Who was it? George Sand? She who said, “There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved.”
I’m going to write something kind of sad. But hopefully there are only a few sad notes throughout. I think every time I start something new (like a new blog!) I always turn back to those pivotal moments in my life and check back in. So, bear with the tide of sadness. Hopefully, tomorrow is a brighter day.
When I was a kid, I used to believe in Love. Yep. Love – capital L and all.
I had a father who was sick with cancer for half of my childhood. He passed away when I was fourteen. A year before he died, he was bedridden. A year before that, he had been in remission. The sick years before that, I only remember hospitals. And before he got sick, I remember my father was a soldier, superman, and my hero.
So, early in my life, it was easy to believe in Love.
I had a mom who worked to the bone, and yet still came home so she could sit by my father’s bedside and feed him his liquid dinner, before heading back to work later that night…and still be up before the crack of dawn to send us off to school.
I had a father who was so sick he needed help just pushing himself up to a sitting position in bed, still force himself to sit at the dinner table with us for family dinner, lips pale and beads of sweat from pain and exhaustion marring his face.
I had brothers, so young and who should have been outside playing with other kids, sit by my father’s bedside for hours at a time, making sure he took his medication.
In all those years, I never saw anything that I would have said was hard or difficult. I never felt like I was missing anything. People would pity us, or muse about how hard our lives must have been.
But to tell you the truth, I never felt like it was difficult. Sure, we were poor. Everything we had always went to my father’s treatment. Sure, our dad was sick. He had throat cancer and could no longer speak – but we just learned to read his eyes.
In all those years, I never once doubted that I was loved.
The first time I felt real heartbreak was the night my father died.
It was June 13, and I was leaning over him to kiss him good night. He opened his eyes, and they were a glassy dark brown that I knew was from the heavy doses of morphine he took. But there was something very, very wrong.
Beneath the sheen of glass, in the deeper depths, there was a fog, too.
He stared at me with glassy, foggy eyes. And my heart broke. “Who are you?” he rasped, his voice rusty from lack of use, his face wincing from the pain of the sound passing through the ravaged stretches of muscle in his throat.
This time, it was I who couldn’t find my voice. I blinked and my lips quivered. How could my father not know me? How could he look at me and not recognize me? How can he just look at me with that empty stare, completely devoid of recognition, of knowledge, of memory…of love?
“It’s me, Dad.”
There was a small movement, a tiny shaking of the head.
I came closer to him…but he only shrank away.
I had never felt pain like that before. It was pure rejection. The kind where someone that was everything just turned around one day and saw you as nothing.
(Until this day, I think that is the look I fear the most. To once be seen through eyes that looked at you with love…and one day just looking up and realizing that it is gone.)
That night, my father died. He only remembered one thing: my mom. He was terrified of everyone: my brothers, me, my uncle, grandmother…he did not know anyone. Not until my mom came running home and walked into the room. He looked at her. He knew her. He loved her.
He died in her arms.
That night, I learned that I want to love and be loved the way I was loved in the hardest times in my life. The kind of love that made sacrifice feel like nothing. It was the kind of love that didn’t want anything more than that feeling of being loved. The dinner table with my tired mom, my sick dad, my young brothers and my pre-adolescent non-pouting was probably the happiest times. Because we all made it to that dinner table despite the craziness of the day, the pain of cancer, and the drama of adolescence—and we made it good for each other.
It’s almost tragic.
I have a better life now. I’m still poor and in debt as a law student. My mom is still overworked. But I have my own life now, too – one that does not revolve around a sick bed or hospitals.
But sometimes, I still wish I could love and be loved the way I was when I was a child.
Sometimes, when I’m down and I feel like I need time out, I have this picture of my parents. It’s a candid picture and they have their backs to the photographer. They’re sitting on a log watching the river in Yosemite. My father is leaning on my mom’s shoulder and she’s cradling him, a hand running through his hair. There’s kind of a quiet peace in the picture.
But I remember that day. It’s one of those handful of days a daughter gets to see her dad cry. I remember he was crying on my mom’s shoulder…and I remember it was because they were thinking of THE day. Most men get to live old full lives. My father was only in his early thirties when the doctor told him he had a year to live.
That day…was the day my dad finally admitted to himself that he was dying.
But the picture is peaceful.
And I think it was because my mom loved him.
And when I’m down, that picture always reminds me that in the hardest times, there’s always peace because all you need is to be loved.
I’m a girl on a quest to love and be loved. It doesn’t matter whether you live to be 99 + 1, or 44 years old. Life is just the roadmap.
PS. I originally wanted to title the blog, “And then there was Love…” in French. But I was afraid I’d butcher the French. Until I find a good translation…
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