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In the heart of Philadelphia stands a rather iconic urban park. Though it is officially known as the John F. Kennedy Plaza, the area is known simply to natives and tourists alike as the LOVE Park, due to the hulking red statue of the infamous four letter word in the center of the plaza. Though it may or may not erase the park’s dedication to the asassinated president, it’s undeniable that the sculpture makes for a very recognizable landmark. With its impressive height, bright color, and well-known concept, the sculpture commands attention.
It held Grant’s from the time we arrived at the plaza. He seemed to be a lot more taken with the sculpture than the picture-snapping passerby. Standing still as he stared up at it with a look of contemplation, I was beginning to feel as if the pair of us were statues ourselves. I wondered if any of the tourists had taken a picture of Grant and April, the city’s newest permanant fixtures.
Finally, Grant took a step back. Holding his arms out in front of him, he formed a lens-like shape with his fingers, peering through it. After looking through his pretend camera for an uncomfortably long period of time, he put his hands down as a wide grin spread across his face.
“This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen,” he declared.
I looked from my shoes back up at the statue to make sure we were seeing the same thing. Though impressive in architecture, I didn’t find the imagery of the statue to be all that remarkable. It was just four letters: a L, a crooked O, a V, and an E, spelling out a gigantic version of one of the most common words in the English language. Though eye catching at first glance, I didn’t particularly think that it was anything to write home about.
It was clear that Grant thought differently. Looking from the statue to his smiling face, I was looking forward to finding out why.
“And why is that?” I asked.
“I think it’s really profound,” he replied. He motioned toward it with his hands, all too eager. “I mean, look at it.”
Though I had spent the past minute doing just that, I glanced at it once more to appease him. I said it aloud, the word ‘love’ rolling off my tongue as it probably had millions of times before, devoid of meaning. I turned back to Grant, letting my lips speak the truth instead. “That means nothing to me.”
Grant’s face fell. His exrpession formed a look of disappointment I was all too familiar with. It was the face my father made when trying to convince me of something, the face that said that I just didn’t get it.
“It means everything to me,” he said. He looked back at the statue, expression morphing from crestfallen to starry-eyed in the matter of seconds. “Just think about it. ‘Love.’ It’s everywhere. It can mean anything.”
“That’s exactly what’s wrong with it,” I replied. “It’s everywhere. People can use it for anything.” I made an effort to make direct eye contact with Grant before lowering my voice. “Do you know where the word ‘love’ came from?”
He shook his head.
“It came from the old English word ‘lufu,’” I began. “Which is also the root of words that mean ‘desires’ and ‘it is pleasing.’ ” I stopped to look at Grant’s puzzled face before continuing. “The way I see it, the real meaning of love is a lot closer to the first option. It’s longing, the deepest want possible. But the way everyone else uses it is closer to the second. Everyone just throws it around like it’s nothing. People ‘love’ pizza and TV shows and lame comebacks that their friends come up with. They ‘love’ their boyfriends who treat them like **** and the stupid pop songs on the radio that they turn up for a couple of weeks before they start hating it. ‘Love’ doesn’t mean love anymore. We’ve turned it into something cheap.”
I finished my speech, looking at Grant expectantly. I tried my hardest not to think about the last time I said I loved someone and really meant it. Though it was right there behind my eyes, still fresh after all those years, I couldn’t revisit it then. I saved that for the middle of the night, when sleep eluded me and the past pulled me into its arms like a lover longing for closeness.
Grant considered my spiel for a moment before brushing it off. “You’re jaded,” he said.
I scoffed. “I am not jaded. I’m telling the truth.”
He didn’t reply, focusing his attention on the four letters before turning back to me. “Do you have the camera?”
I nodded, gingerly pulling the Polaroid from my bag.
He took it, barely looking at it before snapping a picture of the statue. Once the resulting picture appeared in the slot, he took it out, shaking it back and forth like an old pro.
After it was developed, he shoved the picture into the palm of my hand.
“Keep it,” he said before I could hand it back. “You need it more than I do.”
Luckily, the heavier mood between Grant and I dissipated by the time we got to the restauraunt where we had lunch. By the time we left, Grant was back to his usual jovial self, laughing and talking about nothing without end.
“Next stop?” he asked as he hopped into the passenger seat.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Have you not learned anything about surprises by now?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes I hope you’ll forget.”
“Forgetting isn’t something that I do.” I kept my eyes focused on the road, carefully following the cues of the traffic lights and my fellow drivers. I was telling the truth; it seemed like I remembered everything, no matter how long ago or seemingly insignificant it was. Often, when my brain just wouldn’t shut up and let me sleep, I wished I could somehow wipe my memory of everything, my mind completely clear of anything that could possibly cause me pain. Sometimes, I hoped I’d forget, too.
