Love. Local writer Lucy Avalled recently redefined the four letter word when her serious boyfriend was sent to jail.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love doesn’t make fun of me for my obsession with drag queens and lets me watch marathons of RuPaul’s “Drag Race” reality show without questioning my credibility as a grown-up. Love dismantles his drum set and moves it to the garage so that we can have space for my computer desk. Love is trying really, really hard not to cry in the courtroom as I watch him be escorted to jail.
What happens to you when the person you love goes to jail for 10 days for a DUI sentence? Time passes obnoxiously slowly. You eat constantly because you think time has passed that hasn’t. Then you stress about gaining weight, and as a result, you have another snack. To pass the time, you call your sister who assures you that you have nothing to worry about, he’ll be fine, “he’s like in babysitter jail,” and you appreciate that she’s trying to make you feel better, but you can’t help but worry because sometimes love just makes you worry.
I was my sister’s maid of honor, and during my wedding toast I told a story about how she and I would go to concerts, just the two of us. Love is the understanding that if you go crowd surfing and the other person gets sucked into a mosh pit, you’ll find each other eventually at one of the beer stands.
My sister and I used to play a game we called flood. A lot of kids play different variations of this game – different plots – but ultimately the challenge is always not to touch the ground. “The ground is made of hot lava; you’ll burn to death if you touch it!” “The ground is flooded and if you touch it you’ll drown!” Things of that nature: the inherent fun of impending doom.
We dismantled the sofa and armchairs, using the cushions for rafts. We hauled out our stuffed animals and dolls, strewing them about the small living room, each waiting to be rescued. The whole thing was like an obstacle course – jumping from cushion to cushion, teasing death with every hop from one raft to the island, which was the cushion-less sofa. It was only made more dramatic when the Sophie’s Choice part came, when not all of our toys would fit on the island or even the rafts and we had to choose who would survive and who would not. This was always a point of contention, and sometimes ended in tears which resulted in intervention from our mom who reminded us: “It’s just a game.” Game or not, the stakes were higher than that – this was life or death. Because we loved our toys so much, those selected for abandonment were always rotated so that they took turns being left behind. Whoever was left behind would accompany us to bed that night, and we would hold them a little tighter.
When I lived in my condo I didn’t have a couch to play flood. I used to have a pet ferret named Dr. Betty Greenjeans, and she destroyed my couch. I’ve always been a little over the top with my pets, now that I think about it. The couch was Betty’s playhouse: She had dug holes in each corner, burrowing from one end to the other. She defended her fortress heavily by digging into me or nipping at me whenever I tried to sit on it or place the cushions on it. So I removed the cushions. I placed them together on the floor in front of the cushion-less sofa and lay on them while watching television instead of doing productive work like cleaning or cooking or grocery shopping. Betty played in the couch, and I lay on my cushion-y raft.
Love is turning down a job offer in San Diego because your pet ferret is illegal in the state of California and you don’t want to put her life at risk by smuggling her over the state border. I miss Betty. She’s left quite an impact on my life. I wouldn’t be in Maryland now if it wasn’t for her.
Love is being strong for the other person (or little creature), even when you don’t feel very strong yourself. I was devastated when, after five years, I lost Betty to cancer in 2010. I took her to the emergency vet in Annapolis in the middle of the night because she wasn’t herself, and after an x-ray showed her belly full of cancer, I was forced the make the call then and there. I know that animals can sense emotions and stress; even though I tried to remain calm when they told me that I would have to say goodbye to her, I know I didn’t do a very good job of being strong. I spent the next week or so after she died lying on the floor next to her empty cage. I didn’t have a cushion. I had no raft.
My fiancé is in jail for the next 10 days, and I don’t know what to do with myself, though I have much to keep me busy. I have other love responsibilities. My dogs, for instance. Love is carrying your dog half a mile home because he decided he doesn’t feel like walking anymore. Love is giving a Jack Russell three baths in one day because he loves playing in the mud. Love doesn’t mind curling up with a wet dog because he’s sleepy and wants nothing else but to cuddle with you.
Love is patient, love is kind. Someone who loves you will have the patience to see through your misgivings, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. He will be kind to you even when you’re being a pain in the ass. He will take you kayaking and listen to you bitch and whine about how you’re getting water everywhere because the paddle doesn’t have one of “those things” that keeps water from splashing into the boat, and afterwards, he will still ask you to be his wife. And then he will get down on one knee and say, “Please?” because he really does want to marry you.
I remember him, kneeling in the sand next to the kayak, holding the ring out to me under the full moon on the beach next to the fire. I remember how I tried to take in all sensory data possible so that I would remember the moment forever, but I can’t remember anything after saying, “Yes!”
I was trying to remember those details one evening and fell into one of those awful bouts of illogical thinking. What if he gets hurt while he’s locked in there? What if they change their mind and keep him there for three months? These thoughts weren’t inspired by anything specific, just worst-case scenario mind games. I didn’t have the energy to pull myself out of this type of thinking. I was barely treading water. The act of hopscotching from responsibility to responsibility – eating, showering, walking the dogs, going to work – took more effort than normal. My arms and legs fought to keep moving, but on this particular evening they succumbed to gravitational resistance as if I were trying to move through heavy liquid. I called my mom: “I don’t know what to do with myself,” and burst into tears. She said she would be over in 20 minutes; she wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Love is when your mom drives to your house and stays up with you until you finally fall asleep at 2 a.m., even though it’s a work night. Love is when your mom doesn’t yell at you for chain smoking because she knows you have other things on your mind. Love is when your mom doesn’t judge your fiancé for being in jail and reminds you, “The sooner he comes home, the sooner you two can put this behind you and start building your future together.”
The day finally came when I could pick up my fiancé from jail. I felt lighter already. After visiting the parole office where they explained to him the nature and conditions of his parole over the next 18 months, we finally went home. We were both in good spirits. Since the two of us had barely slept for the past week, we lay down in bed and held on to each other tightly.
Love is like that.
Lucy Avalled is a creative nonfiction writer currently living in Leonardtown, Maryland, with her fiancé. She often finds inspiration at the most inopportune times. Writing is her favorite form of procrastination.