I was fifteen years old when I realized how much she loved me.
I was going through a tough time. I lived far from home and was trapped in an abusive situation. I hadn’t spoken to a responsible adult in over a year. Things weren’t looking good.
And then I received a fax.
It was an old fax machine with waxy paper, barely legible text, and pink lines streaked down the sides. The cover page contained a few hastily scribbled lines in her distinctive loopy cursive.
“Went through this song in music class today – couldn’t stop thinking of you – love, Mommy.”
The song was one I knew, an old one of my mother’s, simple and yet to the point. It spoke of darkness leading the way to light, of hope following despair and of better days to come.
I broke down and cried for the first time in years.
I always thought my mother was a paradox. She couldn’t seem to say anything emotional, yet would produce masterfully written songs expressing a range of emotions most people are not in tune with. She would sit at the piano and compose something stirring and roll her eyes when she noticed the tears her music brought to others. Her written word was strong, meaningful, and expressive. When she spoke to me, she was distant. There seemed to be a split between my mother on paper and my mother in the flesh. I hated her for lying to the world, claiming to care, when she seemed to be nothing of the sort to those who knew her best.
It took me years of therapy to understand how she could exist as one within herself, not by looking at her actions, but by digging deep into myself.
I, too, can be a paradox. I had to learn how to express basic emotions verbally, even as I entered page after page of soul-stirring words in my diary. I can write loving notes to my husband, expressing my remorse for yet another stupid reaction of mine, although I can’t seem to look him in the eye when I tell him I’m sorry. I clam up in a confrontation, writing my feelings down in detail, later on. I am my mother.
Now I understand what it’s like to have the words there, with no way to get them out until a pen and paper surface. Now I know what it’s like to love so profoundly that nothing that can be said could convey those feelings. Now I know what it’s like to feel trapped in a world where verbalization is not enough, so there’s no use in trying.
My daughter is almost three. I will not wait until she is fifteen to let her know I love her. I will say those simple words every day until she can read. I will continue saying them as I write little notes of endearment on scraps of paper hidden in her lunch. I will keep saying them as I fill in birthday cards with my own distinctive cursive. I will say them as I share these writings with her. I will say them when she doesn’t say them in return, and I will know that somewhere, she is writing it down in words bigger than mine. I will continue saying them, knowing that no matter how much more expressive she thinks she is, nothing is more significant than a mother saying, “I love you.” I will continue saying them because, one day, she will look back and say she always knew.
It’s been a decade since I got that fax. I speak to my mother every day now, and she always says I love you. We worked hard, my mother and I, to have the relationship we have today, but that fading piece of paper will always remind me of how I met my mother.