I tried to shake these thoughts, knowing that this was the kind of thinking that could only put me in a hole. A light changed, moving the line of lunch hour traffic forward. A sign at the side of the road advertised our destination.
Before long, we were there.
Established in 1906 by candy tycoon Milton S. Hershey, Hersheypark is a well-known attraction far outside of its home in Philadelphia’s Derry Township. With an assortment of thrill rides and the constant scent of chocolate in the air, the amusement park is yet another pivotal part of the city’s legacy.
Grant smiled at me as we walked through Founder’s Way. “You’re serious?” he asked.
“Of course,” I replied, though I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I was being serious about. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like you to plan a trip to an amusement park. You tend to go for either the gloomy or the artistic. It seems a little…” He turned to look me in the eye, face laughably solemn. “…mainstream.”
I laughed, playfully swatting at him. “Shut up,” I said. “You know that I’m full of surprises.”
“Apparently so,” he replied. “Now, let’s go ride everything. Twice.”
I had hundreds of opportunities throughout the day to tell Grant that I was now homeless. It would have been so easy, when we were waiting for the restrooms or stopping for snacks, to look him straight in the face and tell him exactly how much I’d sacrificed for him. However, there was a gentle voice in the back of my mind that told me I couldn’t spoil his innocence.
Come on, April, she said. Don’t do that to him. He’s happy, and you should be, too. Worry about that later. Live right now. Get unstuck.
Glancing over at Grant’s smiling face, dotted with the remains of his cotton candy, I thought that she just might be right.
We came to a halt in front of a brown wooden roller coaster, standing off to the side of the relatively short line. I turned to Grant, giving him a challenging grin. “You game?”
He grinned right back. “You’re on.”
With two dueling tracks, Lightning Racer pits riders on each side against each other in a race towards the end of the coaster. Watching the current batch of riders come down fast, the green Thunder car taking the lead as its passengers cheered, I couldn’t help but feel my competitive streak come to life.
After its second run, Grant and I made it to the front of the Racer’s line.
Soon, I was strapped into the front of the Thunder car, Grant across from me in the Lightning. I narrowed my eyes at him, jokingly making a slashing motion across my throat. He glared right back at me before the ride was dispatched.
We raced faster than I could make sense of, up hills and down again in a heart-pounding milisecond. Though it was something closer to fifty miles per hour, I felt as if we were traveling at the speed of light, a screaming, breathing, living flash, burning bright before returning to the place from which we came.
Before the ride was halfway finished, I knew that there was a sense of knowledge hidden within the rush of the moment. Careening toward the end of the ride, Grant following close behind me in a flash of red, I felt as if I may one day be able to let go of the things that had held me down for years. The scenery around me blurred by motion, I felt as if I, April Fielding, may be able to live with reckless abandon, — and soon. Something deep within me said that that was exactly what I needed to do.
Without even seeing it approaching so quickly, I found myself at the end of the track, the Thunder cart coming to a halt. Lightning followed close behind, its passengers wearing looks of shame at their late arrival. A smile surfaced on my face. Though I knew that the riders had no control over how fast each cart traveled, I couldn’t help but think that mine coming in first was a sign of some sort. A sign that letting go wasn’t out of reach.
“I totally kicked your ass.”
Grant groaned, rolling his eyes as we walked away from the Lightning Racer. “Yeah, yeah. You beat me. It was dumb luck.”
I shook my head. He didn’t know what I knew. He wasn’t this close to finally letting go.
The sun got lower and lower as we made our way through the park, the sky slowly going from blue to pink.
We came to a stop in front of the ferris wheel. “Want this to be the way we end the day?” I asked Grant.
“Sure,” he replied.
We packed into a passenger car, our lap bar fastened by a disinterested employee. Slowly, the car rose from the ground up into the air. The higher we went, the more out of focus the park below us got. Rising into the sky, Grant and I slowly became the grand emperor and empress of what looked like a kingdom of ants, our subjects scurrying below us in search of frivolity as we sat high on our thrones. As strange as it may seem, it was only once I rode Hersheypark’s ferris wheel at sunset that I grasped what the saying on top of the world truly meant.
The sense of wonder I felt only heightened when I looked over at Grant. His eyes seemed greener now than they had ever been, the dying sunlight hitting them just right, revealing flecks of amber that I’d never noticed before. Locks of black hair came dangerously close to falling over his eyes, having grown out ever-so-slightly from the unkempt state it was in when we first met.
As we came close to the very top of the ferris wheel, I noticed for the first time that there was something beautiful about Grant. Something that made him almost ethereal, lovely in a strange way that relies heavily off of opportunity, finding just the right moment to change the way you saw the world, if only for a minute or two. Grant’s beauty was akin to that of riding the ferris wheel at the exact moment of nightfall, the sun shining off of a reflecting pool, and a phantom in a field of sunflowers: delicate in timing, Earth shattering in wonder.
