My book still under the covers, I fell asleep soon after under an immeasurable warmth.