Jackie Summers asks, “How do you know if somebody loves you?”
How do you know if somebody loves you? Do you trust what they say, observe what they do, or both?
A bone in your inner ear translates vibrations in the air into signals that your brain interprets as language. Photoreceptors in your retinas convert light entering your irises into shapes, colors, motion. We rely on our senses to help us navigate through the Scylla of Perception and the Charybdis of Reality.
Ultimately these prove insufficient. We formulate premises and test hypotheses, based on available data. We create systems that enforce our desires, predicated on theory. But facts are phantasms, shifting like desert sands. Theories are always subject to new information.
The sun revolved around the earth for six millennia. Then Copernicus proposed heliocentrism. Newtonian physics defined gravity for four centuries. Then Einstein gave us special relativity.
Somebody loves you, until they don’t.
The nature of humanity is to resist new truths until forced to do otherwise. We clutch our ideas because they provide the perception of stability. We create the world we (want to) live in. Like science, love is always subject to new data. When new truths replace old, we bristle, and brand its bearers heretics. We defy Darwinism, often choosing mental or emotional extinction over assimilating new information and circumstances. We barricade ourselves inside fortresses of established thought, because it is easier than changing existing patterns of behavior, or wrapping the mind around new concepts.
Like gravity being a distortion of space-time. Or the idea that someone who loved you just doesn’t anymore.
The dullest layman and the most preeminent physicist on earth have (at least) two things in common: neither can fathom the true nature of the universe, and neither can ever truly know the recesses of another’s heart. Neither sight nor sound nor vast intellect or profound feeling are an accurate gauge of what is real and what is not. Perception defines reality; love cannot be established via empirical evidence.
There is no litmus test you can take for love. As with science, we choose to believe. We create systems that reinforce our desires, filling gaps in logic and observable phenomena with ephemeral qualities, like faith. When someone says “I love you,” we believe–in large part–because we want to. We base our lives on scientific “facts” that are actually just theories that haven’t been proved untrue (yet). Love exists largely because we will it to.
Love is a system of beliefs. If the system is undermined, we come undone. When someone stops loving you, it will shake you to your core. Your perceptions will reluctantly realign, like shifting tectonic plates, along the lines of new information.
You will question everything. You will lose faith. In other words…
Love is a religion. This I know for I wasn’t just a parishioner, I was a high priest. I preached her values, and heaped my sacrifices upon her altar. “Credo in te, spero in te, amo te super omnia ex tota anima mea, ex toto corde meo, ex totis viribus meis. Amen.”
I didn’t just believe, I proselytized. That is at least, until the Goddess rejected me. My fall from grace was epic; I scorched the skies with my contrail, crashed to earth with singed feathers and shattered nimbus. So was the sorry state of my love affairs after the debacle that was my relationship with Betty.
What becomes a defrocked cleric most? I prayed for a miracle. I wanted to believe again.
There was nothing that could be interpreted as flirtatious in the note Tatiana sent me. Once a week, every week, I’d receive a courteous inquiry about my health, my family, my work; I reciprocated. We became online friends, confiding as much in each other as one could trust the textured words of a familiar stranger. And so it went for six months; all due civility and no expectations, until the day the phone rang.
Samantha had assumed my chauffeuring services after Veronica’s untimely demise. She was black and stout, her low center of gravity providing unusual stability for a Jeep. Her retractable canvas roof simulated but didn’t quite replicate the sense of driving freedom her predecessor gave. I was leaving Grimaldi’s pizza when my cell phone vibrated; it was Tatiana calling from Athens, Greece, where she was vacationing with family. Earlier in the year we’d performed a perfunctory exchange of phone numbers; it seemed she was recovering from her own fall.
“Jackie” she chirped nervously. “It’s Ana.”
It was maybe the second or third time we’d ever spoken on the phone. A mix of Venezuelan and Greek, her voice was lyrical and childlike. I attributed my inability to place her accent to the fact that she spoke six or seven languages fluently. “Is this a bad time?” she asked meekly. I pulled Samantha over into Fulton Ferry Pier. It was noon on a Tuesday, about as perfect a June day as one could hope for in The Big Apple. I reclined in my seat, the panorama of the lower Manhattan skyline framing the backdrop of our first real conversation.
Einstein once said “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute–that’s relativity.” I don’t recall if it was the rumbling of my stomach or the beeping of my cell phone battery about to die that made me look up—suddenly the sun was setting over the East River. Time had vanished into a black hole. Still on the phone, I put Samantha into gear and drove myself home, wondering all the while “who the hell is this woman…?”
I plugged the cell phone in to charge while I fixed dinner, utterly transfixed and unable to resect myself from this yak-fest. Hunger satiated and still talking, I splayed myself across my bed and underneath my skylight, and watched the moon ascend from nadir to zenith. Finally the weight of our eyelids overcame us; the overpowering need for sleep and not the desire to cease conversing brought a seemingly premature end to our marathon natter. It was two o’clock in the morning.
We’d talked for fourteen hours straight.
© Jackie Summers 2012