I don’t remember learning how to love, originally. I only remember the origins of little love-habits.
I remember holding onto my stuffed elephant, tucked safely in my right arm always– a light grey beast with pink-tinted ears. He must’ve been a foot tall, if he could have stood on his own, but he couldn’t.
He needed me.
His fur was worn down, paper thin, from all the hugs.
“If you sneeze too hard, you’ll knock his stuffing out,” my big brother would say, so I learned to sneeze into the crook of my left arm.
Obviously I learned to love before that memory, or, why else would the cloth been so loved that my poor little elephant literally wore its insides on its out? Why else would I remember my brother the way I do? Magical, certainly, immortal, maybe.
I dropped that elephant in the mud one day, when my big brother finally, finally, finally came home from college, because I had to run as fast as I could toward him and I would not allow a single thing to slow me down.
I knew the difference then, between some types of love.
I had a habit of love then, already– no less permanent than my habit of sneezing.
Eventually I’d stop holding a stuffed animal in my right arm. Eventually I’d find a hundred other types of love, some I ran towards, some I left behind.
I’m still learning, but that’s the way of many of the big things in life. The learning never stops, and sometimes it’s hard to remember how it all got started.
I don’t remember learning how to write.
I remember lettering, of course. The almost-religious importance of a straight T and a dotted lower case i. I was painstakingly slow, as I am with most things that depend on the invisible thread between my mind and my hand. I remember the large paper and the lines that run across the sheet, a solid blue, a dashed blue, a solid pink.
Who decides these things?
I don’t make the rules of school paper design, or life, or love, or writing. I just learn them.
In the 7th grade, I memorized prepositional phrases, employed onomatopoeia, practiced hyperbole.
Around the bridge, over the bridge, under the bridge…
The bird squeaks, the bridge creaks, the wind rustles them both the same.
The little girl scratches her pencil, across the paper, until she can ink her way into bigger classrooms, until she can type her way into deeper laugh wrinkles.
I remember typing my first story into a word processor, and letting it grade my work. It was riddled with flaws– too many emdashes, too short of paragraphs. Fragments. Passive voice.
All the feathers
on the bird
And– oh! —
what joy it brought
to the sun,
to see another
It’s passive if I intend for focus to be on the bird, but of course I don’t. That is a story about the sun, about a feather, about a friendship. That is a story about love.
I don’t remember learning how to love, but there are tiny love-habits that stitch into my skin like feathers. They fly away from me sometimes– but then, joyfully, every so often, I grow a new one.
I don’t remember learning how to write, but I notice my habits, the way the sun sees the light of the bird, the way a good listener can see how the wind speaks to everyone just the same. A sentence fragment here. Passive voice there. This sparkles, that doesn’t.
I don’t remember learning how to write or love, originally, but I know that I am still learning. I am still loving, and I am still holding my loves oh-so-tightly in my strongest arm.
That’s where you are– my readers, my teachers, my friends.
And you are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved.
That sentence is in the passive voice, if you want to believe it is about me. But of course it’s not.
It’s about all the many beginnings we live even after we forget our first beginnings. It’s about what we want to remember when we can’t really remember anything at all. It is about the stuffing that stays inside of us, no matter how hard anyone sneezes, and the feathers that sparkle on us, even when the sun closes her eyes. It’s about the love that drops us in the mud, and the love that pulls us out.
It’s about why we keep learning,
why we keep writing,
why we bother to keep loving at all.
So, for me, for always–
it’s about you.
I hope you remember it.