i love you

When I was 5 years old, I used to say to myself in the mirror, “I love you SueSue,” just so I could hear the words out loud, addressed to me. I had just started kindergarten and noticed that all the other parents said, “I love you” to their kids as they dropped them off for school. When our teacher read us books about families, the parents said “I love you” as if it was the most natural thing in the world. My classmates gave me little valentines cards on February 14th…the world seemed chock full of love. In my house, my parents told each other a secret codeword, “Most” whenever they said goodbye to each other, which I knew meant they loved each other, but I never heard the words “I love you.” When I said it to myself, I liked it very much. I imagined someone else telling me they loved me, and my heart swelled with longing.

I grew up knowing that love is important because I saw it in other kids’ families and I read it in my secret world of books. All of my favorite books were filled with love.  A Wrinkle in Time?  ALL about love; love kept the universe from collapsing. The Chronicles of Narnia? Love; spiritual love that warmed worlds. Lord of the Rings? Love. Love of friends that become family; love so fierce it can overcome evil. Little House on the Prairie? The unicorn of love; the love of family that kept strong through thick and thin. Secret Garden? Love; love that makes hearts bloom and heal. Outlander? Love; love that transcends time. I stubbornly held on to my belief, evenwhen scoffed at by my parents. I remember being in 2nd grade when my parents first asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I promptly replied, “A MOMMY!” The scorn on their faces told me I’d given them the wrong answer.  My mom told me, “You’re just like your father.  You will be a diplomat. You should be the first female president.” Lofty goals for a girl who was never even taught how to brush her teeth.

Don’t get me wrong; they may have left me to figure out toothbrushing on my own, but I was taught plenty of lessons.  #1- don’t get distracted when delivering lit cigarettes from Daddy to Mommy…you may be tempted to burn holes in the Mexican blankets hanging in the doorways…and when those holes are discovered, Daddy will take his lit cigarette and burn the tip of each of your fingers, slowly but surely, while your tiny 7-year-old body shakes and you hold your breath from screaming because that would earn you a beating.  #2 – never make the mistake of explaining the bruised strap marks on the backs of your legs to your kindergarten teacher…the principal will call your parents into his office, they will feed him a line of shit, and when you get home you will have another beating to teach you about keeping family secrets.  I will spare you the rest of the list.

With no rescue in sight, and no love on the horizon, I looked to the stars. Every night, I found a way to look up to the stars and focus on the first one I could see.  “Star Light, Star Bright, First Star I See Tonight. I wish I May, I Wish I Might, Have the Wish I Wish Tonight.  Please Please Please give me a family that will love me as I love them. Amen.” Between age 10 and age 25, I must have made that wish thousands and thousands of times. Then my Emily was born.  The first person to truly love me. Wish granted, and my heart glowed.

Then I met Markus. He taught me that we have an infinite capacity for love. He is my Calvin O’Keefe, my Aslan, he is my Samwise Gamgee, he is Pa Ingalls, he is my Dickon Sowerby, and he is my Jamie. The family we have built together is spun with the threads of love that bind us to each other. After 9/11, 9-year-old Emily insisted we each learn to say, “I love you” whenever we have to say goodbye, just in case it is the last goodbye. You would think a teenaged Assassin would resist, 10 years later, but Hanna never stopped loving us, and says it more than ever, now that she is almost 20. And our hulking 6-foot Simon is never ever afraid to yell it as he hops out of the car at school and I’m driving away.

Markus and I were married 22 years ago, today. We climbed a sandy dune to get to the beach, thinking the 3 of us would exchange our vows with our friend Colette officiating. Instead, our friend JJ gathered 20 of our friends from work, our friend Maureen finagled a photographer, our friend Rachel made our floral arrangements, and our friendly boss tossed in a cooler of champagne. It was my first taste of friends becoming family – I did not think my heart could bear it.

Yesterday I had a hard day.  To my friends scattered around the world, I shared my sadness, and before bedtime I asked Markus if we could not celebrate the next day, but instead save our anniversary for another day in the future, because I had an unexpected reason to visit my oncologist this morning.  He said, “Sure” and gave me a kiss goodnight.  This morning, I woke to find dozens of loving messages from my friends, a dozen roses in the bathroom, and a dozen roses with a dozen cookies on my desk. When I got to my doctor’s office, Markus was waiting, with a fruit tart in his hands and kisses for my lips, telling me “I love you. We can do this.” And while we stood in the fresh air, I realized that I hear “I love you, SueSueBee” from this man every day and every night – dozens of times a day. I hear it in the morning before I open my eyes, and I hear it at night, before I close my eyes. I may have begun my life with nothing, but I am brimming with love now. Thank my lucky stars. This is a wedding anniversary to celebrate all the LURVE in my life and all the LOVE I am going to keep paying forward. Happy Anniversary to us all.


I have found the paradox,

That if you love until it hurts,

There can be no more hurt

Only more love

-Mother Teresa

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