What Is Love

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When people ask what it feels like to be in love, it's always hard to put it into words. You can say that your stomach feels like there are millions of butterflies set loose in it, your legs feel like jelly, you always have a giggle locked in your throat, the day somehow seems brighter, and there are stars in your eyes, but it's more than that. It's more than butterflies and jelly legs, it's that feeling of content. It's feeling that your world, no matter how rubbish it was the day before, has been set right and everything looks like you're seeing it for the first time. It's just a million times better than anything else in the world.

Fifty two years I spent with my wife. Her name was Prudence and she was beautiful. We met in grade school at some silly function thrown by the parents. There was confetti everywhere and all the girls were dressed in frilly poodle skirts with their hair tied up with ribbons. The boys were dressed in smart black suits and had their hair slicked back. We were ten years old and completely opposed to the opposite sex. That was until we found out the girls were awfully pretty, especially Prudence.

She had curly black hair all the way down to her waist, bright green eyes that shimmered in the lights from the overhead, and the softest, whitest skin I had ever seen in my ten years. There were no scars or dirt on her face and hands, she was just all pretty. Her blouse was blue and the sleeves puffed out, her skirt was white and turned into a bell when she swirled around, and she wore black Mary Janes on her feet. From that first moment that I saw her twirling around with her friend Scarlett I was in love. My ten year old self knew right then and there I was going to marry that girl. It really was too bad that Prudence didn't figure that out until high school. She hated me in grade school. I did pick on her an awful lot, though. That very first night I pushed her in the mud. It was the only way I knew how to show my love for her.

By some miracle during our senior year of high school, Prudence turned around, her raven colored hair smacking me in the face as she went, and she smiled. I felt my stomach drop out of my body and I grinned at her like the ten year old I still felt like.

"Daniel, are you all right?" she asked, her voice as light as fairy dust. There may have been bells and twinkling lights as well, but the only thing I saw or heard was Prudence. She was so beautiful, like something out of a dream.

"W-would you like to go to prom with me, Prue?" I asked her, looking down at my feet. I couldn't trust myself not to start crying if I looked at her. She was so beautiful.

"I would like that," she said and my head snapped up. She was wearing a shy grin and looking down at her feet. "That would be really swell, Daniel."

"Yeah?" I said, my smile growing the more that she talked to me. "Well then I'll see you there, Prue."

"All right." She looked up from her shoes as I adjusted my letterman jacket. "Daniel?"

"Yeah?"

She smiled before leaning forward quickly to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her giggle lit up the sky in a shower of fireworks and there had to have been angels caroling. Prudence skipped down the hallway to her friends and they all laughed, looking back at me as I stood in the same place with a shocked look on my face. The angels were still caroling.

A year later we were married, two young kids out of high school with stars in our eyes and wings on our hearts. Two years after that Prudence had our first child, Lange, and I fell even more in love with her. All the fights we had and all the tears that were shed during her pregnancy only made me hold her closer after Lange was born. I was more in love with her than when I was ten years old.

Lange went off to Vietnam in the late sixties, leaving Prudence and myself with Dotty and Lonny. He never came back from the war. In April 1969, we received a letter telling us that our son had died in the line of duty. He had been trying to help two of his fellow soldiers to get to safety and was shot in the back. Prudence cried for three months, day and night. For those three months I worked myself to the bone on the railroad. I cried while I worked and then when I came home I drank myself stupid.

I abandoned my Prudence for the three hardest months of her life and for six months after that. I was lost in an amber bottle of pity and self loathing. When I resurfaced I was surprised to find Prudence at my side, kneeling beside the toilet as I pulled my head out of it. She was rubbing her hand in slow circles on my back and had draped a wet rag over the back of my neck. I got off the ground and brushed my teeth. When I looked up and into the mirror I saw a man I hated. I glared back into his blue eyes and twisted my mouth into a snarl. He was dirty and despicable and I despised him.

"Prue?" I said, turning away from the reflection of the dying man in the mirror. "Prue?"

"Dan," she said, tears in her eyes.

"I love you." I held my arms out for her to step into. I hadn't been expecting her to come to me, after all I had abandoned her for nine whole months while she handled the death of our son. Prudence stepped forward and kissed me square on the mouth as her arms went around my neck.

We stood there in the bathroom just holding each other for what seemed like hours. In that time that we held each other I found my love for my wife again. Every curve and dimple on her body I fell in love with again. The glimmer in her emerald eyes, the shine of her dark hair, the buttons on her blouse, and the tiny scar on her left hand ring finger that matched my own from our wedding night I fell back in love with. I hugged her, not wanting to let her go, just wanting to be the man I was before.

"I'm glad you're back, Daniel," she whispered into my neck. "I was about ready to call Arnie at the paper and tell him to write your obituary."

