“Do you even love me?” I knew the question was coming. It always came. A last ditch effort to back me into a corner and reel me in. But I was tired of lying. “I don’t think I even know what love is,” I replied. Thus ended the year-long relationship.
“Love makes the world go round.” The phrase was inscribed on a merry-go-round sharpener I owned as a child. Every time I sharpened my pencil, the mini horses would take their short trek around the perimeter.
My experience of merry-go-rounds as a child was rare, despite living in our carousel-saturated county. Most of my memories of this rarity are of the Highland Park merry-go-round. My father often used to bring me and my sisters there—an escape from the confines of his one-room apartment a few blocks away. Even at a young age, I was a people-watcher. I would watch the fractured movements of people, as the carousel raced me toward and then whisked me away. I would listen as their voices grew louder, more pronounced and then, just as quickly, dissipate, engulfed by the constant music. It seems like music is what makes the merry-go-round.
A little girl is twirling to the music. Her father is delicately holding her hand above her head, providing an anchor for her spin. “Am I beautiful, Daddy?” She has been playing hard. Her dress is covered in mud, and her hair is matted to her face in sweat. But she is a little girl; she is infinitely cute. The external mire cannot mar her beauty. The carousel whisks me away.
I am brought back around. The girl has transformed. She is a young woman; no longer spinning. Now, she is clinging to a young man.
“You obviously love her very much.” I wanted him to contradict the words, but I knew he wouldn’t. “What makes you say that?” he asked. “Because she is intertwined into your very being. She has been in your heart since the moment I met you. And she seeps out of you here and there.” “That sounds like some kind of infection,” he replied.
The young man looks very pale. His face is turned away from the woman. But his fingers are wrapped tightly through her long flowing hair, clutching the strands as if he might fall away when he lets go. Then they disappear from my sight.
“Love is an infection,” I conceded. Before I can see the young man again, I can hear him retching. “There has to be a way to be wise about it,” he retorted. “I’m not sure exactly what that is, though. Most people just act cynical.” The young man comes into view. He is no longer clutching the woman; she is not even in sight. Green discoloration distorts his face.
Cynical: bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic. I felt the burn of his accusation. “I think the people who are cynical are those who have never loved or have been burnt by love. The former are jealous; the latter have an excuse.”
I want off the carousel. It is no merry-go-round. I clench my eyes shut. But I cannot drown out the music. “Loved people love people.” The accusation burns again. I hear my own voice: “I don’t think I even know what love is.” I want the young man’s fingers to be intertwined into my hair. The burn grows hotter. “Love is an infection.” I feel blood rushing to my ears as the carousel moves faster and faster. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” I move my hands to cover my ears. The speed of the carousel is too much; I begin to slide off. My stomach sours, as the heat sears my eyes and ears. I tumble off my horse, and the carousel spits me to the side.
I hit the gravel hard. As I try to lift myself, I retch uncontrollably. Am I beautiful, Daddy? “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”