The thrill of riding the love roller-coaster

Illustration: Ellen Heydenrych

Illustration: Ellen Heydenrych

“I love love and I will never let my past experiences or the way we wear cynicism with pride stop me from loving. I love being loved and whenever I am given the opportunity to give or show it, I will. I’ll keep trying and practising because I loooooove love.”

Here I am, sitting in a circle among acquaintances, confessing and declaring how my faith in love is constantly renewed.
They blink back at me with puzzled or blank stares while shifting in their chairs and holding back laughter at my naivety.

I was just trying to explain why I’m willing to try again and again, even though I have a pitifully large collection of rejections, blunders and heartbreaks. If only they knew the magnitude of it all.

First there was Sakhile in primary school. The tall, scrawny boy who played cricket so well that I thought he would be the Kagiso Rabada of our time. He was a little older than me and too focused on the field to notice me. So even though I knew nothing about the sport I took up the role of being the coach’s assistant to catch his attention. Unfortunately, Sakhile was more interested in my friends Taylor McKenzie and Sindi Khumalo so he became friends with me to draw them closer.

Then there was Lebo during my early years in high school. He lived across the street from my friend Remo’s house. Lebo repelled all my friends, not because he was an older boy but because he was a rapper who smoked and relaxed his hair. We were teenagers with young-adult visions, so we needed boys with steady futures. I didn’t care; he made me laugh. Every day I would get off at the bus stop closer to Remo’s house so Lebo could walk me home. All was well until he tried to plant his pink chapped lips on mine. I ran and never looked back.

Later in high school I found out that my first official boyfriend was dared into dating me.

Then, when I was 18, a few months into being courted, I got a phone call from my suitor’s brother informing me that he had died.

When this year began I had to watch the love of my life walk away because she thought I wasn’t loud and proud enough to fully embrace being with a woman.

After that, when I was on the rebound, I had to choose between my wellbeing and being played by a man with a connecting beard who told me I was ugly.

Yet I still stand because there has always been something exhilarating about the process. The best way I can describe it is with the song Roller-coasters by Tank and the Bangas: “I’ve always wondered why people rode roller-coasters,/ Why the feeling of throwing up brought about some type of excitement/ That they didn’t receive on a regular day?/ When did feeling sick become equivalent to thrill?/ When did nausea become the new X pill?/ I’ve always wondered why people rode roller-coasters/ And I remember, I remember when I did/ It’s the butterflies, and the fireflies, fighting in my stomach/ I’m scared to fly, I might come down,/ Think I’m ready now,/ I’m getting back in line.”

It is for this reason that I find it hard to ignore my feelings for my latest and longest crush, whom I met three years ago. Even though she’s overseas teaching children, whenever I get to see her in digital form, my stomach still capsizes with the same vigour that John the Baptist is said to have leapt in his mother, Elizabeth’s, womb when she heard Mary’s greeting.

She was the older girl at university who kept a consistent look for the three years we studied together: a fresh brush cut, clear gold skin, a septum nose ring, no bra and a Marlboro Gold cigarette between her index and middle fingers. She is the girl who smelled like water, E45 cream and minty nicotine. I modelled my look on her when I turned 21, hoping she would recognise my silent adoration.

I understand why my peers looked at my loving as an extreme sport. It does require strength training and bruised egos are a given. Let me explain.

When I started going to the gym earlier this year, a trainer advised me to focus on strength and high-intensity interval training. The interval training had me doing sprints, jumping jacks and climbing stairs. I gave it my all, followed by short rests in-between. Sixty seconds sprinting, 30 seconds walking, back to sprinting, then walking again. With it came stiff muscles that made my arms and legs wobble and my tummy felt as though it would tear from breathing too hard. 

They warned me about this: delayed onset muscle soreness. Or as the jocks called it, the doms, which happens after a strenuous exercise that a muscle is not accustomed to. Muscles tear before they grow. In the same way as a bodybuilder won’t train their legs two days in succession, I need rests between my romantic attempts. My love muscles need to recover from the stretching, twisting, bending and contracting motions they have performed. I can’t perform at my optimum while nursing an injury.

As I think about my university girl, I’m drafting a formal letter proposing friendship. It’s a small step, but a step nonetheless. Even though I’m still in recovery, the muscles are strong enough for me to get back in line.

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