The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan : Page 1

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A

aberrant, adj.

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said.

“Neither do I,” I assured you.

Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.”

Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.

Everything else will be measured against it.

abstain, v.

I’m sorry I was so surprised you didn’t drink that night.

“Is something wrong?” I asked. It wasn’t like you to turn down a drink after work.

“Go ahead,” you said. “Drink for both of us.”

So I ordered two Manhattans. I didn’t know whether to offer you a sip. I didn’t know if it could be this easy to get you, for once, to stop.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

After a dramatic pause, you said, totally serious, “I’m pregnant.” And then you cracked up.

I laughed even though I didn’t feel like laughing. I raised my Manhattan, tipped it a little in your direction, then asked, “Whose is it?”

abstraction, n.

Love is one kind of abstraction. And then there are those nights when I sleep alone, when I curl into a pillow that isn’t you, when I hear the tiptoe sounds that aren’t yours. It’s not as if I can conjure you there completely. I must embrace the idea of you instead.

abyss, n.

There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us.

acronym, n.

I remember the first time you signed an email with SWAK. I didn’t know what it meant. It sounded violent, like a slap connecting. SWAK! Batman knocking down the Riddler. SWAK! Cries of “Liar! Liar!” Tears. SWAK! So I wrote back: SWAK? And the next time you wrote, ten minutes later, you explained.

I loved the ridiculous image I got from that, of you leaning over your laptop, touching your lips gently to the screen, sealing your words to me before turning them into electricity. Now every time you SWAK me, the echo of that electricity remains.

adamant, adj.

You swore that Meryl Streep won the Best Actress Oscar for Silkwood. I said, no, it was Sophie’s Choice. The way you argued with me, you would have thought we were debating the existence of God or whether or not we should move in together. These kinds of fights can never be won — even if you’re the victor, you’ve hurt the other person, and there has to be some loss associated with that.

We looked it up, of course, and even though you conceded I was right, you still acted like it was a special occasion. I thought about leaving you then. Just for a split second, I was out the door.

akin, adj.

I noticed on your profile that you said you loved Charlotte’s Web. So it was something we talked about on that first date, about how the word radiant sealed it for each of us, and how the most heartbreaking moment isn’t when Charlotte dies, but when it looks like all of her children will leave Wilbur, too.

In the long view, did it matter that we shared this? Did it matter that we both drank coffee at night and both happened to go to Barcelona the summer after our senior year? In the long view, was it such a revelation that we were both ticklish and that we both liked dogs more than cats? Really, weren’t these facts just placeholders until the long view could truly assert itself?

We were painting by numbers, starting with the greens. Because that happened to be our favorite color. And this, we figured, had to mean something.

alfresco, adv.

We couldn’t stand the city one minute longer, so we walked right into the rent-a-car place, no reservation, and started our journey upstate. As you drove, I called around, and eventually I found us a cabin. We stopped at a supermarket and bought a week’s worth of food for two nights.

It wasn’t too cold out, so we moved the kitchen table outside. The breeze kept blowing out the candles, but that didn’t matter, because for the first time in our relationship, there were plenty of stars above us.

The wine set the tone of our conversation — languid, tipsy, earthy.

“I love dining alfresco,” you said, and I laughed a little.

“What?” you asked.

And I said, “We’re not naked, silly.”

Now it was your turn to laugh.

“That’s not what it means,” you told me. “And anyway, don’t you feel naked now?”

You fell quiet, gestured for me to listen. The sound of the woods, the feel of the air. The wine settling in my thoughts. The sky, so present. And you, watching me take it all in.

Naked to the world. The world, naked to us.

aloof, adj.

It has always been my habit, ever since junior high school, to ask that question:

“What are you thinking?”

It is always an act of desperation, and I keep on asking, even though I know it will never work the way I want it to.

anachronism, n.

“I’ll go get the horse and buggy,” you’ll say.

And I’ll say, “But I thought we were taking the hovercraft!”

anthem, n.

It was our sixth (maybe seventh) date. I had cooked and you had insisted on doing the dishes. You wouldn’t even let me dry. Then, when you were done, smelling of suds, you sat back down and I poured you another glass of cheapish wine. You put your legs in my lap and slouched as if we’d just had a feast for thousands and you’d been the only chambermaid on duty to clean it up.

There was a pause. I was still scared by every gap in our conversation, fearing that this was it, the point where we had nothing left to say. I was still trying to impress you, and I still wanted to be impressed by you, so I could pass along pieces of your impressiveness in stories to my friends, convincing myself this was possible.