I felt the warmth of his hand in mine as we reached the top. Without looking, I entangled my fingers with his. Though I didn’t know why this hand holding thing started or how it came so easily for both of us, I didn’t mind it at all. It felt natural, oddly comforting, like some sort of unspoken promise between the two of us. It made me feel connected to him in a way that I had never expected to be, to the point that I briefly wondered if he had read my mind.
At some point during our slow descent back to the ground, Grant let go of my hand, snapping me out of my thoughts about his strange beauty and possible psychic abilities. Once we got off of the ferris wheel and headed back towards the parking lot, it was as if the moment had evaporated into thin air, nothing but a memory.
A few minutes after I reached the top of the Hersheypark ferris wheel with Grant, I made an unnerving realization.
I realized that I would do anything to be at the top of that ferris wheel again.
I sat on my small bed in the corner of our hotel room, scrapbook in my lap. While waiting for Grant to finish up in the shower, I found myself digging into my suitcase to find it, reminded of a certain picture by our trip to the theme park. Happy to have a moment of privacy, I flipped through the book as I had done countless times before.
I was sixteen when I put the scrapbook together at the insistance of Clarisse the Therapist. After nearly two years as my tirelessly devoted shrink, she was running out of things that would hopefully heal my emotional wounds and get me out of her hair. So, she directed me to the craft store.
“Maybe you should put together a ************ she suggested. “Then you’ll have somewhere to carry all of your memories besides your heart.”
As corny as it was, I bought every word of it. Investing in heaps of pretty paper and the thickest book I could find, I poured every single memory I could find a picture for into that scrapbook. I devoted nearly every waking hour of that summer gluing scrap after scrap together, arranging them in chronological order between the plastic pages.
It was only after I glued the last picture that I realized that I could never fill up the entire book. Despite the catharsis the project had previously provided me, this discovery hit me like a ton of bricks, bringing back the pain as soon as it had been released. How could fourteen years not be enough to fill up one book?
In spite of the pain it caused in that harrowing moment, I kept the book, continuing to flip through it years later. Though I now knew the assignment was probably just an attempt to get me out of her office for a while, I kind of got what Clarisse meant by the whole carrying memories thing. It was nice to know that these moments still existed somewhere other than my head, giving me the oppurtunity to look back on them every now and again without feeling like a broken record, constantly skipping back to one place.
Now, I turned page after page without once stopping, searching for one photo in particular. Finally, I found it.
I stopped flipping pages to look at the pictury of Amy, Angeline, and I in the spinning teacup. We leaned into each other, all laughing. Amy sat on the far left, seeming perfectly put together even when we were being spun around too quickly to see straight. The only indication that she wasn’t modeling for a Disney World ad was her mess of dark hair, billowing out wildly behind her.
Her sun-kissed shoulder served as a support for my head. At the age of nine, I was almost unrecognizable. Though part of this was due to the fact that I had yet to hit puberty and wore braces with bright pink bands, there was something else there that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, something that I felt sure had to do with Amy beside me and the smile on my face.
To my right was a six-year-old Angeline. Mouth open in a laugh-slash-scream, she showed off the empty gap where her front teeth should have been, left behind after the loss of her first two baby teeth. She was a lot different then, too; she was the innocent baby sister I knew and loved before, all warm brown eyes and tiny blonde pigtails, tied up with little ribbons. Looking at how happy the two of us seemed, it was hard to believe that we were practically strangers a few years later.
My eyes flickered to the scrap of paper underneath the picture. I did my best to handwrite labels for each picture when making the scrapbook, narrowing down the exact place and date with a dedication that might have been concerning if Clarisse or my family knew about it. The Fielding girls at Disney, this one read. June ’88.
I jumped. Sure enough, Grant was sitting next to me on the bed, clad in pajamas, his hair still wet. I hadn’t even heard the water stop running.
Knowing that there was no use in lying, I pointed towards the picture. “My sisters and I at Disney World when we were little,” I said. “That’s me in the middle.”
“Ah.” He glanced at the picture briefly before looking back at me with a grin. “Nice braces.”
I smiled, relaxing. He had no way of knowing the details of the situation. It was all the same to him. “Ha ha,” I said sarcastically. “I was going through an awkward phase. I’m sure you’ve been through one, too.”
“Probably more than one.” He paused, looking back at the book. “I didn’t know you had sisters.”
The weight fell back onto my shoulders. Of course I wasn’t getting out of it that easily.
I shrugged, trying my best to remain cool. “It’s not the best situation,” I replied. “We don’t really talk anymore.” That wasn’t exactly a lie, though the reason for Amy and I’s not speaking was a lot different than the situation between me and Angeline.
“That’s sad,” Grant said. “I’m sure there are reasons, though.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “There are.”
That was the truth, too. I just wished they were reasons that I could fix.
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