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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day

I've had more than one friend who was single on Valentine's Day tell me that I just don't understand. I've never been in my late 20s, 30s, or older, with no romantic interest on Valentine's Day. And they're probably right. But they don't understand, either.

They don't understand that this was one day during the entire year when my mother wrote "I love you" in a card. She never said it. But it was written. And even though I hated her with the intensely pure hatred only a teenager can experience, I still wanted her to tell me she loved me. She was my mom. And on Valentine's Day, she told me. And I have saved every single card.

They don't understand that on one Valentine's Day, I recognized that because of my upbringing and mistreatment by the people who molested me, I didn't really understand what love was. I had no idea what it meant to love a person, and even more, I didn't know how to BE loved. I still struggle with that last part. Constantly.

They don't understand that I spent nearly three years reading everything I could about love. I read poetry, and psychological studies. I read tawdry novels about love and sex. I read religious writings. I asked my friends what they thought love was. In the end, I was more confused than ever.

And then one Valentine's Day, I decided to just do it - just love. I didn't really know how to go about it, so I began with NOT-people. And I made a list of NOT-people I loved:
1. The misty clouds when they scattered themselves across the mountains behind my home.
2. Baby ducks.
3. Cats.
4. My dog.
5. Turning cartwheels and climbing trees.
6. Cookies.
7. Playing the piano and singing and dancing (not all at once).
8. Long walks in the mountains. By myself.
9. Flowers. All of them. But mostly the wild roses which smelled heavenly even when you were so far away you couldn't see them anymore.
10. Butterflies. All of them. But mostly the tiny lavender blue ones that sometimes landed on me during my solitary walks in the mountains.
11. Reading. And writing. And thinking.
12. Listening to people talk. Hearing their voices. Wondering what it would be like to be those people.
13. The sky in both day and night. Watching it move through shades of blue, and staring at the blackness of night, so far away from civilization that the only lights are the moon and the stars.
14. Laughing.
15. Sitting beside a creek or river. Watching sunlight sparkle on each tiny ripple.

The list went on for a very long time. I think I covered four or five pages with NOT-people. And I realized as I wrote, that my capacity to love was not stunted in the least. So I decided to move on to people. And I made a list of people I deeply, deeply loved:
1. My grandma.

At that point I realized that I could love, but people were problematic. I thought I loved my siblings, but I really didn't trust them and I was pretty sure they didn't love me back-- and that was the key. I was ready to love people, but I was afraid of not being loved in return.

I believe I was 16 years old when I made it to this point. So my Junior year of high school, I made Valentine cards for my friends. And I told them I loved them. All of them. And I waited to see what would happen.

I think the biggest reaction came from one with whom I had been friends since we were in 4th grade. He looked at me for a few minutes. Then he said, "It's not easy to tell people you love them when you really mean it." And he was right. We said it to each other all the time, but it was a catch phrase - a way to say good-bye. I said it to fill the void inside me; the one that longed to hear it from my parents. I said it a lot. They said it back, "Bye! Love you!" It was meaningless.

My friend said, "Do you love me?" I said, "Yes." He laughed and said, "I love you, too." Then we both laughed.

And that was all. We never talked about it again.

Sometimes my friends sent each other notes. We always had. My group of friends were always passing notes, even when there was no reason to. It was fun. But now we signed them with love. I don't know if everyone was sincere in that signing, but my friend from 4th grade was. And I knew he was one person who loved me. Because he told me he did.

All of this catapulted me into a love experiment. I entered every new personal relationship with the idea that I would love that person. I looked for things that made them lovable. I noticed the things that made them less than lovable and tried to love them anyway. I gave them leeway to be whomever they were and I tried with all my heart to love that person.

The experiment was semi-successful. I knew I loved those people, but I was also very sure that they could not love me. They didn't know me. They didn't know my mother hated me so much that she was unable to have a civil conversation with me. They didn't know that when I left home at 17, she drove me to my new home and left me standing on the driveway with no idea what to do next. They didn't know that my cousin raped me and two other people sexually molested me before I was 12. They didn't know I was pretty much used up and nasty. And I didn't tell them because then they wouldn't want me to love them. I wanted to love them.

Marrying Darrin helped me allow myself to be loved. It didn't happen all at once. We had some incredibly rough spots. But he was determined to love me. I needed that.

Having children taught me brand new ways to love people. And even though they knew nothing about my past, they were determined to love me, too. Even when we fought, I knew they loved me.

So about a decade ago, I decided to try a new experiment. This time I would be honest. I would tell my story. I would let people love me at their own risk. And some people did. It felt miraculous. I sent them Valentines because once a year, at least, every person needs someone to write it down: "I love you." I didn't care if they thought it was weird. I didn't care if they didn't understand my intent. I didn't care if the words were welcome or not. I just sent them and allowed those I loved to do whatever they wished with those words. I hoped one of them would "get it". I hoped they would understand where I came from, the difficulty of telling them about my feelings, the vulnerability of being exposed and honest. I hoped maybe one of them would love me back.

For most of my life, I have claimed Valentine's Day as my personal holiday. This assumed ownership has nothing to do with romance or sex or soul mates or Cupid. It was the day when I pretended, as a child, that I was loved because I had a beautiful card telling me I was. It was the day when I decided to figure out what love was and if I could have and share it. It was the day when I learned I had a friend who loved me even though we weren't "in-love", and that was something to be enjoyed and shared. It was the day that I told the people who tried to love me even when I was very unlovable, that I loved them back and I wanted them to be a part of my life. I suppose one might say that I was sort of "saved" by Valentine's Day because rather than becoming a product of my environment, that day inspired me to investigate a human emotion that could shape me into someone productive and functional.

And so today, I write this here: I love you. Regardless of whether I know you well, or have never met you. I love you. And it's okay if you love me back because today, in a box of chocolates, I received three messages:
1. Laugh often (and I do).
2. Go on an adventure (always - even if it's just going to the store or reading a book).
3. You are lovable (I'm still not good at this, but I think maybe someday I'll know this in my soul).

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

I think the answer is that one day you just get tired of fighting for something that's not going to happen--some process or feeling or state of being that only you notice is becoming casual and significant only because it is old. At that point, the fatigue is such that you welcome everything that comes with the new state of being. Giving up feels less like capitulation and more like an opportunity to turn to and value oneself. It's not sad. It just is.

So what is the question?