By Lulu Dalzell
*While reading, please listen to Ivy by Frank Ocean
When I was a kid, I loved hearts. I loved my friends. I loved my family. I loved my dog and my house and reading. I loved Spiderman. I loved writing. I loved each and every one of my stuffed animals. I loved love. I always had a field day on Valentine’s day, telling all my friends how much I loved them through candy hearts or handwritten notes. I’ve always been a romantic. To me, love was everything. Love was life. If you had love in your life, everything was set. There was nothing else you could possibly need. I’d never express my positive feelings towards something as “liking” it. Rather, I “loved” it. I always felt very deeply, very passionately. My mom once said that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I always saw this as a good thing, never as a jab for being expressive about my emotions (I was quite the sensitive kid).
Clearly, love has always been an essential part of my life. I need it like people need food or water. So, loyal reader, I beg you to keep this in mind when reading my memoir. Keep in mind how much I loved love. How much I needed it. Love has beaten me to the ground. Rendered me a barren wasteland. It has hollowed out my chest completely, replacing my young, pink heart with dust. I’ll explain all of this, don’t worry. I’m just getting ahead of myself. Please, reader, keep this in mind when I discuss my love for my friends and career and the good love that I later experienced. Keep in mind how broken I became and how hard it was for me to express the love I once had. In order to survive, I had to deprive myself of love. My inner child was dying. She was starving. I’m sorry, young Lulu. I’m so, so sorry.
Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Read this memoir like a love story. The bad love I’ve experienced and the good. The love of my friends, my work, and my current joys. All of it is love. All of it is essential. After all, love is everything.
I: Bad Love
*Play Moon Song by Phoebe Bridgers
I was in a long-term, emotionally abusive relationship for two and a half years of my life. It started out good, when we were too young to know otherwise. Then he cheated. Then the panic attacks started. I stayed with him, he repented well enough, telling me he did it because he loved me so much. The logic was lost on me, but I wanted to be loved. It spiraled. It got worse. I would sit in my high school English class and shake, I don’t think my heart-rate went below 120 bpm for two months after the cheating. I was constantly on edge, always asking ‘would he do it again?’ ‘What did she have that I didn’t?’ These intrusive thoughts ate me alive. Being the victim of cheating became a cornerstone of my identity. But I pushed through, I kept a stiff upper lip because he was the one that cheated. He had the power. I knew he was capable of hurting me in ways that I would never even think to hurt another human.
As we got older it got worse. He got mad at me for talking to my guy friends. I never forgave him for the cheating and would hold it against him. He would hurt me on purpose, calling me a bitch, declaring his attraction to other women just to see the reaction it would warrant from me. I hit a breaking point this summer. I wasn’t wearing a bra with the tank top and overalls I had on and he yelled at me in front of our friends. It was during a trip to Providence with our shared friend group. We all wanted one final hurrah before college. Our relationship was broken, it had been for almost two years. I hated him. I hated him so much. But I couldn’t leave. Leaving is harder than taking the blows. I was on my last nerve with this trip, I think he was too. After he briefly yelled at me, telling me to adjust my breasts in front of my best friend, Mya, I knew we were past the point of no return. I pulled him aside to ask why he yelled at me and we started fighting. He said I was embarrassing him in front of his guy friends, that they were staring at my breasts. I’d like to note that I can wear overalls, a tank top, and no bra and appear relatively flat-chested (not that breast size has anything to do with the validity of his comments, I just didn’t have a whole lot to look at). There was nothing to see, but he was seething with rage because I was defying his control. During the fight, he shook me and screamed at me. He didn’t physically hurt me, but I knew he wanted to. I could see it in his eyes. The worst part? I stayed. I always stayed. Two years apart, the same fucked-up heart. I stayed and I saw myself recede completely. The tides of my life went out but I stayed on the shore, running my hands through the tide-pools of what was left of the spunky fifteen year old girl I once was. There was almost nothing left. But at one point it was love, so I was dumb and thought I could make it work. But I was wasting away. I was a tide going out. I never thought I would see the shore again.
*This is the only photo I have of myself in the aforementioned tank-top and overalls outfit. Notice the way that my arm crossed the side of my body, trying to block my breasts from view. This was taken a few hours after the shouting and shaking episode. I was scared and was attempting to recede into myself.
