“Love is not two straws in a malt, nor is it shared history — love is, perhaps, both.” A personal introspection that attempts to decipher the meaning of love, and the role forgiveness plays in our shared relationships…
by: Dakotah Jennifer
A boy I once knew, a boy I still know, wrote in my senior class yearbook: love isn’t two straws in a malt, but shared history, and I believed that sentiment for a long while. I believed that this phrase was confirmation of his love. I see now, that his love does not puzzle-piece fit with my love. His love is about time, while mine is about sharing, providing nourishment, being nose to nose, unable to stop staring. I’m sorry to end with a loss of belief, but isn’t that in the canon? Isn’t it hard to believe it’s taken me this long to stop believing?
I do not forgive you, though I know it is all you need. I guess, in reality, that is what this is all about. Forgiveness. Everybody wants forgiveness, but no one wants to work for it. What you really want is a full, comfortable stomach — your gut, void of the terrible, hollow, cramping pain of guilt. I have felt this too, of course, because no one but the damned are immune. And I’m sorry, I suppose, for making this so hard for you, but I promise, it’s harder for me. And isn’t that just it? I am always sorry for your pain when mine is inflicted by your silence. I am always apologizing, forgiving, and while you have never once asked for it, you have never once expected anything less.
We, naturally, are selfish beings. Constantly, we think of our own lives — what else is there to think about? — but really, there are so many children out there, adults out there, that cannot breathe, and who are we to stop at Chipotle first? Who are we to say hold on a second, you can wait just a bit longer?
Love is not two straws in a malt, nor is it shared history — love is, perhaps, both. Love, though something more than a shared drink, is not just an accumulation of days, weeks, months — it is the sharing of those days, or, in some ways, the sharing of the malt on each one of those days. I hope I am making sense, because this, right now, is so, so vital. Love is not only about existing within another’s space but providing sustenance, joy, a sugary beverage.
And that — in a word— is what I continue to search for. Eighteen years old, and still, especially now, I would like a love that is more than what he said it should be. I would like a great, grand, swallow up the ocean love — for everyone. I would like a love that can heal the world, but that isn’t really fair, is it? To give Love that great task? And why should it be Love’s responsibility? Why can’t we just stop being these terrible, nasty things that must have someone’s head on a stick? Why can’t we stop being cruel, careless, well-rounded beasts? Must we love someone in order to want their heart beating? Must loving be the deterrent to our complete destruction? Why, I ask, do you need to love people before you decide they are worth listening to, looking at, living next door to? Why must we stand, silent, unbothered, far from everyone else, and demand their independent, autonomous survival?
Whose fault is it then? Who first said love can fix it all and who, then, started the applause? Maybe it is everyone’s fault for existing in a way that created this — a bomb is dropped and we, stepping on glass, think we are the only ones that are bleeding. Maybe it is our parents’ fault for not teaching us all how to fight, not teaching us how peaceful the protest is when hoses silence and dogs tear. Or maybe it’s me — too optimistic, driving around in my affluent neighborhood, protected by my nice car, wishing for some god to snap her fingers and fix it all? Wishing, every night, on a rogue star that someone, something, can heal it all — just like that. Perhaps it is your fault, really, for wishing on the very same star that no one’s wishes come true.
Here is the thing, here is what really matters — it does not take a wish. It does not take an active step against good, it only takes the lack of any steps at all. I am saying only this: you do not have to love anyone, you only need to be decent. You do not need a nose to nose, can’t stop staring love — you only need blood coursing through veins, a brain, alive and on fire, and a heart throbbing in the chest. What you must do, what we all must do is stop thinking our nothing is really nothing, because the absence of a no, we all understand, is not a yes. The absence of your voice is not quiet, it is silence, and those are two different things.
I am showing you, here, now, what this very first breath of adulthood looks like for me. How terrifying, fierce, and complicated it is. How tinged with death and despair and confusion. And still, I write for you. Still, I hang this piece of me on the wall and lay myself out for drawing and quartering — hoping, perhaps, that you will spare me this slow death. Still, I keep asking questions, keep begging for help, keep blindly handing pieces of myself to strangers like you in hopes that they won’t forget our names, because really, truly, I do not love you; I do not need to. I still want your life to continue on, peacefully, without worry. I still wish on that star for your health and safe passage through the night.
I used to ask for your forgiveness, even while I shouldn’t have, and now, I have decided not to forgive you until I forgive myself. I have decided that your inaction is not something I should be forgiving because, really, as long as it continues, it is unforgivable. Do something. Do anything. All I ask, now, is that you stop being part of the problem. All I ask is that you stop watching that star pass by, checking the thermostat, turning out the light, and going to bed.
Dakotah Jennifer is a nineteen-year-old black writer currently attending Washington University in St. Louis. She started writing poetry at eight and has loved it ever since. Jennifer has a sort non-fiction piece in HerStry, and has been published in Popsugar, The Pinch Journal, Protean Mag, Apartment Poetry, Paintbucket.page, the Grief Diaries, The Confessionalist Zine, Oral Rinse Zine, and Ripple Zine. She was accepted into the Juniper Writing Workshop at Amherst and the Writing Workshops Paris with Carve Magazine for the 2021 year. She won Washington University’s Harriet Schwenk Kluver award for the 2018-2019 year and a 2018 Scholastic Gold Medal for her personal essay “A Murder”. Her first chapbook, Fog, is published with Bloof Books, and her second chapbook/zine, Safe Passage, was recently released with Radical Paper Press.