I’m still trying to understand and recall the moment I started “throwing”around the phrase “I love you.” For the most part, I can’t seem to attach it to anything else but a period of time when I was in high school, when a series of teen-suicides hit my community. It wasn’t long after these deaths that I started to think about my relationships with the people around me and who would die next.
Many of these suicides occurred in the high school of my closest friends; and what I noticed was the way in which we’d talk about the deceased’s greatness in the past tense.
“She was a nice girl.”
“I really liked him.”
“I’m in shock.”
It was then that I started to think about the classic “He was a wonderful person” epidemic that always happens after someone dies: the goodbye words that are often said post-mortem and never to the person’s face.
The last words I said to my Dad were “I hope you feel better.”
His to me were, “I hope so too.”
Sometimes I wonder how powerful my “I love you” could have been then. Though my last words to him were positive in their own right, I still feel there was more to say.
During those days of communal grief– when three teens took their lives– I told myself that I had to remind the people I love that I love them, whenever possible. I didn’t want to be that person who spoke highly of someone only when their backs were turned, I wanted them to know all the time that they were important to me.
When I tell my mom I love her she immediately assumes I’ve hit my head. Only because I did the same thing when I broke my arm, at age 12, and thought I’d die.
“I love you, mama,” I told her. “I love you.”
Even now she takes my declarations as early goodbyes.
Why are we so afraid of admitting we love someone? Why is my tenderness received with such incredulity?
Perhaps our “I love yous” are very different from each other, so allow me to explain mine:
When I say “I love you” to someone I have no romantic or familial ties to I mean it in a way that says, “You are important to me. You make a difference here, and if I don’t see you again don’t forget that.”
My “I love you” is my way of screaming “I’m here. You’re here. You helped me.” My “I love you” is a post-it note to tell you “you matter to me.” My “I love you” isn’t naive, premature or ingenuine. So I’m not sorry I said it, but I am sorry if it freaked you out.