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Friday, September 25, 2015

"Touch me, remind me who I am.” ~Stanley Kunitz

I've been thinking a lot about love. Surprise!

I've been talking with Tabitha and Adam about love. I'm learning a number of things difficult to articulate, but still true. I don't know that I'll be able to explain, but I'm going to try. Words make things real to me.

Adam told me that he knows Darrin and I love him. We tell him often. He says we show him more often. When we were talking about this, I said I knew my parents loved me, too -- sort of like a person loves ice cream or going to a movie. They like having me around. Adam says that's different from what he feels from us. He says being loved by Darrin and me is something he feels all the time, in the background. And he feels that deeply. It's not something that comes and goes, it just is.

Tabitha says knowing she's loved and wanted by us gives her the courage to try new things. She can fail and still be safe. There will always be someone to hug her, help pick up the pieces, and brainstorm new ideas to try. She says one day she wants to go far away. She's not afraid to leave because she knows it won't make us love her less. She believes she'll feel loved even when we're not with her.

When I was 17, I left my parents. I had no car, so my mother drove me 200 miles to the place where I would live and work. I had never met my employer. I did not know who I would be sharing a bedroom with. My mom drove to my new workplace, helped me lift from the trunk my suitcase and a laundry basket holding some basic necessities for the independent 17-year-old, got back in the car, and said good-bye before driving away. I had no idea what to do next.

It never occurred to me that I hadn't been hugged. I was never hugged. There was no mention of calling home, no discussion about how I might return home, should I choose to do so, and no "I love you." Again, I was not surprised or disappointed. I had no expectation that any of those things would happen.

I picked up my suitcase in one hand, balanced the laundry basket on the opposite hip and made my way to the building entrance. Once inside, I lowered my belongings to the cement floor. I was in a sort of recreation room with a ping-pong table and a television. A couple of young adults were there. They said hello. I continued to stand quietly. After a couple of minutes, one of them came over and asked if I was a new employee. I said I was. She took my basket and placed it against the wall, indicating that I could leave my suitcase, as well. Then she told me to follow her. We located my new boss, I was shown to my new room, and I was given my new work schedule. It was 5:00 p.m. I would start at 7 a.m. the next day.

My guide and my boss left me in my new room. I sat on the bare mattress that was my bed and wondered what to do next. I hadn't eaten that day, but didn't really worry about it. I rarely ate. A set of neatly folded white sheets were at the food of the bed. I spread the clean sheets over my mattress and covered them with the quilt given to me by my grandmother before I left home. It was made of tiny, colorful squares and backed in bright red flannel. She was the only person who acknowledged that I was leaving. She had hugged me.

I think, had I been less misshapen by the different traumas in my life, I might have cried at that point. It didn't occur to me to cry in the moment. I had long since understood that affection was not really something I was allowed. I felt awkward when my grandma hugged me, and confused, too. Hugging didn't really make sense. Well, more to the point, hugging ME did not make sense. I understood that other people did that. It just wasn't something they did with me.

There is no doubt that I was horribly lonely in that moment. That was unremarkable. I was always lonely. I assumed that was just part of being alive. But I had decided I would like to be lonely in a new place rather than in the house where I grew up...and was raped...and was abused...

It was a good choice. That summer I gained a friend who didn't care that I believed I wasn't supposed to be hugged or cuddled or enjoyed. Her name was Karen. We were a team at work. After work, we were still a team. We went hiking and camping and shopping. We sang and giggled and wondered who we would be in ten years.

Within a couple of weeks there was a young man who showed interest in me. I had tried dating a boy in high school That was disastrous. But I liked this new person. He wanted to spend time with me, but he didn't insist on any kind of physical reward for his presence. If I didn't want to be touched, he complied. He told me he liked me. He also said I was very young and he was fine if I just wanted a really great friend. His name was Tom.

So we were really great friends. And we went on dates. Sometimes Karen came with us. I asked if it was awkward to be the third person. She said it might be if I was in love, but she knew I wasn't. And she was right. I wasn't. Not with Tom. But he had taken me home to meet his family and I was in love with them.

I was in love with the way his mother treated me like I was one of their family. She took me into the kitchen with her and had me help cook and take a turn doing dishes while she chatted with me and made me feel that I had lived there my entire life. I was in love with the way his father teased me, just as he teased all of his children, gently and mischievously, but always with a look in his eye that told me this was happening because I was one of them. I belonged.

Mostly, though, I was in love with his sister. Completely twitterpated. She was thrilled when I came home with her brother. She immediately claimed me as her best friend. I was told about her fiance, her college shenanigans, her favorite foods, and invited to wear anything in her closet that appealed to me-- and she was very excited to explore my wardrobe, as well. She was a little disappointed that I was smaller, but thought there were still some of her clothes that would look "darling" on me.

When I left my job and went to school, Tom's family wrote and called and invited me to come visit. And I did. Even when Tom left for his mission, I continued to visit his family. They said I was their youngest daughter/sister. Two years later I got married. Not to Tom.

At that point contact ceased. I lost my place in that family. I think they were upset with me.

I write this story because I believe those two years were a time when I had the closest thing in my life to a real family relationship. It wasn't real. That became clear when I got married. But I do think they loved me. They just didn't know what to do next. Neither did I.

But during that period, I came the closest to what Tabitha and Adam were expressing when they told me what it's like to be loved by parents and siblings. I think it's interesting that I would feel that way when there was no real tie to the family, and when I didn't marry their son, they disappeared. That's not really how family works. But before all that happened, I had moments when I was certain I was loved and cherished. It felt constant and sustaining. And then it went away.

I have sought that feeling of being loved and needed - an integral part of another person's life - in other people. While I understand that's not something they would welcome or encourage, I still find myself doing it. I want to know that I am loved and welcomed in the same way that I esteem my children. As my parents seem to be incapable of feeling that way toward me, I subconsciously find myself seeking to establish that type of relationship with someone else - anyone else.

Most of the time, as soon as I notice I'm doing it, I stop the process and back away. I remind myself that Darrin loves me unconditionally and forever, and what I'm doing is inane and pointless - not to mention the fact that if the other person becomes aware of what is happening, I'll be labeled a freak and a miscreant and there will be no more fun times for us anymore.

But there have been a couple of times in the last decade when, despite my efforts to make it stop, the attempts to bond went on without me. And, yes, the other person became aware of it. And I apologized. And I ended up stressed and aggravated with myself because no one wants an adult Samantha trying to create intimate, familial-type bonding with them. I know this. Knowing does not keep my subconscious from trying.

And in the midst of trying to block the needs and bonding attempts, I find myself desperately needing to hear from the other person that I'm still loved in spite of the weirdness that is me. On really awful days, I've even asked to hear the words from them. In those moments, I don't seem to care if it's appropriate or if they want to tell me I'm loved. I just want to hear it. And when the words have been said and I'm drowning in a mixed sea of mortification and relief, I wonder how I might be different - might be whole - if my mother had hugged me the day she left me behind when I was seventeen.

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