If Love is a Social Construct, Then I’m Willing to Build the Sears Tower – Sara Leavens

Love. It’s not real. It’s a social construction. Just like God. God isn’t real.

Love is not real.

I want them both—I don’t care. I want them both more than I wanted that Barbie sleeping bag from Santa Claus, who is also a social construction. Santa Claus is not real.

Sorry, seven-year-old Sara.

At seven, I wanted God so badly I constructed Claus as Christ. Christ as Claus. I found parallels between walking on water and sneaking down chimneys. Both had beards. After seven years of staring at mangled mannequins dangling from altar crucifixes every Sunday, I loved the idea that resurrected Jesus was jolly and jiggled. He needed cookies.

My sister demolishes my building’s blocks:

“Jesus was a Jew, you dumbass. Mom and Dad are Santa Claus.”

My sister shoves her hand in a desk drawer and retrieves five slips of paper. I unfurl their delicate skins.

“Here are the receipts. You’re getting a Barbie sleeping bag.”

She would have said that—if she were real.

My sister is a social construction.

My sister survived less than six weeks of gestation. She did not have vocal chords. My sister could have been a brother—it was too early to tell.

My parents often told me my sister was me. My parents told me that God needed me to come back for a few touch-ups.

A reconstruction.

My sister is a social construction. My sister is not real, but I want her like I want Love and God.

As a pre-teen, I wanted God to bring me love. My mother told me that if I prayed hard enough and long enough, Jesus would always bring me what I needed. I whipped rosary beads through my chubby fingers night after night. So many dockets the words stopped making sense. I had developed my love-tongue,


My sister had a boyfriend. All of my sisters did.

I had to wait until I was 15, growing more disillusioned with God every day. My sister said that I needed to meet him halfway—everyone knows that. She also said that it was quite likely I would end up alone with cats.

At 15, I drank a fifth of vodka by myself. My sisters told everyone I lay down in a cornfield with a boy from Clear Lake and called it love.

At 15, I wrote these lines in my poetry journal:


is an i n c a p a c i t a t i n g

social disease spread by

eye contact.

Keep them closed.

I still wanted it—.

When I was 16, God and Love intersected in a bowling alley parking lot. Rob, the new kid, who moved to rural Iowa from suburban New Jersey under murky circumstances relating to non-denominational Christian churches and agri-business, sat in my car, waiting for my Buick’s windshield to defrost. I’d asked him if I could use his ice scraper ages ago, but he told me I’d have to “wrestle him for it.”

I didn’t know what was written rule or personalized construction in this religion that barred him from dancing, swearing, and wearing sweatpants to school. I knew there was a fear in him that was shielded by these unknown variables, something that shook him and kept him awake at night, chatting to me inanely via instant message.

I was not going to wrestle him for it.

“Sometimes I think you want to kiss me.”

The words loomed in the fog created by my breath weaving a ghostly rope between us. What happened next was inevitable—physics—metaphysics—construction.

“Would that be so bad?”

I felt like I slapped Jesus straight across his hollowed cheeks.

Then, I realized that Rob might not have been as pious as I’d believed.

My boyfriends before had never kissed girls. Lance, the self-described “hellion,” was learning how to construct feelings of romantic love for women with his conversion therapist. His kisses felt calculated, brotherly at best. Indecisive James couldn’t come to a conclusion on how to hold his mouth. Rob was rhythmic—had pre-moistened lips and perfect hands-in-hair placement.

He used his tongue.

Although his piety was not real, it was miraculously reconstructed by Monday morning’s homeroom.

A year later, my sister convinced me to join a Baptist youth group—she wanted to have sex with one of the members.

He drove a Mustang convertible with a glowing crucifix spray painted on the hood. Lightning bolts emanated from the edges, charging down either side of the car, up the roof and around the trunk.

My sister took his virginity.

He never came back to group.

My sister and I kept going. I was falling hard for Baptist Youth Group Jesus.

This Jesus would take on my burdens without a pound of flesh and 300 Hail Marys. This Jesus came with the promise of music festivals and weeklong retreats where you could discover how “on fire” he was for you. The group leaders pushed me to pursue him further, to dig into his word at a supplementary Bible study.

My parents found this desire to attend Baptist Bible studies deplorable—I was taking in too much Jesus. It seemed like they were worried I’d get addicted. My parents gave me an ultimatum, Baptist Youth Group or Catholic Jesus; I couldn’t have it both ways. In my life this far, Love and God were always collapsing in on each other, cannibalistic black hole concepts trying to devour each other until I couldn’t tell the difference.

God is Love.

Love is God.

Choosing which flawed construction of the same man I wanted to build the foundation of my life around proved too difficult for my eighteen year old brain. I went to college and gained a stronger interest in baptizing my liver in vodka than my soul in the Word. Later, I put down the bottle and picked up a pen.


    Love is a social construct

    and I want the pyramids at Giza. I want a

    love so massive it takes hundreds of years and an entire tribe of strapping young men to build it on their backs.

Well—maybe not that massive.

Love is a social constructand I want

       the Sears motherfucking tower.

Well—maybe not that fierce.

    Love is a social construct


    I’ll settle for the Sears Tower.

Wait—It’s not called the Sears Tower anymore?

Fuck it.

    110 stories of sturdy love that survives

    constant battery from lake-effect winds.

    A Midwestern love, wound bundles of steel

    built to last

    until the final rusted beam corrodes to dust.

    I want to see the world from its observation deck,

    the soaring height obscuring reality—


Love is a social construct.

Mine is massive and Midwestern. I am waiting on the observation deck of my Willis Tower, wind-whipped and weary.


No longer weary, but perpetually wind-whipped, Sara Leavens finds herself in the final year of an MFA candidacy at the University of Kansas where she serves as Co-Editor of Beecher’s magazine. Her work has appeared in The North American Review, Blood Lotus, Midwestern Gothic, and Blue Earth Review. You can follow her rumblings about narratives, the midwest, the best pie/beer parings, and sweaters at @sara_alyse.


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