Love is —
The things I carry in bento boxes
Two days ago, at three in the morning, I sat on my bed with a friend, video calling another, and thought about how long it had been since I told them, I love you.
When did I stop saying those words to people?
I ordered Flour earlier today, and I paused before adding a coffee for my friend to the cart. Because — what if she didn’t want coffee, today?
In high school, one of my teachers would bring me tea from Dunkin’. It started a couple weeks into the semester, after I had gone to him that first time — crying because I was so lost in my own head. I asked him if he could bring me tea the next day; I would pay him back.
It would be sitting at the upper left corner of his desk. Usually, it was oversteeped; the green tea had grown bitter. I would drink it — always.
There was one day I walked into his room to see a Dunkin’ cup on his desk while he was talking to another student. We met eyes from across the room, and he nodded when I pointed to the cup. Is this mine? Yes.
Halfway through my senior year, my mom and I bought take-out cups at the dollar store, and I started asking my teacher, Do you want tea tomorrow? If he said yes, I would wake up early the next day and brew him mandarin green tea. I’d protect the cup from the wind on the way to school and leave it on the upper left corner of his desk before class started.
This wasn’t bribery or sucking up, despite my girlfriend at the time making fun of me for it. This was a thank-you and something else — a gratitude, a ritual, an expression.
I don’t know if I was his favorite student or not, despite the question swimming in my head constantly during high school.
What a stupid question. That’s not the point.
The point is: we got each other tea. Sometimes, I would eat the cereal he kept in his desk and sit in my spot on the floor, next to the bookshelf, and feel that ache in my chest.
Was I his favorite student?
I don’t know.
But the tea meant something.
I added that second coffee to my Flour order. I wondered if I was even ordering my friend’s drink correctly. And then I thought, She’ll drink it anyway. Same way that I always drank that Dunkin’ green tea.
How long has it been since I told my friend I love her?
We walked to Flour, and she told me about her week. I told her about mine.
A couple of years ago, I was with my friend while they were having a panic attack. I thought about the things swimming through my head: the texts, the whispered reassurances, the —
The kiss to my friend’s shoulder, as they latched onto my waist. Putting my body between them and the wall. Putting my hand on their fist so they couldn’t hit anything with their knuckles.
I thought about bento boxes and how I neatly pack these thoughts away, each going into its appropriate box.
We watched a show together this weekend, ordered the same food, and laughed in all the right places. Somewhere in their bento box is my friend screaming into me.
How long has it been since I told my friend I love them?
A couple of weeks ago, I sat on the floor of my room with another friend. I offered her tea, but she said, It’s okay, I’ll leave soon anyway.
We shared my first hug since COVID started. I watched her cry on the floor of my room and thought, I will carry this, for you.
When was the last time I told her, I love you?
Often, I break off half a tangerine, place it gently between me and someone else.
I wash my dishes when I know someone is coming over.
I ask, Who was that boy you were canoodling with earlier?
I think about how I told my friend at lunch today, I don’t say I love you enough, but I’ll do better.
I think about all the things I carry in bento boxes.
I don’t know when saying the words “I love you” became difficult for me. And I don’t know why.
But don’t I say it? Don’t you see it?
That neverending ache in my chest.
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