I’ve always been better at writing than speaking. Written words have always been my escape. I remember tattered poetry books and dictionaries purchased by my loving grandparents when I was barely old enough to read and the exchange of audio books for long car rides to and from Alabama, Florida and Maryland.
Exchanging literature has always been my family’s way of saying “I love you”. When spoken words failed, written text filled in the blank. I have a bookshelf full of I love you’s. So many I love you’s that I haven’t had the chance to experience them all. I love you in the form of written words by a famous poet. I love you in the form of a cookbook. I love you for graduations, I love you for baptisms, I love you for birthdays and I love you just because.
My grandfather was an English professor and my grandmother taught the languages of love (Spanish and French) so it should be no surprise that I fell in love with language.
It should have been no surprise to me that once I revisited what I thought was true love, the greatest way I knew how to say “I love you” was to hand over the poetry book I spent years writing. I was heartbroken when, 5 minutes later I was met with “I read it all”. I always knew that my most sacred expression of love was through poetry but I never knew that even that could fail.
When I realized that that same relationship was ending, I used the greatest display of love I could think of. I reminded him that if he no longer loved me he could return the book I gave him. Giving the book was an expression of love and returning it would be a sign of the absence of love.
It took me years to realize that just because I write a poem about you doesn’t mean that I love you. Im just now learning that the inspiration to write poetry can be born in pain and joy. I’ve been saying “I love you” as a synonym for “You inspire me to write”. My love for language often confuses my understanding of love as a whole.
When I was 20 years old, I spent months revisiting and redefining love. I had to find where I went wrong and pick apart the source of the confusion. I had to spend time alone with words. I had to hurt and grow and write and not-write and cry and scream and remember that healing takes time. I had to read and journal and reread my own writings and learn from who I used to be to determine who I was meant to be.
Language taught me love and love taught me that language fails. I had to learn that a good book can mean “I love you” but love can’t fit on the pages of a book. Love is so much more.