Part Two: The Acts of Love
It wasn’t just the words I spoke that became better through love. The person I had become, and the things I did to show for it, were made better too. Just like the letters every month and the long texts after each date, the things I did came freely and naturally. There was no real forcing of the issue. I never struggled or wanted for some new way to act on, or express, my love. If I had to try and describe or prescribe certain actions, I would probably start by saying that love is both cause and effect, action and reaction. When you love, you act, and when you act, you love. It is deceptively simple and maybe even frustratingly vague for those who struggle to understand but you know when you are in love the actions speak for themselves. I would try to explain and convince someone, assuage their worries or fears about not knowing what to do, because love inspires love. But if I had to try and explain the method behind the madness, the inspiration for the action, it might break down like this.
Never show up empty handed. I am an old-fashioned soul in a very young man’s body, or so many have claimed. It would however explain why I still believe that a gentleman calling upon a beautiful young woman should never arrive at her door without something to give. It was a simple and easy gesture to very vividly deliver the message that even in the time leading up to the date, I was already thinking of her. My favorite was to stop by my local florist on the way to her place. By the end I had become a regular customer and they knew my order as soon as I came in. A single long stemmed red rose with a white ribbon tied around the middle. No awkward to carry bouquets or gaudy plastic wrap with ‘baby’s breath’ or green fernlike things. I liked how easily I could hide the rose behind my back, even though I know she must have expected it after all the time we were together. Still, bringing it out from behind me and into view, her eyes would light up and the smile would break across her face. I would press the rose against her cheek before giving it to her. Always a great, and classy, way to start a date.
It wasn’t always a rose though. Sometimes it would be gummy bears she mentioned she wanted. One time I happened to be at a community event that had a guy making balloon animals. Asked him for a nice big pink heart and showed up at her door with that instead. Food was, and is, always a great option for those looking for something that everyone can benefit from. In college our biggest guilty pleasure aside from mall Chinese food was Popeye’s spicy chicken with a side of gravy to dip the chicken in. I taught her about that pairing. There was a Popeye’s only ten, fifteen minutes away from campus and sometimes I would surprise her with a big box of chicken and we’d have dinner at her dorm.
The surprise itself is always the best part. It’s never about what you arrive with. It’s that you are there and that you are thinking of them. This was never about wandering the aisles of some gift shop poring over each option and wondering what to get. It was about the message, and if the message is love, the delivery becomes much clearer. One day I saw Beautiful crying, clutching her messenger bag, the one I saw her with the first time we met. She was visibly upset, and I came over to console and comfort her. Eventually she calmed down to tell me that somewhere somehow during the course of the day she had lost that Eeyore pin on her bag. It was a gift from her best friend from their trip to Disney together, and she was devastated that she had lost it. I felt terrible that she lost something so important to her. The pin was a special collector’s pin, nothing your friendly neighborhood Disney store would just have by the register. It took me a couple months, going on a couple online boards, ultimately I finally found someone who had a whole collection binder of these pins and was willing to sell me the Eeyore pin. She never knew how hard I worked to find that pin again. She never knew how much I had made finding her the pin that meant so much to her my personal mission. She never knew how happy it made me to give it to her on one random day, out of the blue, like I had just plucked it off the ground or something. I had never felt more alive or more purposeful. Her happiness was my greatest reward. My only regret was that it took me so long to find it for her.
When possible make, not buy. I am not a very crafty person. I barely know how to work my way around a pair of scissors without cutting myself. I have burned myself grabbing the wrong end of a glue gun more times than I would like to admit. I am terrible at planning, designing, and implementing. I am a terrible details person. But you might not know that if you looked in my closet. You’d find the mangled cords of a well-worn glue gun, covered in glue remnants. Piles of brightly colored construction paper. Red, pink, and white ribbons. Styrofoam display boards. Stickers, stamps, stencils, it would look like a crafts store had unburdened itself of years of back stock in my closet. I had never really tried to make things before I met Beautiful. But she was so into arts and crafts and she was so skilled at them too. I wanted to try and be like her. Wanted to give her something on the same level that she gave me. She would make these incredible cards with designs and glitter and pictures. When I would hold them, read them, I could imagine her in her room, late at night, desk light on, working on these things for me. In the words we spoke, the things we gave, and in the things we made, we were always talking about love.
