Every once in a while—not often enough, compared to the relationship ratchetness we’re consistently overexposed to—but every once in a while, we get to see a glimpse of the purity of love on display. Not through conveniently sweet celebrity photo opps or the contrived relevance of reality couples, but between everyday folks living everyday lives, navigating everyday problems.
Twenty-five-year-old Dale Monteith suffers from chronic myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer that attacks the blood. His condition went undiagnosed for some five years, and by the time he finally started getting treatment, the disease had morphed into a force that outlasted every attempt to cure it with medication, radiation, even five rounds of chemo. Through all of the trial-and-errors and illness and disappointments, his now 21-year-old girlfriend, Jewell, has been there to support him.
In January, Dale participated in a drug study that finally, finally knocked that cancer into remission. That’s reason number one to celebrate, and the first act of their magnificent story
. The second started last Wednesday, the day he was scheduled to get a bone marrow transplant. But not before he proposed to Jewell in front of the nurses and doctors who had been caring for him, even chipped in financially to help him pop the question to his woman. On bended knee, he thanked her for “always having his back” and asked her to be his wife.
It’s easy to forget how powerful and effortless love itself really is because we’re always dealing with the white noise that clouds it. We spend so much time picking apart the complexities of the relationships around it and analyzing the chaos that disproportionately engulfs our romantic dealings that the simplicity in the act of loving gets overshadowed. It’s a connection, a feeling, a security that outlives the initial euphoria of talking into the ungodly hours or getting butterflies when his car pulls up. But there it is, demonstrated between two young people in a life-or-death circumstance, wholly committed, unwavering and unbreakable. It’s an inspiration.
In the aftermath of being involuntarily saddled with a broken heart, I did a pretty good job of convincing myself I wasn’t going to allow love to creep up on me ever again. To solidify my internal pact, I announced my distaste for anything mushy to my friends and family, contorted my face into all kinds of super ugly expressions anytime someone drew a parallel between me and the words “marriage,” “husband” or “love,” and shelved the R&B in favor of lots and lots of hip-hop. A recovering lovergirl needs a soundtrack to fuel her emotional detachment, lest one wayward Luther or Maxwell song send her backsliding into the warm and fuzzies.
Every breakup is an opportunity to understand more about yourself—despite how ridiculously uncomfortable that space always is—and I learned that, even with Mobb Deep on repeat, I’m not very good at acting aloof and indifferent. That’s the total opposite of everything that’s natural to who I am. Sometimes I would catch me being all me-ish and silently scold myself for not bunkering my feelings into guarded cautiousness. There I went exchanging pleasantries with a dude passing me on the street. There I was laughing at some guy’s silly comments while we waited in the express line at Shoppers. Wasn’t that how that whole last debacle got started? I shook my head at my own darn self.
Under my fledging shell of faux hardness, though, it all boiled down to this: I didn’t want to fail at keeping another man happy because of my perceived shortcomings or personality flaws. That’s the kind of ownership some of us take when we’re reeling from hurt, trying to piecemeal together what we could’ve done to be better and ultimately, more loveable. But I had to stop owning every component of the breakup. It wasn’t all about me when we were together and it wasn’t all about me after the “we” was over.
Ultimately, it took way more effort to not be who I really am than to just go on ahead and confess that I’m a lover. I’m a lover, doggone it, all open and free-spirited and happy-go-lucky. I can be wiser—I hope I’ll be wiser—but I gotta be me. And if get strike out again, at least I’ll have something to write about. Because I admit it: I want what Dale and Jewell have, somewhere along the line. I want to know if I’m sick, with a cold or (God forbid) cancer, that I have someone who will ride it out with me, as invested in my well-being as I am because he loves me just that much. That, to me, is what for better or worse means, even without the vows.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.