My Addiction To Love

There is no methadone clinic for the loveless, no serotonin stand-in for the empty bed and the empty heart.

Cocaine doesn’t mind that it’s a commodity. There is no dissenting portion of heroin that foresees its end, the using up of its chemical compounds, and the snuffing out of its selfness in its use. There’s nothing about marijuana that minds being inhaled deeply, held inside, and coveted until it leaves in a final puff of acrid smoke. But that seems too easy, and I’m no fool for quick fixes and prescription pill addictions.

Love is my drug of choice, but love sees itself differently from other highs.

There’s something to gain and something to be lost on both sides of love. Leaning in and inhaling deeply of the perfumed nape of a naked neck, you can feel love even when it isn’t there. You can walk on sunshine and dance down the street while, somewhere, the one who peddles your high is wishing you were dead.

Alone, a year on from your last fix, you can see the world differently, but still no more clearly. In your mind, you can trace the tattooed lines on a beautiful girl’s arms and ask her about the first time she ever thought about kissing you, all while she turns her back to prepare your $3 coffee.

There was a time when love felt just that right—when tracing those lines was a matter of course in a romantic conversation, when a girl would trace mine back with questions no less scandalous. I had eight years of that. While I changed myself every single day, from a punk that ran a college dish room to a button-down corporate education shill, there was always one constant: love in the form of a girl who told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was hers and that we would be forever.

I had never believed in words like those—forever, always, only—but she would have no doubts. Love is a hell of a drug, and her courage compelled me to believe in myself and love, and so began the addiction.

There was no smile sweeter than the one I wore while she wore white, but it wasn’t long before the world rushed in and supplanted forever. There was more to life than love, and it showed itself to her with all of the zeal of an opening number on Broadway. She turned away from me, but I still believed her when she said she loved me. I believed in “forever,” even when I couldn’t prove “right now.”

Love was supposed to conquer all, but in reality, all it had conquered was me. When my supply ran dry, I turned to real drugs. Doctors gave me things to stop me from feeling, one of which stopped me from feeling like life was worth living. I had been cut off, and the cold turkey drop of affection—the absence of forever, always, and only—left me alone in a shower with dreams of razors and empty veins. If love could not run in those veins, then maybe nothing should.

There is no methadone clinic for the loveless, no serotonin stand-in for the empty bed and the empty heart.

She rushed home that day, when I told her what had happened, but she hated me for it. Hate is a drug you don’t even have to take to feel its effects. It burns you from the inside of another’s heart, through eyes and words and absences, until you feel like less than nothing. On our last loveless legs, we trotted out six more months until I started a sentence with the words, “this isn’t working out,” and ended it by filling my car and leaving.

I began the life after “forever after,” with a new girl who believed in forever. But we could only keep up the charade for so long. Her drug was as pure as it could have been. She was young and impulsive and I was her impulse. She didn’t understand that the drug I was offering back was tainted with the heavy metallic taste of the broken. She wanted what I had given the girl before, and I wanted what the girl before had given me. I gave all that I had, but it could never be enough.

I had almost died to feed my previous addiction, and some days, it was hard to get in a car and drive to see my new dealer.

A few months later, when we had built up our mutual tolerances to cute quips and the electricity of a sharp, quick kiss, we were both disappointed. Breathlessly, in withdrawal, we parted ways. Since then, I’ve thought I’ve found love, but never quite felt that buzz down my spine. I’ve seen girls and thought about forever—thought about how comfortable I would be with them living inside of such a word—but it doesn’t stick. Like a shy child, love turns away the moment it is noticed and examined for its curiosities. Of course it is staring at me, but I’ll never see its face if I try to meet its gaze.

And so I’m left with the baristas. Today, little love by little love, I walk through life falling for people whose worlds I would never fit into, wondering if each She wouldn’t mind sitting on my bed and smiling when She hears my key slide into the lock at the end of the workday.

Each little fall reminds me that the world can hold magic, like paintbrush strokes on a canvas that feels as empty as the other half of my bed each morning. The little loves are but trickles of the chemical, an intravenous drip when all I want is an unhealthy, unregulated needle to the chest. I suppose they’re better than nothing.

Love is the most pernicious of compounds. One bump is all it takes: one glance from across a crowded room. From then on, it’s there. It clings to the dark side of a fragile organ that gently beats in Her absence and pounds against your lungs when She arrives.

You can’t buy what I want, but you can breathe it in between sheets on a rainy day. You can feel the tingle of it on your lips, and in the silk of Her hair between your fingers. You can try to deny it when it slips in, unnoticed, in the first brush of Her shoulder against yours. You can try to ignore it when you hear it in the nervous giggle of someone you barely know, or see it burn in the eyes of your best friend. But when you pretend that it isn’t there, you feel it all the more—its presence, or its lack. Both drag hearts down, the withdrawal and the indulgence, until they fill your gut with butterflies and anxiety.

At least when you pretend it isn’t there, there’s hope. Behind any smile, there could be love, waiting for you to find it. Then, with the wagging tail of an untrained pup, you can turn to anyone who fits your image and silently ask, “Are you my lover?” But that word—“lover”—doesn’t do the job justice in my mind. Torn down and reimagined by countless pop songs, “lover” now means a partner with whom to test drive condoms instead of the fallible god that Borges believed in. Confusing the morphine endorphin rush of an orgasm with the slow confidence of love is a fool’s errand.

My love nestles itself in among the lobes and amygdalae and it drags smiles out of a stone heart. It doesn’t stand for toe-tapping nervousness and the jittery anticipation of a fix. My love rests its head upon a bosom and falls asleep in spite of promising it wouldn’t. My kind of love makes me say, “Thank you for existing, for being here right now, and for taking a chance on me.” My love is the calm and the storm running through track marked veins at the exact same time, the speedball high of being someone’s one and only, if even for a fleeting moment.

The only catch is that when you’re alone, love is all you can think about. When empty-bed syndrome sets in late at night, when all of your friends have turned in for the day in darkened rooms around the world, the addict falls asleep with a single hope: to dream of an embrace so sweet that he can pretend it’s with him all day, until sleep reunites him with Her again.

An Alum of the College of Creative Studies in Santa Barbara and Antioch in Los Angeles, Cj Hayes now makes his living as a tutor in Pebble Beach, California.

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