In the middle of a crowded airport food court in Kentucky, I thought about my daughter. The one who doesn’t exist yet. The one who might never exist though I’ve already written her countless letters and etched her little notes on the edges of my diary pages.
In the middle of a crowded airport food court in Kentucky, I thought about my daughter and I thought about shoes. How one day, I might use the topic of shoes to inch my way into a conversation with her about great love stories.
When I lived in New York City, I remember calling my friend up one night on the commute home from work. I’d been struck on the subway by (what I thought) was a really amazing plan.
“So I could go to Good Will or some place like that and buy a bunch of shoes. I could get a bunch of high heels.”
“You’re going to spend your stipend on shoes?” (I was living on a $25 weekly stipend at the time. Yes, I was going to spend that stipend on shoes.)
“Well, it’s an experiment. It’s worth it.” I rambled into the phone as I passed bodegas and dollar stores on the way back to my apartment in the Bronx. “I could get a bunch of shoes and then write my number or an email address and leave them all over Manhattan.”
“Sounds very Cinderella-esque,” she said over the phone. “You actually think someone would pick up a shoe in New York City?”
The girl who lived in New York City her first year after college was evidently a different girl than the one who writes here today. I was obsessed with good love stories. I thought– with every shred of my being– that I was destined to fall in love in a coffee shop. I wanted to be Joey Potter or something. It sounds so lame to admit that. But I guess I have no shame. At one point or another, I think we’ve all wanted to feel like we could be the center of something– whether that’s a good love story or someone else’s universe.
But it was more than just falling into a good love story at that time in my life: I wanted to crafted one. I wanted to create one. I had so much control stuck in my bones that I wanted to manage the elements and I wanted to devise my own love story. It doesn’t really work that way. I’ve learned that over time.
I guess I’ll want my daughter to know that– just like shoes– you have to eventually stop being so hellbent on finding the “right one.” Some things are meant to be more seamless than we think. The girl in New York City didn’t yet know that it is easy to commit yourself to hunting for a great love story. It so much harder to make a commitment to yourself. But that might be the game changer, the thing that makes you ready, when you step up to commit to someone else.
Commitment. There’s that sticky word again. The one that makes my left eye twitch because big, red, blaring exit signs have always done me good. I want her to know that even if commitment looks like a scary word, she should see her way around it. Commitment is a constant word. It’s more than just love and fairy tale guts, it’s getting to say out loud, to someone else, “Even if right here feels like the very last place in the world that I want to be standing– because it’s just so hard right now– I am showing up to win your heart and prove to you that love grows and expands and evolves in time. I am making a commitment to you not to shrink out of this.”
But the shrinking will come. As it always does, the shrinking will show up and I hope she will know that just because a person falls apart from time to time does not mean they are disposable or not loveable. Just because a person falls apart does not mean that the white flags should get raised, or the scores should be cleared, or we’re supposed to walk away when someone hits the floor. I hope she knows that though the stars are charged with showing up in the sky, we are the ones charged with showing up for people when they hit the floor.
Because, just like everyone, she will know the floor. It’s a common place that we all can relate to– the tears, the fetal position, the cold hard wood against your face. It’s like a second language we’ve all learned on our own. She will know the feeling of her hands and knees sunk deep into the carpet and the kind of weeping that makes you feel like your heart might just explode out of your chest.
And I’m only ever going to be able to tell her that love is a rollercoaster that sometimes leaves us on the floor. You will be up. You will down. You will break someone at some point. Someone might leave you in pieces on the floor. But here is the hope (the hope, the hope): that whoever becomes her constant one will show up with glue and a hope to bind, not a hammer with a hope she can be fixed.
It will be a rush and a ramble to meet someone. Someone decent. Someone kind. Someone good. That’s how the culture will make her feel.
At points, the world will come at her from every angle and try to shake her shoulders like she is standing in the middle of a desperate post-apocalyptic war zone where she must get out there and find one of the last decent human beings alive. And fill out dating profiles. And go out to bars. And put herself out there. And. Just. Find. That. One. I hope I will be able to tell her that the world will make it feel like the search is endless but forced treasure hunts might only ever lead her to spots with no gold. Sometimes gold is the kind of thing that tumbles into a room unexpectedly.
“Don’t fear so much. Don’t worry so much, girl. Put down the map. Put down the compass. Get yourself a backpack and take yourself on a journey and make constant kinds of vows to your own self first. One day, someday, a person will arrive and they will quickly become your favorite novel. You’ll want to write your notes into all their pages. But for now, you have yourself an encyclopedia. Others might call that massive thing “your heart” but I’m just gonna call it an encyclopedia because it is miles and miles of things you don’t know yet. You don’t need to search. Stop looking around wildly. Just start reading. Knowing yourself will be the biggest gift you ever give to your own great love story.”
I like to imagine I’ll get to say these things to her and then I am forced realize that I probably won’t ever get to speak much at all. If her pretty head is anything like mine then she always, always be consumed with the anthems and the love songs and the poems that are writing themselves in her head. It’ll be me to face the mirror at the end of a longer day and ask myself the harder questions: “Did you show her love today? It doesn’t matter if you talked to her about love, did you show her love? More than that, did you show her how to love?” Was it evident in your moves? In your actions? In the way you made eye contact with the man on the other side of the counter?”
Because that’s what love comes down to. Not words, but actions. Not a constant debate of who to love and where to love and when to love. I don’t want to waste my time on things I already know the answers to: everyone. everywhere. always.
It will all come down to how. How I show up for her. How I show up for her and show her how to love.
So, for now, I just whisper things that sound poetic like prayers to me. Things like this: May love teach me everything it needs to be teach me so that I can show up and show her how.
May love be evident in all the things that I do. In the way I say hello to you. In the time and attention I give to you. In the things I push aside on my calendar because this… this… well, nothing beats this. And we will never have “this” back so I want to make sure we just stay soaking in it a little while longer.
May I know how to treat myself and others with respect. Because that is the core. That is the secret. That is the golden nugget.May love be evident in the friendships I make. And the apologies I make. And the time I make. And the messes I make.
May the love in my own story never be tame, but wild and fierce. May it sometimes be unexplainable beyond just these words: This is my heart. And it wants certain things. And I’ve wasted too long of a time saying sorry for that.