“If you were a country,” I said, “what would your national anthem be?”

I meant a pre-existing song — “What a Wonderful World” or “Que Sera, Sera” or something to make it a joke, like “Hey Ya!” (“I would like, more than anything else, for my nation to be shaken like a Polaroid picture.”)

But instead you said, “It would have to be a blues song.” And then you looked up at the ceiling, closed your eyes, and began to sing a blues riff:

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

My work makes me tired

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

But I gotta pay my rent

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

My parents never loved me

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

Left all my emotions bent

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

I know what I’m here for

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

Make your dishes so clean

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

Just be careful what you wish for

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

’Cause most my shit is unseen

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

So many men

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

Fall into my trap

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

But, boy, I gotta tell you

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

You might rewrite that map

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

Because I’m a proud nation

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

It’s written here on my flag

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

It’s a fucked-up world, boy

Nuh-nah-nuh-nuh

So you better make me laugh

Then you stopped and opened your eyes to me. I applauded.

“Don’t sit there clapping,” you said. “Rub this blues singer’s feet.”

You never asked what my anthem was. But that’s okay, because I still don’t know what I’d answer.

antiperspirant, n.

“There is nothing attractive about smelling like baking powder,” I said.

“Baking soda,” you corrected.

“So if I want to make a pound cake, I can throw some butter, flour, and sugar into your armpit —”

“Why are we having this conversation? Remind me again?”

“You no longer smell the yeasty goodness that you apply under your arms, because you are completely used to it. I, however, feel like I am dating a Whole Foods.”

“Fine,” you said.

I was surprised. “ ‘Fine’?”

“Let the record show, I have stepped onto the slippery slope of compromise in the name of promoting peace and harmony. There will be a ceremonial burning of the deodorant in ten minutes. I hope it’s flammable.”

“It’s just that I really hate it,” I told you.

“Well, I hate your toe hair.”

“I’ll wear socks,” I promised. “All the time. Even in the shower.”

“Just be warned,” you said. “Someday you’ll ask me to give up something I really love, and then it’s going to get ugly.”

antsy, adj.

I swore I would never take you to the opera again.

arcane, adj.

It was Joanna who noticed it first. We were over at her house for dinner, and she said something about being able to see the woman across the street doing yoga in the mornings, and how strange it looked when you were watching it from a distance.

“So how is Miss Torso doing?” you asked.

And I said, “Perhaps we should ask the pianist.”

Joanna just looked at us and said, “It used to be that you each had your own strange, baffling references. Now you have them together.”

People often say that when couples are married for a long time, they start to look alike. I don’t believe that. But I do believe their sentences start to look alike.

ardent, adj.

It was after sex, when there was still heat and mostly breathing, when there was still touch and mostly thought . . . it was as if the whole world could be reduced to the sound of a single string being played, and the only thing this sound could make me think of was you. Sometimes desire is air; sometimes desire is liquid. And every now and then, when everything else is air and liquid, desire solidifies, and the body is the magnet that draws its weight.

arduous, adj.

Sometimes during sex, I wish there was a button on the small of your back that I could press and cause you to be done with it already.

arrears, n.

My faithfulness was as unthinking as your lapse. Of all the things I thought would go wrong, I never thought it would be that.

“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.

autonomy, n.

“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

avant-garde, adj.

This was after Alisa’s show, the reverse-blackface rendition of Gone With the Wind, including songs from the Empire Records soundtrack and an interval of nineteenth-century German poetry, recited with a lisp.

“What does avant-garde mean, anyway?” I asked.

“I believe it translates as favor to your friends,” you replied.

awhile, adv.

I love the vagueness of words that involve time.

It took him awhile to come back — it could be a matter of minutes or hours, days or years.

It is easy for me to say it took me awhile to know. That is about as accurate as I can get. There were sneak previews of knowing, for sure. Instances that made me feel, oh, this could be right. But the moment I shifted from a hope that needed to be proven to a certainty that would be continually challenged? There’s no pinpointing that.

Perhaps it never happened. Perhaps it happened while I was asleep. Most likely, there’s no signal event. There’s just the steady accumulation of awhile.

B

balk, v.

I was the one who said we should live together. And even as I was doing it, I knew this would mean that I would be the one to blame if it all went wrong. Then I consoled myself with this: if it all went wrong, the last thing I’d care about was who was to blame for moving in together.
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