When Saying “I Love You” Isn’t Enough
September 3, 2015
Not too long after I gave birth to my youngest son, everyone on my husband’s side of the family commented on how alike my son and my husband’s oldest son looked. We pulled out old baby pictures of Jacob, my husband’s son from his first marriage, and compared them to our son. There were some kind of close “maybe if I hold the picture at this angle similarities,” but I was told the similarities were more in the expressions they made, the way they stretched, and the quizzical look they gave the adults holding them. Old videos were dusted off and put in the VHS so we could all marvel at how strong the genes were on the Portugal side of the family.
I cringed as the first tape started. The last thing I wanted to see one week post baby was videos of my husband and his ex after she had just given birth. I knew how precious our experience had been and I didn’t want to watch him have those special moments with someone else. But I sat and watched because it seemed so important to him. Luckily, the one video we watched was from her point of view. I only saw Jacob as a baby and David holding him. I watched him stretch, saw the quizzical look on his face, and indeed, my step-son and my son could have been twins.
We were about to shut off the video because in it, David was about to leave for work, but then he turned to his ex-wife and said, “I love you.” My heart stopped. Of course he would say I love you to his wife before he left for work, but that’s how he said it to me. Exactly. Same inflection, same tilt to his head, and then his face filled the television screen as he came in to give his son, and his wife, a kiss. Vomit filled the back of my throat, but I smiled, knowing my reaction was illogical. That was his wife and child at the time. Of course he would say and do those things, but to see him saying it to someone else exactly the way he says it to me left me numb.
For days I couldn’t bear to hear him say that. He would start to say I love you and I would hold my hand up in the universal stop sign. My skin crawled and I oozed resentment and disdain. Every time he tried to say it, the feeling became more intense. I told him why it upset me, even though the logical side of me knew I was acting ridiculously, but the emotional side thought if he could say that to her exactly the same way he says it to me, how did I know our marriage wouldn’t end, too? I put him between a rock and a hard place. He wanted to reassure me, but the only way to reassure me was the same way he would damn himself. I couldn’t see him say those words to me without seeing the video replay in my mind.
After one particularly brutal night with the baby during an entire week of brutal nights, I woke up disoriented, because I woke up naturally. The baby wasn’t crying, no one called my name, and looking out my bedroom window, I saw the sun high in the sky. I could hear the television, my older son singing his two-year-old nonsensical songs, and the click of the baby swing. I scurried out of bed more interested in who my savior was than I was concerned for the children. I found my husband resting on the couch with the baby on his chest and my older son pushing a doll in the swing. My husband had stayed home from work so I could sleep.
I cried at his generosity, and felt guilty as hell for my behavior over the past couple of weeks. This wealth of emotion surged through me and I crept over to the couch and kissed him on the forehead. I whispered, “I love you today,” so as not to wake the baby, and my husband smiled. He looked up at me and said, “I love you today, too.” And it was different. The video didn’t play in my head. His declaration of love was untarnished.
We’ve continued that tradition over the last 12 years, and the meaning has morphed into something greater. Love is more than an emotion, it is a verb. When we say “I love you today” not only is it an endearment, but it’s also a decision. We decide to affirm each other, affirm our love, and honor, and respect our relationship that day. When other people hear us say this, they always ask, “What about tomorrow?” and we always respond, “Tomorrow is another day,” and we smile in anticipation.
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