The next day I was to give a talk at Universidad Centroamericana on the theory of the novel and export agriculture, but as I sat looking at the jagged horizon of San Salvador from my room in the Hotel Capital, I was interested only in the clouds. They came over the ridges dark and heavy, a sharp contrast between their crepuscular grey and the tropical green of the land. They rolled over the irregular landscape full of intent; their gloomy, flashing hearts bordered by a bright silver. My windows were opened because I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting in an air conditioned room in El Salvador—the place where I was born and where I have often returned, always as a misplaced native. Through the open windows I could feel the rush of the wind as the storm arrived, the density of the air change as the sky dimmed and let loose. One minute I saw the clouds snaking over the hills and volcanoes and the next everything was darkened by rain or illuminated by the transitory enchantment of lighting.
Love approaches in the same way: you see it coming on the horizon, recognize its danger but feel comforted by the distance, then all of a sudden you are in it. As much as love elevates you, as much as it makes you savor life for the first time all over again, love is also desperation and tragedy. Nothing wounds and sickens like love. Nothing makes you feel as lonely and forlorn, fills you with so much anguish and mourning. Few songs capture this sensibility as well as PJ Harvey’s “Desperate Kingdom of Love.” Her voice is pained, the guitar lonesome. The song renders the hollowness that accompanies those late hours of pining, the emptiness of insecurity that is love’s religion. And God forbid that your love is not enough to keep someone. Maybe nothing has done more for art! My most favorite song, Pedro Infante’s “Historia de un amor,” deals with just this. (The greatest song ever, ever, ever!)
Like that thunderstorm that I saw coming over the hills, the intensity that makes falling in love like nothing else is something that comes and goes. It might be my own failing—it probably is—but to me love has always been a transitory, impermanent thing. That exquisite pain that makes love what it is leaves and all you are left with is the requiem of everyday life. A relationship is what’s left over after love dissipates into routine, satisfaction, and fear of being alone. Love is ALWAYS a losing proposition.
You see why, then, Drake’s “Take Care” resonates with me. In particular, the way Rihanna’s chorus, when she emotes in a hopeless hush “I’ve loved and I’ve lost” rings true. I’ve learned recently that Rihanna’s section is a cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s heartbreaking “I’ll Take Care of You,” which is itself a cover of a song by Bobby Bland. It doesn’t matter, Drake and Rihanna take us to the hunger and ecstasy and misery of love. The song’s syncopations are the irregular beating of the lovesick and sick of love heart.