"I'll always be here for you, Prudence." I hugged her more tightly to me, running a hand through her curls. "I've never been more in love with you."

In the late seventies Lonny and Dotty married off and left our home. We had six beautiful grandchildren in the mideighties and as I watched Prue twirl them around and bake them cookies, I fell more in love with her. In the thirty years we'd all ready been together there was so much more about her that I loved.

When I was ten years old I fell in love with a little girl in a poodle skirt that was covered in mud crying her eyes out. That little girl liked to drink milkshakes and go to church. When I was seventeen I fell in love with a woman in a long black dress with her hair styled like a movie star's. That woman loved cool cars and thought dancing and going up to the pier was the bee's knees. When I was twenty I fell in love with a woman who had just delivered my child into the world. That woman was sensitive and cried over everything from money troubles to Lange slamming his finger in the screen door. At thirty nine I fell in love with a woman who dragged a piece of scum from the bowels of despair. She liked to read and take the kids to the park. At fifty six I fell in love with a woman that wore slacks like a man and had big glasses. She liked to bake cookies and walk along the beach, her fingers intertwined with my own.

In 2000, Prudence was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the doctor told her the news, she laughed.

"Breast cancer?" she said, her eyes lighting on fire. "What're the options, son?"

"Well, Mrs. Lancaster, we've caught it at a stage where we can surgically remove your breasts," he said. "The cancer has gone past your breasts at this point and if remove them, you'll have no worries and you can freely live out your life. Of course, you'll have to come back in for regular cancer screenings to make sure we haven't missed anything."

"You want to... to take my breasts?" Prudence looked at him over the top of her glasses and pursed her lips together. For a sixty eight year old woman, she looked dangerous. "Doctor Fatherling, I've heard a lot of things in my day, alot, but I have never heard of taking a woman's pride from her. I am much more than these two mounds of flesh on my chest, but I will still not part with them."

My hand tightened on the arm of my chair. "Prue! You could die!"

"Dan, I'm sixty eight years old. I've been to Paris, Berlin, and Sydney. I went to Disney World three times and I've had three beautiful children. I have six gorgeous grandchildren and one beautiful great-grand baby. I've walked and swam in the ocean. I've run a marathon and jumped out of a plane. I dealt with an alcoholic husband and lost one of my babies in a war. Dan, I have lived a life most people have never even dreamed about." She put her hand on mine, the soft flesh still sending sparks of lightening to my heart. "There are people out there with much more to live for than me. If God wants me, I'm ready to go and I will go as a whole woman--breasts and all."

I looked at the doctor, a young man barely out of med school. He was just as shocked as I was. Prudence was exchanging her life for her dignity. But then what is life without dignity?

Two tough years passed. Prudence became achy and wheezy and was no longer able to walk. She was put on oxygen and given a week to live. The children and grandchildren came to the house and set up camp in the spare rooms and the living room. It was one crowded affair. In and out all day were kids chattering to Prudence about the weather, the news, latest music and gossip, the cute guy living next door, and how badly the spare rooms needed a paint job.

Prudence slept a lot her last week on earth. When she was awake, she was strong and lively as the ten year old girl I pushed in the mud back in 1942. Her eyes sparkled like they did in 1970 when I vowed to get over my alcoholism. Her hair was piled on top of her head like it was in 1985, now gray instead of raven wing black. Her skin was no longer smooth and pale, but wrinkly and tan.

Despite the changes in my Prudence over the years we were together, I loved her. Every time she smiled, laughed, cried, screamed, spanked the kids, or undid the top button on her nightdress I fell more in love with her. Prudence was the love of my life and there was no one else in the world that could step in and take her place.

"I love you," she whispered, laying her hand on top of mine.

"I love you, too, Prudence," I said, trying to hold back the tears. "I love you more now than I ever have. You are the most beautiful woman in the entire world."

"More beautiful than Marilyn Monroe?" she asked, smiling as she did so.

"More beautiful than Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn combined, sweet pea."

"Well, that's all that matters, Daniel," she said, closing her eyes. A single tear leaked out from beneath her wrinkly eyelid and then she quit breathing.

It was May 2002 and I was more in love with that gray haired, fast talking, giggly woman than any other thing in the world. Prudence was my everything. That was six years ago now and the doctor has told me I have less than six months to live. Am I scared? Sure I am, but I know that on the other side of Heaven's pearly gate is the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes on. I know she's waiting for me in her poodle skirts and her hair piled on top of her head like a movie star just like that night of senior prom.

Love is so much more than jelly legs and butterflies, because it takes time to really love. Love is also pain and tears, anger and screaming, hugs and kisses, longing and hurt, alcohol and Disney World, Paris and Berlin, and most of all it's everything that person you fell in love with is. The giggles that made angels sing and the kisses that set off fireworks and the hugs that made you feel unworthy. It's all of that. Love is so much more.





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