There seemed to be a natural pause in the conversation as the silence began to fill the empty spaces between the moments.
I turned to her and said, “You don’t have to work so hard to be lovable.”
She looked up at me; her eyes seemed to widen as she stopped to take in what I was saying.
She looked down for a moment.
Her body seemed to visibly contract, her shoulders slumping downwards as if she were carrying the burden of a weight no one else could see.
She looked up at me once again, her eyes hooded in skepticism.
There was distrust in those eyes, and yet, when I took a moment to pause and allow myself to truly feel her, I could see the hope buried under the layers of pain.
Her hope was a fragile construction, built on broken promises and dreams almost made manifest.
It is a hope that began to dwindle with every lost “I love you, and I will always be there.”
It was a thread of trust that started to unspool with each person’s coming and going, and with every “I can’t, I’m not strong enough, this is too much, you are too much, I can’t do this anymore.”
I shifted my body, turning to face her, feeling the ground of my presence.
“Look at me,” I said with a tone that was laced with calm and yet so achingly clear that there could be no mistaking my intention.
This wasn’t a plea or request from a place of force.
It was an invitation from love, a love without restraint and condition.
It was a love as boundless as the heart willing to feel the eternal ache of our humanity.
This was a love that had somehow found the strength to bloom from within the barren landscapes, and broken fragments of a heart cracked, wide open.
“I love you, and I am not going anywhere,” I said.
I could feel her distrust rumbling, the air crackling with the promise of an impending storm.
I witnessed the internal battle in the fluttering of her eyelashes, the quickening of her heartbeat and breath, and the way her body became rigid, primed to turn away and in its impulse to shut down and not feel.”
I took a breath and repeated, “I love you, and I am not going anywhere.”
I didn’t waver in my presence, even when I began to feel her become distant, even when I felt her ice over, becoming a living sculpture.
She was well-practiced at not feeling.
She was no stranger to the hardened and impenetrable fortress of her own wounds and the impulse to viciously defend against any who dared to cross into the wild terrains of her innermost sanctum.
She had worked so hard and for so long to be worthy of this love.
And, here, it was being offered freely.
“I love you, and I am not going anywhere, and I don’t need anything from you,” I said.
I saw the question in her eyes, “But, how could that be?”
I saw her wince, her eyes glazing over in the remembering.
She remembered every time she had given a part of herself away for fear of losing love.
She remembered every time she had said yes when she truly meant no.
She remembered the bone-deep exhaustion and void of feeling that came from working so hard to be everyone’s everything that there was nothing left.
“I love you. I am not going anywhere. I don’t need anything from you. There is no part of you that I don’t love.”
I saw her begin to soften in this moment, her hope bleeding through those meticulously crafted defenses.
I could see her clearly now, not because of my capacity to see, but because she was bestowing upon me the great honor of allowing me to see.
She allowed me to see every part and piece of her that had been bargained and traded away.
She let me see the fault lines and cracks within her soul that had fractured so many times the pathways had become unrecognizable.
She invited me to be with her in the feeling of it all, to taste the bitter-sweet tang of her heartbreaks and every love found only to be lost once again.
She gave me permission to dance with the devastation of her un-belonging and every part that had believed she wasn’t worthy of love.
“I love you. I am not going anywhere. I don’t need anything from you. There is no part of you that I don’t love. All of you is welcome here. I will always be with you,” I said.
Her eyes began to flood with tears, her shoulders shaking, belly heaving as she fought to contain it, to hold it in and not fall apart.
“It’s okay to not hold it all together. It’s safe to fall apart. I’ve got you. I love you. I am not going anywhere. I don’t need anything from you. There is no part of you I don’t love. All of you is welcome here. I will always be with you.” I said.
And, she fell into my arms and I didn’t let go.
I held her until there were no tears left, until her breath deepened into an even inhale and long, flowing exhale.
I held her until her body was soft, supple, and relaxed, curling inward, not out of a need to protect but out of a gesture of exquisite trust, comfort, and safety.
I slowly moved my face to rest beside her ear, my fingers delicately moving the strands of hair off her cheek to ripple down her back.
I whispered, “I love you. I am not going anywhere. I will always be here. You are safe. You are home now. We are home.”
© Sandra Bershad , 2021
Photo by: Sophia Billikop