I remember being a teenager and feeling like I didn't know what love felt like. It made me wonder if I had every truly felt love. I knew I hadn't been IN love, but what about the love you feel for your family or friends? I don't think my problem was that I was unfeeling, I think it was more that I had never NOT felt love. I was secure in the love of my parents and siblings.
When I was in my late twenties I fell in love for the first time. It was early on in our relationship and I was in the head over heels happy part where I knew I really really really liked this guy. And then out of nowhere he used the "L" word. Not the "like" l word, the big one. The one that gets a big red capital L, LOVE. And I was so off guard. I didn't know if I could say it back. I didn't even know what it meant. So I took a week to think about it and then I told him I loved him too. And now years later as I reflect back upon that time and that moment, I'm not entirely sure it was love. Like, absolutely, twitter pated, probably, love, I'm not so sure. But then and there I was in LOVE and it was wonderful. Only love wasn't kind and lasting, love came crashing down a few months later and left me confused and hurt.
Fast forward a few years. I was dating Shawn who was wonderful and patient and kind. Only I wasn't feeling all those head rush feeling I had felt with that last big relationship when I was in "love." And it made me feel confused. I knew I really liked him. I knew I wanted to spend more time with him, but by this point in that other relationship I had been IN LOVE, and I wasn't with Shawn. But what I didn't realize was that love takes many forms. And sure, that fast love of your youth is fun and exhilarating, but very hard to maintain. It can sour as quickly as it came on. But true love, enduring love can take longer to come. It doesn't jump out and hit you suddenly. It builds slowly. So slowly that you look back and have no idea when it began.
When Shawn and I had been dating about four months I went with him to an extended family party, a Memorial Day barbecue in Wyoming. I was talking to an uncle of his who asked me if we were in love. I was a little startled that this person I had just met would ask me such a personal question. I hadn't thought about it. Was I in love with Shawn? I stammered some answer about not having said that to each other yet and the conversation moved on, but the thought lingered. Was I IN LOVE with Shawn? So, I thought about it. For days I thought about it. And I came to the same conclusion over and over and over again. I was in love with him. And I was surprised because I hadn't seen it coming, but there it was and had been for a while and I couldn't pinpoint when the feeling began or why or how, it was just there, like part of me. And I wanted to call him and tell him I loved him, but I was terrified. What if he didn't love me back? What if it was too soon to say such things? So, I waited. But I was bursting inside, I loved him! And every time I saw him I wanted to tell him, I LOVE YOU! But I didn't. I decided to wait until it didn't matter if he couldn't say it back.
So, a few weeks later I decided to say it. In Spanish because Shawn was a Spanish Teacher. So he came over one night and before we went off to whatever we had planned I sat him on the couch and said "Yo te amore." To which Shawn replied like a Spanish Teacher, "It's te amo." And I said "Te amo." And he replied "Good, te amo." I looked him directly in the eye and said rather forcefully, "No, Shawn. Te amo." And the lightbulb went on above his head and he said "Oh, Annie, I love you too!"
But now there's this new kind of love taking over my heart. It's just as all encompassing as that first love feeling, but also quiet and enduring. It's the love I have for sweet Eliza. I'm overwhelmed with this love for her. I can feel this love tangibly in my heart, and sometimes it feels like my heart will stop beating because of this love for her. This unconditional love that persists even when she hits me when I try to sing her lullabies, or when she screams "NO MOMMY!" every five minutes. And then I see Shawn and Eliza together, laughing or playing, or just him holding her while she sleeps and this love swells even more because of the two of them. And now I understand love. I understand what it is to love and be loved, truly loved. And it may not be quite the same as the first time, but it's oh so much better.