I've been distracted lately, very distracted, and since my distraction all stems from a piece of my writing I thought I'd post it here and see what you think. I thought about writing this piece for a few years before I did. Then it sat around for a few years after I did. Over the last few months though, I sent it out. Hadn't really planned the timing, it just worked out that way. I submitted it to the famous Modern Love column and received my first rejection letter from the New York Times. That was a little exciting, a little fun. A copy of the piece also made it to the subject through a circuitous trip across the country. And he has been my distraction of late. That has been more than a little exciting and more fun than I can say. Here it is;
A Declaration of Love
By Tammi J Truax
I’ve been wondering a lot lately just where it came from – this need of mine. This deeply rooted and undying need to hear my significant other make significant (preferably urgent and unique) declarations of undying love for me. I have reflected long and hard on it, on why it is so important to me, when in fact it has for most of my life been an unmet need. And I think it can all be blamed on Warren Kelley.
In the third grade Warren Kelley and I sat at adjacent little wooden desks, he to my left. I remember him as softness. Velour, corduroy, and a downy crew cut everyone wished to touch but only adults could get away with. Softer still on the inside, with a sweet spirit the likes of which I’ve rarely encountered since.
Warren spent most of each school day that year, not practicing spelling words and times tables like we were supposed to be doing, but writing and passing to me an endless series of notes on which he had printed, in soft gray graphite block letters, the same simple message; I LOVE YOU. My own desk was stuffed full with them. He would extend his arm into the aisle between us every few minutes, and I would then extend my hand and accept the little white note. I did not respond to Warren at all beyond taking and reading each and every one. I did not encourage him to continue or tell him to stop in these effusions. I seemed to know without question, that it was the perfectly appropriate, and probably involuntary, course of action for any man to take who was seriously interested in winning my heart.
When this effort seemed to be an inadequate way of expressing his fondness for me he did what I think any good man would or should do; he made an embarrassing public demonstration of his passion.
There was some kind of parent function in our classroom one evening. As usual, Warren and I were near each other, but were not talking to each other. We just looked at each other silently, both of our little faces sprinkled with freckles and wonder. The reason for actually being there was rather lost on us. A considerable crowd was gathered in the stuffy room when Warren stepped up right in front of me and my ex-Marine father, and began, one ravenous rip at a time, to tear off bites of his Styrofoam cup, and ceremoniously chew and swallow each mouthful, as I silently stood before him and watched. The room grew quieter as people began to stare, and finally my father, leaning in just a bit, asked me, “Why is he doing that?” To which I immediately responded, by softly stating what I thought was perfectly obvious, “Because he loves me.”
That was one of the few times I’ve ever sensed my father’s pride in me, I guess for bringing a boy to such romantic ruin, but that was not why it was such an important moment in my life. Warren changed me then. Changed me forever.
He set in motion that year an expectation for me that my man should, well, gush for me once in awhile. The words need not be eloquent nor the gesture elaborate, but the message is mandatory. And sometimes, there must be a public display of this affection, the love affirmed for the whole wide world to see.
I have spent a considerable amount of time ruminating on this expectation of mine, as well as on the men I have known who have not lived up to it. I have even attempted to alter it. I have made some attempt at loving a man unconditionally, forsaking my need. It doesn’t work. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. That kind of love is best reserved for one’s children, not one’s partner. I have come to the conclusion that my needs really aren’t that unreasonable.
I don’t need a handsome knight in shining armor to come cantering up to my door on a white steed. A kind of cute guy in an old pick-up truck would suffice. He doesn’t need to be bearing gifts of glistening jewels; a handful of meadow flowers he picked just for me would be perfect. I don’t really need thirty seven love notes a day; I could get by with two or three juicy ones a year. I don’t long for a man to make a spectacle of himself for me, but paying more attention to me than the most statuesque blond beauty at a party is essential. I must confess that, while I wouldn’t want any man to cause himself bodily harm for me, the truth is, seeing my name emblazoned in ink across a man’s upper arm would be a dream come true. A request my late husband declined to fulfill.
So, I’m left still wondering. Wondering what to do, what to think. Sometimes I also wonder what became of Warren Kelly. I wonder if his significant other ever needs reassurance of his never-ending love and desire. I wonder if the ingestion of 1970’s chemically questionable cups during his formative years caused him any later harm. I wonder if he knows how deeply touching his unselfish and courageous affectations have been to others. I wonder if he even remembers me, or has any idea that he set the bar for all other men for me, forever.
It seems to me that the Fab Four were wrong, with all due respect to them. In the end the love you take is not equal to the love you make, it’s equal to the love you declare, freely and fearlessly.
Warren, I’m sorry I never responded then, but I do declare now;
I love you.
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