II: Loving What You Do
*Play Wysteria by Nordista Freeze
This summer, I worked at a plant nursery called Olivers. I would work nine-hour shifts where I was on my feet almost the entire time. I was often in charge of watering, planting, and pruning the plants. By the end of shifts, I’d be covered in pollen and sweat. I loved that job. I needed it. It was an escape. I could recede into my mind while absently watering plants. My last day at the plant nursery was the most loved I’ve felt in a very, very long time. It was August 14th. I had ten days until I moved to college. I was in the throws of the relationship that was beating me to the ground, scooping me dry from the inside-out. I was a skeleton that needed the nursery. The plants grew in between my chest bones, chlorophyll was running through my veins. On the day of August 14th, my coworkers got me a cake. It was my last day at the nursery before going to college. It was a surprise celebration. It’s not that I thought my coworkers disliked me, I just didn’t think they would go out of their way to like me.
I took a break from my watering to sit in the air conditioned office. I earned this. I was the last college-aged kid at the nursery. All had moved to school or gotten themselves fired due to insolence or some other reason. I loved the job and was too scared of leaving to be reckless. So I sat and ate cake and watched the plants from the window. I talked with my adult coworkers about moving to college, all surprised that I was only entering my Freshman year. They wished me luck, and I had to hold back tears while receiving my last paycheck. I’d give up every paycheck to stay just a little longer. My escape was rushing through my fingers, I didn’t want to confront my woes without a hose in hand.
After my shift ended, I went back to my car and cried. Happy tears, but tears nonetheless. In order to leave the nursery, I had to cut the vines from my heart and remove my roots from the dirt. No more chlorophyll, nothing filled my veins. I was totally and all-consumingly empty.
III: Platonic Love
*Play Clay Pigeons by Michael Cera
On the same night of August 14th, I went to Poppy’s house. Lulu and Mya and Poppy. We had many of these hangouts this summer, but this one was special. I was moving to school soon, I would be the first one to leave. It was an unspoken last-hurrah sleepover.
That night, we drank wine and watched a movie called Mustang and were awfully quiet. There was a weight in the air, a certain unspoken pressure to enjoy every last second. We were leaving each other, and none of us knew how to deal with it. So we watched movies about sisterhood. So we drank wine made of poppies. So we did everything but address the elephant in the room. We went on a walk that night, taking the elephant for a stroll with us. This elephant was simply begging to get out, it scratched at the door and whined when we attempted to leave without it. On our walk, we went to Frost Point. It’s a lookout along my favorite stretch of beach in Westport. During the day, you can see the New York City skyline from the road. It’s beautiful. We sat on a ledge overlooking the water, letting our legs dangle and kick beneath us. It was dark, well after midnight. Tears silently and secretly streamed down my face. Was this it? Was this our last night together?
“You guys are my best friends,” Poppy choked out. I sat in shock. It’s true, Poppy and Mya are my best friends, but I’d never tell them that. Something about it felt far too personal. I was in a romantic relationship where every gesture of love I made was swatted down like a lazy fly. You could understand why I’d be reluctant to admit my love for someone else. I was too scared that all the love I had would end the same way. And this friendship, this love, it was too sacred to be spoiled.
After letting the silence hang for a little too long, I agreed. So did Mya. We love each other. In our desperation of time moving fast, in order to drink in every single second before we went to our different countries (Poppy went to Peru on gap year, Mya went to Ireland for college, I went to Boston), we had to admit that vulnerability. We had to admit the love we had for one another. Even though it was scary for me, it was scary for them too. In the darkness of Frost Point, my tears streamed even faster. They wetted the concrete slab where we were sitting. We were silent, only the sound of our sniffling could be heard. We couldn’t leave each other, but we knew that we had to. And I carry Poppy and Mya with me. Every day. Every night. Every time I return home and drive past Frost Point. The elephant is still there, addressed, happy, and living a peaceful life, always staring at the New York skyline.
