At five, I learned the lesson of love through bedtime stories and hot chocolate. In curled up blankets, in the space between ‘awake’ and ‘asleep,’ Mom kisses my forehead and whispers goodnight. Her kiss lights the night light so my sister no longer fears the dark. Her kiss protects against the monsters lurking in the shadows for the times she was.
Dad boards planes and circles the world, but when he lands, he brings back postcards of where he’s been, and our house seems to stir in anticipation as he unlocks the gate.
At five, I learned to love this way—blankets and postcards, stories and used plane tickets.
At seven, I learned the lesson of love through illegal notes passed backwards—always backwards—containing secrets that mean nothing but the thrill of the act. Amidst the lessons learned at first glance, and the thick paperbacks read underneath the classroom armchair, and the incomprehensible noise of hallways and cafeterias, I learned friendship through my seatmate’s words. Both of us mischievous second graders—I was just not as good in math.
I learned the lesson through the people of the pages—ones I believed were real.
Jo March, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, Peter Pevensie…
Ones who I’ve come to realise were real but not really real.
At seven, fondness expanded, and I believed there was no capacity limit. Black was black and white was white and I was one or the other, more times one than the other, and there was no grey in my little world.
At twelve , I learned the lesson of a mistake: that ‘love’ can be thrown around, that ‘love’ and infatuation should be delineated, that words cannot be taken back once said, that sometimes what looks like love isn’t love, that loving love and being in love were two different things, that love is not an idea with a face.
At fifteen, I learned to love through Fridays huddled up with radicals in the church basement—people who would carry me through the fire and hold my head up when I’d rather keep it down. I met a Seattle girl with a heart like the ocean, who taught me that ‘love’ transcends all barriers—mistakes, sexual orientation, race, belief systems. We were not meant to judge.
At seventeen, I learned the lesson like a firecracker. I saw the world vividly, like a rocket launched into the sky. The night had stars that winked as I whirled by. Exploding was only part of the experience. I should have known rockets combust.
At seventeen, I learned the lesson of restraint, because ours was the ambiguous grey of hollow blocks, foundations without follow through, the requirement of cement to fill our holes. In hindsight, we were nothing, and yet in that moment, we were more than enough. We were the grey I’d refused to acknowledge existed.
We were nothing.
We were more than I was willing to take.
And for this reason, we were nothing.
I learned the lesson of words unspoken, fugitive glances, and straying thoughts.
There are days I wish we could have played it out—the story of open endings—but you played the game with another muse, and I was content with our nothing.
At seventeen, I learned that ‘almost’ is what we had, and more than I ever wanted in the first place. And that hot chocolate with mom and plane tickets with Dad stir up more warmth in my soul than I’d ever experienced.
And at an older age, the lesson is not over. Perhaps I shall overthink the year tonight and decide that I learned the lesson of an unseen fire—steady and unwavering, and yet unnoticed. I, perhaps, have learned the lesson of appreciation: for the dinners Mom made, for the comments Dad gave, for the laughs my siblings shared, for the friendship never thanked, for the nights spent in prayer, for the nights prayers were answered, for the God who never seems to rest, for the King who still listens.