“Love is the fulcrum on which the teeter-totter rests,” writes Michele Morano in her wry, relatable memoir, LIKE LOVE. Over the course of fourteen linked essays, Morano reveals a lifetime of liaisons and the lessons—dire, laughable, and loveable—that accompany them. On the nature of romantic friendships, Morano recounts the history of her mother’s own reckoning with love: A departure from the nuclear family unit, and an entry into a lesbian relationship. Of the unrequited love that so punctuates adolescence, Morano describes the seductive, hand-scrawled notes a thirteen-year-old left for her—and which her mother found. There’s the unconsummated almost-love between neighbors, and the fizzy, lusty, non-love experienced by high-school girls. Always, the air surrounding the reader seems to “crackle with [the] spell” of these manifestations of almost-love—not quite commitment, not quite friendship, a hungry longing for affection, or acknowledgement, or simply a hand reaching out.
In one of the collection’s most compelling selections, “Crushed,” our narrator, now a thirty-something teacher, reckons with her crush on a twelve-year-old student. “Innocence doesn’t exist,” Morano admits, and “complexity is everywhere.” She observes the object of her affections from afar while she ponders the sometimes-baffling decisions of the heart: “Sometimes, when I watch him joking with his friends on the quad […] my throat tightens with some emotion I can’t understand. Or maybe it’s a combination of emotions: mournful love, buoyant sorrow, the outline of desire perched between an unknown future and the enigmatic web of the past.” In each layered scene, this teacher’s crush is made manifest, and by the essay’s provocative, tortured close, the reader’s world is abuzz, fingertips tingling, nerve endings alert.
Morano, ever-observant, writes that as a child, “[…] it occurred to me that I was the only person who could see the whole situation for what it was because of something that must be a personality trait. I watched.” Through this narrator’s eyes, the world becomes “a repository of stories,” a braided web of love’s near-misses. Indeed, as the reader hungrily turns each trembling page, it occurs to us that every life is quilted with these “like loves”—and Morano invites us to fall into them fully, embracing “the ever-presence of romance in all its many forms, most of which are puzzles, mysteries that point us toward deep reflection on who we are and how we live.”