IV: Good Love
*Play Posing for Cars by Japanese Breakfast
“I’m not gonna date anyone for two years,” I whispered this to Poppy and Mya during that fateful night at Frost Point. I was so desperate to get any semblance of love out of my life. I was scarred from what it did to me, I couldn’t bear the thought of it reentering my life anytime soon. They shared a look, but nodded, understanding where my overwhelming negativity was coming from. They saw the entire relationship happen, often saying it was like watching the slowest car crash in the world. They’d sometimes voice their fear for my physical safety, saying that I’m at risk. I never thought they had any basis for the anxiety, but after the fight sparked by my breasts, I understood. I too feared for my safety. You don’t know fear until you’re eighteen and walking on eggshells in order to prevent getting your head beaten in. So, Poppy and Mya agreed that I needed the time. They supported my stubbornness.
And I stuck by this. I gave myself the time. I went through the grief. I went on long walks in the Public Gardens. I repented who I had to become in order to survive that relationship. I tried to kill that part of myself. The paper-thin, glass-hearted Lulu. She was begging to die. She was a miserable, bloated, sickly version of who I once was. There was no more love in that body. And I needed out of myself. So I walked. So I repented. But I couldn’t kill myself all on my own. So I woke up every day, wrote down my woes into a little black notebook, ripped out every page, and set them on fire. It was the only release I could get.
One night, I went on a walk with the guy I had a crush on. His name is Quin. Me and Quin left our dorm building at 11:30 PM. I didn’t know what to expect, I thought we would be talking and listening to music, which is something we bonded over when becoming friends. We walked to the Charles River and sat on a dock and talked about our worst fears and when we first became aware of death. Sitting there, on that dock, I knew that I found good love. I knew that I needed to give him the knife. I needed him to kill the bloated, miserable, loveless Lulu. For me, good love was rare. I knew I had found it. It was new. I needed to seize the moment. I needed to catch cupid’s arrow mid-flight.
We showed each other our favorite songs and he kissed me on the riverbed and told me I was the smartest person he knows. I put his hand in my glove and quietly whispered “thank you,” into his ear. Not for the compliment, not for the music, but rather for the love. For showing me what it could be. He told me how interesting he thought I was and just like that, picked up the knife. I stretched out my neck. And he killed the loveless body I was inhabiting.
After the release of that murder, we walked around Boston until 5:30AM. We just talked. We got to know each other. I found good love. I learned that love wasn’t something to run from, but rather to embrace. I welcomed it with open arms for the first time in two and a half years. For the first time in my adolescent life, I felt like a kid again. This is the all-consuming, breathtaking, world-stopping love I yearned to find as a child. No more shaking, no more abuse, no more fear for my safety. It’s simple. And it’s easy. And it’s everything. And I understand what it’s like to date my best friend. I understand what it’s like to feel safe within a relationship, both physically and emotionally. The eggshell path on which I used to reside has been swept away. I can walk wherever I may please because I know that Quin walks with me. We walk together. And I couldn’t do any of it without him.
*Play FTA by Whitney
The tide came in. The water flooded the beach, filling every single tide pool. And it washed away my loveless corpse. And it’s easier. Expressing love, being in love. It’s new. I’m not used to something this good. The days are slow, I lazily daydream about love rather than anxiously anticipating its next attack. It’s sweet, and I drink it in. I’ve always had a sweet tooth.
Now that Valentine’s Day has approached and passed, I’m reminded of the whimsy I had as a child. I understand why I loved love so much. It’s easier for me to tell my friends how much I love them. I express to my bosses how much I appreciate working at their businesses (if this is the case of course). I love the elephant at Frost Point. I love the little creatures in tide pools. I love the tide. I love the river bank. I love the nursery. I love my people. I love it all.
I finally can have a proper viking funeral for my dead self. I construct a raft made of notebook entries from the little black book. I put my old body on it, it beautifully rests on the paper. I pity this version of myself. She was so scared of love. And now, love is setting her free. Releasing her back into the atmosphere. I set the raft aflame and push it out on the high tide. I wave. I stand on the shore next to the elephant, Poppy, Mya, and Quin. We wave. We smile and laugh and hug. I tell them all how much I love them, how much I need them. We all watch the smoke rise off the dead body. Something fills my veins. Something new. It’s not chlorophyll. There’s no vines in my chest anymore. Instead, there’s a beating. Warmth spreads all throughout my body. It’s my heart. After two and a half years, it wakes up. It’s no longer a pile of dust. I put my hand to my chest and close my eyes. I feel my warmth. I feel my love. I feel everything all at once.