Sometimes making something was even the objective of our dates. For Valentine’s our first year together I took her to Build-A-Bear Workshop. We picked out a teddy bear skin, she rubbed the little fabric heart and kissed it and we placed it inside her bear, she stepped on the pedal that stuffed it until it was just perfect for her, not too hard, not too soft. We aired it, fluffed its fur, picked out some accessories, and then she named it and gave it an official Build-A-Bear birth certificate. She named it ‘Baby (my name)’. She slept with that bear every night, sent me pictures with it, jokingly making me jealous because the bear got to spend every night with her while I was back at home. She spoke to it, traveled with it, treasured that bear.
When she moved to a new dorm on campus I helped her move in. To celebrate, I gave her a card I had made. It was a little model of her new room, complete with her desk and chair and bed and even a little model of her wood dresser made of brown construction paper. You could open the dresser doors and inside you’d find, hanging on a string from a hanger made of paper clips, paper versions of some of my favorite outfits of hers. Dresses, jackets, things she wore on our dates. For Christmas one year I made her a pop up card reminiscent of those art projects I used to make in elementary school. The centerpiece was a heart shaped paper ornament that dangled from the top of the card and she could take it off and hang it on her Christmas tree.
My absolute crowning achievement though was what I made for her on our one year anniversary. Compared to the lightning flash puberty-driven high school relationships of my past, successfully maintaining a relationship with someone for as long as a year was a huge accomplishment for both of us. It needed, required, an equal object of significance. Over the course of the year we had amassed a good sized collection of cards, letters, little objects and trinkets, all souvenirs of our love. I wanted to give her a safe place to store them all, something to hold all these important objects. I started with a large hat box as my canvas. It was pink and had a striped pattern on the outside and the lid was large and flat and white, a perfect starting point. On the outside I used markers and a knife to stencil out a little forest made of trees I cut out of brown felt craft sheets. Hidden amongst the trees I placed stickers of fairies and sprites. Her favorite Disney character was Tinkerbell, and so I wanted to give her her own Neverland with fairies hiding in the forest. On the top of the lid I placed a large white painted wooden ‘C’ and ‘J’. Our initials. I decorated them with fake games, ribbons, stamps, and designs. I put a large heart in between our letters. I absolutely loved what I did on the inside. I got some of my favorite photos of us printed at a photo shop on actual high quality glossy sheets. I made duplicates of each one, and then cut out the different parts of the pictures. There was one of me asleep in her dorm, covered in Post-It notes of little ‘I love you’s and hearts and cartoon drawings of us. I was a heavy sleeper and she loved to take advantage of that. I cut out each of the Post-Its, mounted them on little Styrofoam blocks, and then put them back right on top of the original photo for a 3D effect. I did the same for a picture of frozen yogurt (with extra mochi) and green tea bubble tea: our favorite dessert. The inside of the box was lined with these 3D popup versions of our favorite pictures. On the inside of the lid I placed magnets, and the magnets held up a giant heart, cut out of display board. On the display board I wrote my heart out. I spoke of the magic of a year and the promise and hope of forever. I told her she was the love of my life, that I had never been so complete as when I was with her, and that I wanted to chart the rest of my life in her direction. She was the sun and the moon and the stars and the wish I made whenever I blew out candles or saw a shooting star. I saw the rest of my life calling me to her and spending its entirety happy in her embrace. Inside I also placed a leather photo album I decorated and filled with the pictures of us. This was to be the place for her to safely keep all the most important things to her that reminded her of our love, and at the rate we were going, she was going to find it completely filled with no trouble at all.
