All profound love ends.

Or so I’ve been told. As a child, I thought the most important thing in life was being happy, that one day I would find myself floating on waves of clarity with nothing but truth ahead. But the waves were stilled with doubt. Instead, I learned how important it was to keep my own secrets, to pack up sections of my mind like archives: only seen when searched for. I believed the key to finding and holding onto such an ideal was to know when to bury and when to unearth truth.

The first time I felt genuine fear was in the dark. It was a classroom coat closet that for one afternoon became a cell. It wasn’t the first time I was molested, but it was the first time I saw it coming. Even though I always had my clothes on, the perpetrators were my age, and they didn’t make me do anything in return, each time it happened, they took a piece. And as I watched that pair of eyes grow cold with the realization that no one would hear me scream, I died a little.

The first time I lived through someone else’s death was a few years later. He was another classmate. When he passed I learned what everyone learns from mortality; there’s no going back. I had already lost my trust in people, faith in my parents’ protection, and belief in a system that failed. It wasn’t a complete waste, though. I was already on my way to perfecting the unique skill that allowed me to tuck thoughts into the far parts of my mind like books in the backs of shelves. It was easy. I was still too naïve to accept the fact that people take what’s left unprotected, that we’re all just scavengers.

I remember when my father warned me to be sure that if I ever fell in love I should never invest my whole self, as if all relationships were transactions. I suppose they are in a way. Two people come together in exchange for their time. I believed in this creed based on the argument that self-conservation is the reexamination of love. After all, shouldn’t the first people we love be ourselves? Shouldn’t we worry what it would feel like to lose ourselves, even if that loss is temporary?

It was years before I was alone with a boy again. I was drunk, I was scared, but he never knew. I’m usually scared around the opposite sex. Drugs always make it feel more exciting than scary, but the fear is still there. It wasn’t until years after that drunken night that I was molested again. This time, though, unlike the others, I don’t remember. After I woke up, I had questions and then the familiar feeling of shame settled in. I’m no stranger to shame, even when I do remember. I’m no stranger to hallucinogens, uppers, downers, or denial when necessary. But after the significant moments: the first, the transition from having to force the memory down, to trying to force myself to remember anything at all, other pieces go missing. I’ve died so many times it’s surprising I’m still affected by the deaths of others.

When my grandfather got sick years ago, we all thought he was going to die. But he didn’t; he just talked about it a lot. So I adjusted my thoughts and somehow convinced myself he never would. When my grandmother got sick, she never talked about it. I knew she was going to die, but I never guessed it would be before him. There is a connection, if you’re lucky, between a grandparent and a grandchild that can’t be explained in words that illuminate the emotion between them, but it’s almost palpable. When it’s broken, it doesn’t heel; at best it ices over. The sadness is always there, but if you’ve practiced, it moves into the section behind the classics.

I’ve fallen in love twice in my life. One was that exciting, volatile, first taste of affection; the other was what I would have considered the final meal. Neither lasted. Both barely began. I’ve said the words a few times with the hope of quieting that craving for me to submit. But I’ve never been an advocate of emotional submission, the kind it takes to come to a crushing end. After being stripped of any physical choice, all that’s left is what the mind controls. And I’ve never devoted myself to anyone. I used to believe in my father’s vigilant words, that to accept true love is to tempt the wrath of agony. But now it seems those words were meant for the child I was and not the adult I’ve become. Calculating the amount you permit yourself to feel is futile and in itself destructive. What I’m left with is one very convoluted imagination of what could have been.

I thought I was finished having to hide, having to tell myself to stuff my tears into pockets, having to protect myself from the dark; until my mother told me my parents may be moving, leaving behind my childhood home, the only part of my childhood still standing; until my mother told me my father might be sick. I didn’t know which to address first or how to feel. So we waited. For his results, for the house to sell, for them to find another place, the next step if treatment was necessary. So they laughed, sitting at the kitchen table I accidentally scratched with my fork fifteen years ago while we ate dinner, the table I made my first mixed drink on, the table where I finished a project for school while my grandmother sat by my side, and they told stories as if this life meant nothing. I saw warmth in their eyes, in the eyes of my sister and her children, and I resented them because I couldn’t feel it. I laughed, too, numb from the inside, frozen, waiting to break a final time.

I can’t say for sure what it means to love profoundly, or the lessons I’ve come away with when my versions of forever were sliced to pieces. I can say I’m more human than I’ve been. Sometimes, though, after a shaky night when my eyes unfold into morning, I sigh at the life left in me, exhausted with the thought of love, of digging up truth I’ve left behind. But I still desire my own terrible ending. Rumbling foundations, bridges burnt to piles of metal and rust. I’m sure there’s a volume or two somewhere in the stacks worth reading. Love worth living.