"You're begging me to go, then making me stay…" my soprano voice rang out softly in the empty quad as I sang the lyrics to Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield". If only someone could understand how easy it was to relate this song to my relationship with my boyfriend, Cagle.
Cagle and I had met our freshman year in college at a frat party, the first one I had ever gone to. I hadn't wanted to go, but my best friend Faith had practically dragged me from my dorm room, saying "Come on, Anita. You can't spend your first weekend of college sitting along studying."
I was never really a party girl because I thought they were stupid. Half of the time you didn't remember what happened the next day, and that never appealed to me. When we arrived, I felt terribly out of place in the throng of hot, moving bodies. The room was covered in half-filled beer cups and cigarettes. The lights were low, so I ran into tables several times as I finally made my way into the empty fraternity kitchen.
Cagle Bradford was standing at the other end of the room, sipping from a plastic cup and looking me up and down. I knew him because he was West's little brother, and West was the one who was having the party, but I had never actually met him. "I don't think I've seen you around here before."
"Is that beer?" I asked tentatively, taking a step back. Caleb frowned.
"No. You didn't come looking for any, did you? It's fruit punch, from the fridge." His voice was cautious. I gave him a small smile.
"My name is Anita. Can I have some? That's my favorite."
He grinned at me and pulled a cup from the pack on the counter. "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship, Anita."
Cagle and I were never friends. He asked me out on our first date that night, and we ended up going to dinner and a movie the next day. He was so charming and easy to talk to; I couldn't help but fall in love with him. Soon, everyone knew us as Cagle and Anita. We were the talk of the freshman class.
Things went sour between us really fast. We started fighting with each other constantly and we broke up several times, only to get back together days later with makeup kissing and tons of apologies. Our on and off relationship had continued for the last four years, and I kept telling myself it meant something. Last night, we had our worst fight yet. I cringed as the memory slowly surfaced…
"Anita, why is the idea of moving in with me after we graduate so bizarre?" Cagle looked hurt. We were days away from graduation and Cagle had sprung the idea on me that we should move in together. I was shocked.
"I just, I haven't had time to wrap my head around it, that's all. Don't you think that's taking things a little…fast?" My voice was hesitant. His eyebrows drew together and I knew that was exactly the wrong thing to say.
"Anita, we've been dating for four years. Most couples would be married by now." He sighed.
"We keep fighting and breaking up ALL the time! How can you call it a relationship when we can't even stay together?" I was yelling now, angry because he had brought up marriage to me. Truthfully, the idea of marriage terrified me. I couldn't see anyone, not even Cagle, wanting to stay with me for the rest of our lives.
His voice was low when he finally spoke again. "Then maybe we shouldn't be together anymore."
My breath was sharp. He had never said we shouldn't be together. It was always "Maybe we should take a break" or "I can't stand you right now". Tears gathered in my eyes but I wiped them away. If this was what Cagle wanted, I couldn't refuse him, even if it meant breaking my own heart. Isn't that what love is, a constant battle, filled with sacrifice and heartache?
I slowly unclasped the necklace that he had given me at the start of freshman year, a few months after we started dating. I had never taken it off, not even when we fought. I always knew we would be okay. This time, I let the necklace fall to the floor.
For the first time since we'd met, I saw tears in Cagle's eyes. I couldn't bear to watch. I whispered, "I love you, Cagle," and fled from the room.
I had gone straight to the quad, which was a ghost town at this hour. It was one AM, and everyone was either sleeping or partying until graduation rolled around. I sat on a bench that Cagle and I usually favored, letting myself drown in the memories.
Dinners, dates, meeting the family, screaming matches, parties, dances, if you name it, Cagle and I had done it. He had been my everything. Four years was over, cut short in just a matter of seconds. Nobody had ever said love was easy, but I think Pat Benatar said it best when she wrote "Love is a Battlefield". Now, my war was officially over.
I didn't know where to go now, or what I would do. I figured I could go home, get an apartment near my parents, start my life over, and forget all about my years at UCLA. I would be the teacher I had always wanted to be. I would be strong, and move on, like I had been taught to do. I wouldn't let this keep me down…until the tears came, rolling town my face and splashing onto the cold, unforgiving cement below.
I cried for what felt like ages, for all of the love that Cagle and I had shared. No matter what anybody thought about us, we knew that we loved each other and that had always been enough, through every fight or screaming match or time apart. We would always come back, and continue our forever together.
Now he was gone, and I suddenly realized how alone I was without him.
Suddenly, someone was there, tilting my head up to face them. It was Cagle. His eyes were red rimmed and his face was pale. I didn't think about the fact that he could cry too. He rubbed his thumb on my cheek to wipe the tears away, like he had always done when I was upset. "Don't cry, baby…" His voice broke on the last word and I could feel his body shaking. I reached out to pull him towards me and end his sadness, but he stepped back.
Pain filled my eyes, and Cagle looked like he wanted to disappear. "Anita, I know that what happened in there was really stupid. I know it was one of the million fights we've had these past four years, and I know you're probably sick of me by now, but I can't let you leave me, I just can't.
"I know that our relationship has never been easy. It's a constant battle, us fighting with each other all of the time. But back there, when you walked away….something in me broke, and you're the only one who can fix it. I know that sounds cliché, and I'm pretty much rambling now, but there's a point to this.
"I can't imagine my life without you, Anita. I know you're scared and I know that we have a lot of work to do if we're going to be okay, but I can't do this without you. You're my everything. You're in here." His fist hit his heart with a thump. "I've loved you from the second I first met you, and I don't think I could ever stop.
"I'm scared too. I know that we have all of the odds against us and that doing this is like leaping off a tall cliff, holding my hand. I need you to trust me, Anita. I need you to jump with me, and fall with me. I want to be with you forever, have children with you, and grow old together. I want the whole package. I won't have it with anyone else but my very best friend."
The tears were rolling openly down my face now, but my smile was big enough to touch the corners of my face. He smiled too.
Before I knew what was happening, Cagle was down on one knee, holding a black box in front of me. My hand flew over my mouth in surprise. He opened it to reveal a gorgeous, white diamond ring, one that I never thought I could have.
"I need you to promise me that you'll be with me forever. I want you by my side. Anita Rose, marry me, please. I promise to take care of you and love you until the day I die."
In that instant, I wasn't afraid anymore. I knew that Cagle was serious this time. I knew that we could have the future we'd always wanted. I saw buying houses and having babies and sitting in rocking chairs with white hair. We would fight and have hard times, but love would always keep us together in the end. Love really is a battlefield, but I was ready to pick up my sword.
"Yes." The word was soft, but Cagle's whoop was loud. He slid the ring onto my finger and picked me up, spinning me around the quad, both of us laughing and smiling like idiots. These were the things that made love worth it in the end. I can't believe I had almost forgotten why I had fallen for Cagle in the first place. He was everything that I had ever dreamed of, and we could finally have our not-so-perfect ending.
"Do you think we'll make it, baby? he asked, looking up at me. His tone was full of laughter, but I could see the nervousness in his eyes.
I touched my lips to his. "We are strong."