When I walk into the store, I see her near the clothing section, making her way into the aisle. She spots me, and with one hand wrapped around a skirt and the other around her purse, her eyes follow me as I make my way towards her. She doesn’t say anything until I come close to her, and her face softens. “Ang,” she says, using the nickname she’s used for as long as I can remember. “You are so beautiful. Do you know that? You really are.”
I brush off my mom’s words, but she repeats them, emphasis in her tone this time. We change subjects and move through wardrobe options, and it isn’t until later, as I climb into my car and drive away from her, that I realize something about that moment. My mom has always been someone who uses her words to convey our worth. Our relationship has not been perfect, but she has never failed to remind me she loves me, to tell me how proud she is of me, or to tell me of my beauty. All of us kids have laughed when, out of the blue, she tells us in a time of silence, “Guys – I love you!” or when we receive a text message in the middle of the night reminding us how much she cares for us. We’ve taken her words for granted, I am afraid.
Three days ago, I am amidst a project for work, paint splattered across my hands and caked beneath my nails. My co worker sits across from me, and as we methodically work, we ask questions. Questions about family and loss and love. We talk about family dynamics and relationships. Conversations flow as does my paintbrush, up and down, finding the masterpiece hidden in the cardboard.
“What is the love that you wanted from him?” she asks me, her face soft and inquisitive. I’ve never been asked that question before. It shocks me to the core, and I look at her, as I had just laid bare the heartbreak that you sometimes carry from hoping for love and never receiving it. Of seeking it, doing your best to earn it, but it never being enough.
Of always feeling as if you weren’t enough.
And so I look at her, shocked at her question, but even more shocked that I do not know my answer.
And then, three days later, I do.
And I find the answer in an old box store called Walmart. I want to tell her, I know the love that I’ve always wanted. It’s the love you don’t always get from everyone, but when you do you cling to it. It’s the love that tells you you’re beautiful in the middle of a row of cheaply made cotton skirts. It’s the love that tells you you’re the best thing that’s happened to her at midnight when you’ve just finally fallen asleep. It’s the love that puts down the phone, looks across the table and says, “I miss you. I’m proud of you. And I love you.”
In the moments that that love finds you, it wraps you in grace and safety.
That’s the love I wanted. I still want.
I might never receive it from him the way I wanted to. But I’ve got it. And I’ll cling to it, but only so that I can give it away, too. So that I can pour it back out and whisper I love you’s until they are imprinted on hearts and ringing in ears. I’ll whisper you’re beautiful’s until they’re the words that stare back at you in the mirror.
It’s the love that I want, and the love that I’ll give, too. Love that doesn’t let you go to sleep until I’ve told you you’re loved. The kind of love that sometimes find you, of all places, in the middle of a Walmart.