Is This Love? – A Short Story

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My name is Archie Anderson and all I ever wanted was to be loved. But we don’t always get what we want, do we? I don’t know if I’ve ever been loved or not, at least I certainly can’t be sure. When I was younger, of course, I was sure of everything. I knew the answers to the world’s greatest mysteries. But then I grew older and gained knowledge. The paradox of knowledge is a curious phenomenon; the more you gain, the less you possess. Perhaps this is what they mean by wisdom, so is wisdom just the realisation that you actually know nothing at all but don’t pretend to either.

Love is one of those things that’s hard to nail down. You can assume you experience love at certain moments in your life, those significant moments that bounce you from one course to another, but these tend to feel different each time you hit one. Does love change it’s form depending upon how old you are or which country you’re in? When I feel angry it’s pretty much the same feeling every time. Love though…?

Is love the feeling I had when the man that I’d shared a year with died in my arms? I was only twenty-one and the war was nearly over but neither of these two points seemed to matter when some bloody krout came out of nowhere and shot him from close range. We had gone through training together and we both knew each other’s families by name. We were brothers, or as close to a brother as I ever had, but when he died in that cold morning and I saw his breath disappear on the wind, I wonder now if that sense of emptiness that it left me with was love.

Or perhaps love is that feeling you have when you first meet your sweetheart. You’re happy and energetic, life opens up it’s rich tapestry of opportunity for you. Your heart beats extra quickly and you tingle all over as soon as you think of them. But then your emotions turn to those of jealousy and self-doubt, the happiness disappears only to be replaced with the depths of sadness. Crying yourself to sleep because she hasn’t written to you for a week, is that love?

Maybe the definition of love can be best described on your wedding day. As you look nervously at each other, trying your best not to let the side down in front of family and friends, anxious of what part of the ceremony comes next. I had Jimmy Burrows as best man and that caused me more worry than I’ve ever had before or since. The day goes by so quickly and yet you spend not even an hour with the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Is it love or relief that washes over you that night?

Surely the feeling that overwhelms you when you look into your child’s eye, that’s the love we’re after. Could that intoxicating feeling be what poets have written about for centuries? I would do anything for my children, and nowadays even their children, so is that what love is? Is it measured by how much we would do for somebody else? If so, I’m sorry to say that I’m not faultless in my ability to love others, and I can also testify that I’ve known no one that would do absolutely anything for me. There are conditions, limitations, and rules that prevent us from giving ourselves completely.

What’s the feeling you experience when you look at a beautiful flower, or a passing landscape, a perfectly orchestrated symphony or a painting from a master, is this love? This would suggest that something would have to be precious before it was loved and in order to be precious it must be rare and delicate. In this case, the fear of loss creates the perception of love. Think about it, the people you love the most are those you fear the most to lose. So, what’s love… the reflection of fear?

Is love the big gestures like expensive presents and surprise holidays, or the small things like leaving a note for her in her favourite book? If you both sit in the same armchairs, year after year, with photos of the family all around you but still hold each others hands when you go up to bed, is this love? How about the arguments at Christmas, the times when you forget something she wanted from the shops or the surprise flowers that you bought because you were passing a florist? Is all of this love? It sure feels different if it is.

Or is this love… sitting next to her, holding her lifeless hand in mine while I look at tubes coming out of her nose? Thinking stupid thoughts to avoid the reality of what may be.

I looked up and saw the nurse at the next bed. She was old, or older than most there anyway, and her dark hair was tied up on the top of her head in a bun. She looked over at me with kindness in her eyes and half-smiled. I didn’t know if she could help me.

‘Nurse,’ I said, more hoarse than I was expecting, ‘could you tell me… Is this love?’

I waited while she walked over to me, it was one of those wards with four beds but the curtains were pulled around two, and she took her time clearly thinking about what to say. Standing above me I noticed that she was taller than I had initially assumed and she gave off this clinical smell that a life working in a hospital would give you.

‘No, Mr.Anderson,’ she said patiently, ‘this is Mrs.Green. Mrs.Love is in the next ward, she’s the one that would like some books from the mobile library. Just out of here, take the next left and you should find her. Will you be coming in again next Wednesday to volunteer?’

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