Plan things for her. As much as I am characteristically and naturally not crafty, I can say with the same amount of certainty that I am most definitely, a planner. I love planning things. When my friends and I go out, I plan the night’s activities. I plan the hangouts and the parties. When we travel I plan the itineraries. And when it came to Beautiful, I loved being the one planning the dates. I became famous for my trademark ‘marathon dates’, where I would pick her up sometime around eleven and wouldn’t have her back at home until two or three in the morning, with every moment in between filled. It is a known statistic that most women, when asked if there was anything they wish they could change about their partner or any act that they believed would show their partner’s love the most, stated that in both cases it would be if they planned the dates. I don’t know why more people do not see this as the golden opportunity it is to express the depth and inspiration of their love. I acknowledge it is perhaps a huge responsibility, but it’s nothing that the heart doesn’t already know and the mind can’t put together. Beautiful always loved going on these long adventures, and sometimes I would tease her in the week coming up to the date by dropping hints but never giving away the whole game. Meals were always her favorite restaurants or new places that she might have mentioned wanting to try or places that specialized in something I might have heard her craving before. Activities were seasonal, interactive, unique, but most of all, fun. The dates moved with the seasons. In the summer we would go to the park or stay someplace nice and cool. In the winter we would stay in, watch movies, cook together. I never wanted to let her go, and the world was so full of things to do and places to go that I could have filled twenty-five hours if I had the chance. Every travel show I watched, every new restaurant I read about in the paper, every new activity and exciting venue that opened up in the area, all of them were reserved for us. I never ran out of opportunities to plan more dates.
One of our biggest adventures ever was a day trip we took to Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love was a landmark for Beautiful and I. We were dirt broke, just kids, and a day trip to Philly was like a week in Monte Cristo. It was a big, bright, and beautiful adventure. Waking up early that morning, heading out, our first time ever to Philly I had my GPS, my cell phone, I even printed out the MapQuest directions We were excited and giddy. We had no idea what to expect. We got into the city around noon and started at the Visitors Center. We grabbed a map of the city and planned everything right there. We played with the toy muskets in the gift shops. Walked around Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell. Visited Franklin’s old office. We went to Sonny’s, a place that the Visitors Center staff recommended as having the best cheesesteaks. They were delicious, with heaps of fresh flavorful beef and shameless piles of melted Cheese Whiz and sautéed onions. Not one for tradition, I added bacon and mushrooms. From there we hopped on a bus and visited Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. A wonderland of art made from reclaimed materials. It was an intricate, complex exhibit that wound and weaved in and around the artist’s studio and even leaked out into the lot next to it. It was a playground of wine bottles, old bicycles, shards of glass, and tile. Across from there we visited the comic book store, drooled at the menu of a German bierhaus we were too poor to afford, and warmed ourselves up at a pho restaurant in south Philly. Best pho in the world. Since then I’ve been to Singapore, Saint Lucia, Cabo, Jamaica, Toronto, and all places in between. No trip has touched my soul more than that first visit to Philadelphia. The only thing better than the rush of planning all these dates was seeing them come into fruition and watching how much Beautiful enjoyed the adventure.
Cook. To be fair, I had been cooking long before I met Beautiful. I started in middle school, learning how to cook a traditional Filipino breakfast for my family every Sunday. My aunt showed me how to fry an egg, cook sausages and sweet pork, and make garlic fried rice. By the time I had met Beautiful I was making Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino dishes. But to also be fair, I only ever learned because I knew a guy in the kitchen was, pardon the pun, hot. I liked the prestige and the attention I got for being one of the few guys in my group of friends who knew his way around a kitchen knife. Cooking can be a mutually beneficial skill and activity for all parties involved. Yes, I enjoyed the spectacle of me in the kitchen working around multiple dishes at a time. Beautiful would always tell me how much she loved to watch me cook or talk about my cooking and even my future aspirations, perhaps in some parallel universe, to run and operate a restaurant of my own, cooking my very own creations. I was very acutely aware of her gaze whenever she sat at the kitchen table and watched me. I could feel her falling in love with me each time. But I loved to get her involved as well. It was our bonding time, an activity and discovery for us, and sometimes when things went awry, an improvisation game as well. If I didn’t already know her favorite dishes, I would tirelessly research online the best versions of the dishes and then commit those to memory.
