A week ago I had a dream about the boy I loved most in elementary school. In the dream, I’m certain he’s a grown up but his face is blurry and the perspective is distorted, so I can’t tell what he looks like now. I last saw him two weeks after my sixth grade graduation. He was a mischievous blonde with bright blue eyes. I’d look straight into them every time we talked. We were the same height, small for our age. He’d inch up close to my face like he had a special secret to keep only between us. He always winked at me with a half-smile.
How an 11 year old knew to work it like that, I’ll never know.
He was kind of a low-risk bad boy. Smart and funny and only a tiny bit edgy. The type that teachers loved even though they hated and disciplined even when they laughed out loud at the cause of it. Confident and adventurous. A smooth talker and a good listener and a lady killer, I bet, at every stage of his life.
A type that later became my type, and remains so as I write this, at age 30.
When the dream ends, I wake up and think about my love life: 30 years of schoolyard crushes, unrealized high school dance expectations and more “guy best friends” than I can even count. My first love, and my second. My post-college life as an untouchable, independent woman. The law school era I dedicated to covertly wooing the man at the top of the guy best friend list.
A couple of terrible first dates and a handful of hopeful, magical ones.
Countless almost love stories that all ended with “it just didn’t work out.”
In a moment between self pity and the creeping anxiety that my relationship status at my last birthday signifies permanent, romantic failure, I catch a glimpse of a different type of memory:
It’s July 10, 2013 and my face is squeezed between the faces of two of the boys I’ve loved the most, as an adult. One is an eighteen year-old leadership prodigy who got the keys to the camp-have-a-lot-of-fun kingdom the summer before he left for college. The other is my friend Peter, whose birthday we’ve celebrated, on this day, for the last, 10 years. My best friend Amy is on the outside of Peter, and together we make up the best hug I’ve been a part of in years.
My feet are wet from early morning moisture in the grass. My patent leather flats are stashed away in a giant, black lululemon bag, and my worn-out flip flops are providing a temporary escape from my real life where I sit at a desk all day and argue with people for a living.
I feel no love for the legal field.
Slowly, like the last sunset on a beautiful beach vacation, the picture softens, then fades, then transforms, completely.
Now it looks like a Tuesday evening in 2005. It’s almost dark and I’m presiding over organized chaos at Perloff quad on the campus of UCLA. There are 80 young people running and yelling and sweating and smiling. Smiling, so, big. I’m like their mom, and their school principal, but also that one white lady with the loud voice and important instructions. These are my babies. This, is my baby. When I take a deep breath I can still smell the smells of giant oaks and the nearby food court. It sounds like the unmistakable mix of joy and love and enthusiasm.
Seven years later I was back at Perfloff quad on an unusually hot spring day. It was my law school graduation and throughout the ceremony I wished I’d petitioned the Dean to move it. I narrowed my eyes on the podium to keep those old, sweet, memories intact.
The images come faster now, one-by-one.
My college roommates. The sisters I never wanted but couldn’t live without. The women who taught me the value of sisterhood, and the power of female friendship. The four people who inspire me most. Who hold me accountable to be the best I possibly can for the world and the people around me. Who remind me, every day, what it means to be selfless, and strong and resilient and loving.
My mom, who loves me, and every one else, so much, there isn’t space for anything else.
My Unicamp co-counselors, and the brave kids we did our best to lead, and mentor. Eight years of camp have a lot of fun, the adults, the teenagers and the tiny ones. The River City Magic and my new team at lululemon. My mom’s dogs and my elementary school teachers and childhood friends I thought I’d forgotten.
Before long, the scene in my mind is crowded, then overflowing, with love.
So much I feel myself squeezed by it. Completely surrounded.
The feeling softens and I land back in a pile of rumpled sheets and too many comforters, alone in my bedroom.
It’s the same, dark space as when I first woke up, but it’s filled with a new sensation.
Gratitude. And abundance.
Less like “what a failure” and more like “how remarkable.”
It’s clear for all the times “it just didn’t work out,” there were so many more when it did.
The people and the moments that tell a love story I never knew I was writing. A love story I couldn’t see through the judgment of what I don’t have and the analysis of why I don’t have it. It comes together in pieces of overlapping moments, and phases, of my life. Some chapters have complete narratives. Beginning, middle, end. Others end abruptly, then pick up years later, then disappear again. There are those that feel whole, and complete, and comforting. And those that I’ve yet to resolve. There is deep connection and vulnerability and uncontrollable laughter. There is brutal heartbreak, sadness and anger. There is forgiveness and healing and opening to love again.
There are times when my heart is so full I want to seal it in, freeze time, and keep the feeling forever.
All of the components of an epic love story.
Written, and titled, “the loves of my life.”