How many times I heard those words rolling out of your lips? In hushed tones, between long warm kisses, tears of longing in your eyes? How many times I read them crumpled together in your childish handwriting? In cute little notes, in the middle of long love letters, your unpretentiously tender way of saying you cared?
I never realised how much those words were part of our love story until they spilled out of my own month — for the last time. When I was crying, holding you in my arms, knowing I would never have you there again, denying it with all my bones. Part of me already missed you and in those last moments together te quiero came out despite the salty taste of tears in my tongue.
You did not say it back.
And it broke me a bit further.
I had finally realised it was over, though.
And looking back on that anything-but-romantic moment I circle all the way back to that first time.
Te quiero. You said.
I was away, and you missed me. When we were still learning how to love each other, trying to figure out what was that desperate need we had to be together, why every part of my body ached when I was away from you. We were texting and you ended the conversation with te quiero. You explained that was your way of expressing what you felt about me, that you could not find better words.
I was confused.
Not about my feelings for you, but about the true meanings of that single te quiero. I did not understand why you said it in Spanish, so I did not know how to respond.
After all, there is the question of languages, no?
We still had not said we loved each other, in any of the languages we shared. Then you came to me with your te quiero. I knew it meant I love you, but I always hated how it sounded in Spanish, as an easy way to avoid the word amor. For my Brazilian self, your te quiero was in no way equivalent to the te amo I was expecting (and feeling). For me te quiero stood on a lower ground, almost like a last step before reaching the words that really mattered.
Te quiero was not te amo. It was a shortcut for expressing yourself while running away from the consequences the words in our own language would bring. A way of letting me know our friendship was already something else without the need to commit to the complications of our love. But te quiero was also all your scared self could manage — in those uncertain times, right at the edge of that cliff we would fall so desperately that both of us would break in a million pieces. Now I understand.
I didn’t back then, though.
If you were just scared, I was just confused.
So I did not respond. I spent long minutes debating with myself.
I typed out yo también. But did not send it.
It took me a couple more months to manage looking into your eyes — those beautiful deep hazel eyes, so full of thoughts and feelings, a whole world I got lost into so many times — and say Eu te amo.
There it was, I said it first after all.
You were holding me, our lips were really close, but we were looking right at each other’s eyes. It was a chilly night and we were standing on a busy sidewalk in our hometown, me in my favourite high-heeled boots, our noses levelled. I did not care about anything else other than that complicated (yet so simple!) feeling overflowing between us. I will never forget your smile, your smell, your taste. How the silky curls of your hair felt around my fingers. Or the tone in your voice as you said Eu também te amo and confessed you had whispered those words before while I slept in your arms. Nothing else mattered then. I knew I still had so much of my lifetime to live by your side.
I held on to those feelings in the years to come, when things got so difficult and so messy, when we both got even more scared, even more confused. About each other, about the world around us. When we continued to whisper, to scream, to write, about our love in all the languages we could manage. Uncountable times, knowing they all meant the same, because we were so certain about how we felt for each other. There were no more steps to take. We just had infinite possibilities of expressing the same intense feeling.
Until that last time.
The crazy running around the station and you getting into the train to hold me for a minute before I left. It was a stuffy summer day in Italy, hard to breathe with half our faces covered by the flowered fabric of our face masks. You were standing close, but I could barely see your eyes because mine were so full of tears. We pushed the masks to our chins to give the last kisses, soft and salty, rushed and uncertain, we could not emulate the deep passionate way our lips fitted together when all of this first started. There was still a great complicated love between us, but it was being taken over by an incommensurable amount of hurt and a desperate overwhelming sensation of loss.
As strangers passed around us, I could not stop the tears from coming. I will never forgive the rude lady who asked you about the train schedule right at that moment. Could she not see how important it was for us? The train was about to leave, and I did not know how many more minutes (seconds) of my lifetime I still had with you. I knew you had to get out soon, but I did not want to let go, so I held you close and we both rambled words that I have now forgotten. I can only remember that te quiero found a sneaky shortcut out of my month, even if it was so busy with all the kisses and tears and hiccups.
I did not mean to say it in Spanish.
I was just scared.
I was looking for a way of not letting you know I was not ready to say goodbye. Even though I knew you wanted me to let go and that I could not commit to the messy consequences of holding on to you more than I should.
Part of me still wanted you to know that if you asked me to stay, I would.
Then our own language seemed to entail too much of a burden for us to handle right there, so my own month chose a lesser-meaningful shortcut.
Everything felt, for a moment, just like that first time.
Yet we were standing half a world away.
We were not the same kids falling in love on the sidewalk, laughing and making plans because we had so much time to travel the world together, cook our favourite food, and share all those bottles of wine. Against our deepest wishes, we had grown up. Standing in that train about to leave, we knew we both had to figure out our lives away from home and apart from each other. We had already lived so many of our dreams and watched as our love destroyed us little by little.
We had already fallen off that cliff and been crushed in all those pieces.
There was not much left to say. No more plans or dreams to be lived.
Even if a week later you told me in a phone call you would have the chance of giving me another hug soon. Even if a month after that I tried to save what was left of us texting you one of our favourite songs, explaining we could still love each other somehow, because nada se pierde, todo se transforma.
I guess both of us wanted things to have been different.
They just were not.
You know the greatest loves of all times are over now.
So you stepped out of the train, the doors closed, and I had to watch you walking away.
You did not look back and I did not cry on my way back to England.
I still have your cute little notes, though, and your messy love letters, your dramatic texts, and the memories of your voice whispering and laughing all around me.
Somehow that should be enough.