When she moved to her apartment style dorm, cooking for each other became the highlight of each evening. I would make pasta sometimes, or roast a chicken and make some vegetable soup. My favorite meal of hers was simple, homey, it was comfort food that fed my soul. Rice, Chinese sausages, and bok choy all steamed and cooked together in the same rice cooker. She’d cut the sausages with scissors and then scoop it out onto our plates. Then a big boiling pot of spicy ramen with an egg stirred in. It wasn’t anything gourmet or fancy, but it was her heart doing the cooking, and it fed me like no other dish could. When we would have dates at my home, the dishes I made would always vary. For our anniversary I made spinach crepes stuffed with sautéed mushrooms. We started with a caprese salad drizzled with a pomegranate balsamic reduction. Even though our anniversary was in January, I grilled Korean style barbecue short ribs because, well dammit, I knew that was what she wanted. They were sweet and sticky and flavorful and burst with juiciness. For dessert I recreated a green tea parfait we used to share at a Japanese restaurant. Green tea ice cream, sweet sticky rice balls, red bean paste, sugar frosted corn flakes, and green tea covered pretzel sticks. I served them in these keepsake cups I bought on Valentine’s Day. I still have mine, I use it to hold souvenir chopsticks I gather from my travels and little charms and trinkets.
Be affectionate. This is more than a personal characteristic or preference, it is a positive affirmation of love. We are physical beings, our skin is covered in nerves that race and jolt based on circumstances. There is no better feeling of electricity than the spark of your lover’s hand as it runs across your arm or bare chest. Being affectionate conveys closeness, intimacy, and love. It is a very necessary and physiological and biological urge that is hard-wired into our psyche. Physical affection releases all those ‘feel good’ hormones we associate with love and relationships. It also helps to predict the success of long term love. While it is true that the feelings of love between partners often predicts the level of intimacy between two people, the reverse is also true. That is to say, the level of physical intimacy and comfort and generosity of affection can help to deepen and determine the lasting effects of love. For many people who are not normally physically affectionate, such as Beautiful and I, the level of physical affection we expressed with each other was also a very significant indicator of trust and comfort and intimacy.
One of the things Beautiful loved was for me to give her piggy back rides. After we started dating it was not uncommon to see us running through the quad with her on my back or to hear her delighted and giddy laughter. There is this picture that I particularly love of her on my back, her head pressed against mine, her lips close to my ear, and we are both just positively beaming, broad smiles across our face. We were always walking around campus and during our dates holding hands. She loved when I would gently kiss and blow on her neck and ear, and I would always melt whenever she would run kissed up and down my back. Sometimes I would just lie on my bed, begging for more, just melting into the sheets. Nowhere felt more perfect, more like home, than the small of her back, where my hand would just naturally fall whenever I held her tightly, and there it would rest comfortably as we embraced and kissed.
Listen. More than anything, more than any of these other acts, there is no greater or stronger indication of love than to just simply be there 100% for your partner. I was there, always committed to the moment, present, listening to her, and everything else fell in place. She would always wonder and ask me how it seemed as if I knew what she needed or wanted before she knew herself. But of course the truth is I am no mind reader. I was never ahead of her, I was just right there with her at each time so as soon as I heard something I could act on, a hint, a request, a comment she never would have attached any value to, I was using it to help me love her more and better. It was like a fun game to play. A completely open ended quest with no rules, no guide, and no hints or tips. I would have to use my wits, but mostly my ears and my heart, to know how best to proceed.
Like I said, the truth is mostly no one has anything to worry about, provided the love is real and strong and communication is clear in both knowing how to speak to one another and knowing how to listen to one another. Loving Beautiful was never some greatly complicated matter. I am proud, and happy, to say and know I loved her to the best I could. All these things, the roses at her door, the handmade cards, the marathon dates, the meals, the piggyback rides, on its own, each of these acts would have required a great deal of time and effort to come up with and to execute. If you were to try to replicate each one individually, you might be tempted to wonder how any of it could be possible. How could someone balance school, family, and still find the time to write handwritten love letters, or create homemade meals, or dedicate more than twelve hours in a single day to spending time with someone. But they never stood alone. They were never separate entities or instances of different loves. There was only one love, only one Beautiful, and that love was greater than the sum of its parts. Doing one thing for someone you don’t love could feel like a burden. But doing everything for the love of your life, that is as easy and as natural as breathing. She was the words on my tongue, the driving force of my actions, and the air in my lungs. I had never felt this way before, and never had anything come so simply, so effortlessly, and so vividly to me as the actions of love did.
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