All My Little Words is The Argus’ love-centric column. We publish personal essays, poems, and other creative written work that focuses on themes of love, loss, labor, and loneliness—romantic and not. To submit an article, please send 1000-1500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I remember the smell of the basement in Portland, Oregon where I first fell in love. Soft, dim light bathed the space in yellow. The dark walls seemed to trail off into infinity; the only visible entity was the face of that first person with whom I felt deeply connected. Though I cannot perfectly reconstruct the way her face looked then, I can remember what it felt like to look at it. And while her voice from then is trapped in a past time, I recall the way it hit my ears and lightened my body. Only she and I lived that specific moment together.
Both platonic and romantic love inhabits the memories of unique moments we share with other people. My most important memories (most of which are overly corny) are the ones I never took a photo of or kept a memento for. A certain preciousness comes from sharing an experience that exists only within the limited and imperfect space of two minds.
I can describe the room where I fell in love. I can trace the shadows descending from the lone pair of figures in the room. But no imagery can fully recreate the scene. A moment in time is something you can read about but never feel, something you can look at a picture of but never truly see again. The value of time spent together comes from the impossibility of returning to it. A moment in time, regardless of how meticulously recounted, is singularly possessed by the people there.
Because of the impossibility of returning, the memories for which I have no journal entries or pictures are the most potent. The most vibrant colors and vivid sounds in my brain are there because I do not have the comfort of a photo or a recording to revisit them. Personal cameras provide me an illusory reassurance that I can recapture a window into the past, and not only are they ultimately unable to do so, but the comfort of the camera in my pocket also mentally takes me out of the present.
Psychology studies indicate that spending money on experiences rather than material goods makes people happier—a counterintuitive concept, considering it’s usually our material goods and not our experiences that we compare to those of others. But the most significant possessions are not physical. They’re an abstract collection of lived sights, sounds, and scenes. Without the need to compress time in some archive, experiences alone take on more special meanings.
Moments do not have to be monumental to be meaningful. Sometimes they’re as small as a Chinese takeout container. I can measure my friendship with my best friend, Grant, in the number of breakfast pails we’ve eaten together. I like to think my friendship with him is as rich as all the points we’ve spent at WesWings. The short hangouts we have (although sometimes brunch can last for hours) add up to create a unique, mutual understanding.
Grant, and my love for him, is rooted in our collective memory of little jokes we’ve shared over the last two years. Grant and I can keep a whole conversation running with just quotes from sitcoms we’ve memorized. We practically have our own language, consisting of phrases that refer to spontaneous conversations and punchlines that no longer have any meaning beyond their existence in our stored memories. Mention the phrase “four corners” to Grant and it will undoubtedly trigger the memory in which Grant and I went to a party in our sophomore year. Determined to shed our reputations as wallflowers, we planted ourselves in the center of the room. Seemingly four distinct groups formed around us, placing Grant and myself in the corners of four separate parties at once. Instead of being the life of the party, we quadrupled our wallflower coefficient. Now that whole story has entered our shared dialect as a two-word phrase that only we understand.
I don’t remember the first time I fell in love platonically, but I can remember a single time: My friend Sam and I were partaking in a favorite Wesleyan pastime—reveling in existential angst on Foss Hill at night. Interrupting my dramatic rant, Sam pointed to the cloudy sky and said, “Look, it’s a face!” I recognized the image in the clouds after some assistance, and we lay silent, locked in a staring contest with a face in the troposphere. After a minute, the cloud dissipated and the image vanished. In my existential haze, I realized that Sam and I, even if for only a minute, shared the same perspective on something that no longer exists. An image that once characterized the present now only exists in our minds—an experience only the two of us will ever be able to share.
Love, for me, is not only a feeling but a place between my mind and others. It is shared experiences with loved ones. Sometimes, love is an intense moment with my partner. Other times it’s quoting dated Seinfeld episodes. And occasionally, love is as simple as looking at clouds.
Connor Aberle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.