Three Little Words

crayonsI like to think of Love as one big box of Crayola Crayons. There are so many shades; rich and deep..soft and dreamy…sharp and blinding. In my 29 years on this earth, my relationships have been a swirl of these colors. I find it incredibly easy to love. You can roll your eyes at this girly and clichéd notion, but the truth is I was molded this way for two reasons.

First, because growing up, my house was always filled with love. Sometimes it took the form of music – my mother singing happily and obnoxiously in the morning to wake us up for school…my father playing guitar for us and making up silly songs that made us laugh. Sometimes it was words – stories told before bedtime..I love yous kissed on foreheads. Sometimes it was my dad tinkering with my car to make sure it wouldn’t strand me on the side of the road and fussing at me when I let it run low on gas. Sometimes it was found in a disappointed lecture and angry tears. It was always there.

Second, because I have known the ending of too many lives. By the time I was a teenager, I had lost each one of my grandparents. Cancer was a dinner guest that was uninvited and talked too loudly and ate the last piece of pie. I made it a mission to adopt every elderly person I came across..finding comfort in hands with skin thin as paper and stories thick as summer heat. High school brought four years and four young lives gone. A friend for every year. A last look at a stop light, a road with curves a car couldn’t follow, a parking spot left empty and painted with words for a boy who was the best of all of us. Pom poms left in a locker room without hands to hold them. College came and I met a boy who loved Dave Matthews and wanted to be a teacher and we made a silly promise one night on a white blanket on a green lawn..to marry each other if we hadn’t found anyone by the time we turned thirty. There was so much life in that boy..so much life that we couldn’t see the hurt that was buried deep as oceans. I still have his happy, drunken voice on my phone. “Julia! Julia it’s Mark..It’s your birthday..Happy birthday Julia.” A shot in the darkness and the life was gone before it had even had the chance to live. He deserved so many more birthdays.

So you see? You see why it is so easy for me to love? Because people taught me how…and because life gives no guarantees for how many breaths you have in your body. I might as well use one of them to speak the words in my heart.

The last year has made me question myself though. I have given these words to people who did not deserve them, or could not give them back and often I wished I could have put up walls to protect a heart that was becoming more than a little dented. And what do you do? Close yourself off to keep out the hurt, play the game of who can care less..or keep yourself open and risk more dents? And did I even really know what a true and healthy love looked like? Felt like? I wasn’t sure that I had found that yet. Until Josh. With him, things were different. On our first date, I thought he was cute and a gentleman..and maybe a little vanilla. There was a…quietness..about him that I wasn’t used to. A little shy at first, it took him a few dates to open up and I wasn’t entirely sure we were a great match. And then, slowly and steadily this little spark came to life inside of me whenever I was around him. It wasn’t fiery and passionate and instantaneous..it was this gradual building of warmth that grew the more time I spent with him. He became someone I respected and liked and day by day that like turned to something deeper..something that felt like love. I was terrified. Convinced it wouldn’t work out..that he might wake up one morning wondering what he was doing with a girl like me. I was afraid I would always be the girl who loved the guy who couldn’t love her back. And yet, I couldn’t help it..Those three little words crept up the back of my throat..and then to the edge of my tongue..and I clamped my teeth around them. “Not this time,” I told myself. In all my relationships, I was always the first person to say those words. I was determined that this time would be different. “I won’t say it,” I repeated like a mantra and swore that his would be the first lips they passed through. I knew it might take a while, Josh was the tortoise and I was the hare. I also knew that if he said those words, I could trust that he meant them with his whole heart. That was just who he was. He took care with things..with words..with people..with hearts. And so I waited. And waited. And waited. And fell deeper and deeper and deeper. And then I got his phone call at work one day in the middle of class..he never called me while I was teaching….

Damn it Cancer. No one invited you.

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