I met my husband, Jorge, while we were still in college. We both lived very public, and very separate, existences for the first three years of school: I was a singer; he was an actor and comedian. We did not start dating until just the start of our senior year. To no one’s surprise, Jorge and I clicked instantly. From the day we started dating, we were inseparable.
Very early on in our relationship, we knew that we were made for one another. Within a few weeks, Jorge had verbally made the commitment. Those words. Tres palabras. Yes, he said it. “Liza, I love you.”And, then he gently kissed the top of my forehead.
I slowly turned my head, our eyes locked, the corners of my mouth turned slightly upwards, I could feel the tenderness and warmth of his voice, and I replied,
The space between his eyebrows became wrinkled and tense.
“Not quite the response I was expecting, but, okay, … uh, ‘you’re welcome‘?” he said with a half smile that hid his confusion, disappointment.
I had been burned with “I Love You” before. Fueled by teen angst shows like 90210 and Party of Five, I spent my early dating years telling every teenage boy that I had “loved them”, only to find out that, unlike in a 30-minute episode, they didn’t pull me in close, profess their undying love back, and magically produce a box of chocolates and teddy bear holding a heart that said, “I’m Yours.” I had been fooled by creative writers, teenagers with car phones and palm trees, and suffocated under the perfume of Electric Youth and New Kids On the Block ballads. Little did I know that this man with me, the man who had just whispered “I Love You” to me, would be the last man I would decide to ever romantically say those words to ever again.
I didn’t grow up in a house of “I love you”s. In fact, though I knew my parents and my siblings loved me, it was never a phrase that was used. The best we got was a card, perhaps on our birthdays or graduations, that said, “Love, Mom and Dad.” Times have changed, of course. Now, we can’t walk into — or out of — their house without hearing “I Love You” said loudly. I no longer have to wonder if I, or anyone else in the family, is loved; we hear it all the time. Honestly, while cancer is something I wish we could have avoided, Cancer brought love back into our lives. Sure, we fight. Sure, we all yell. Sure, we speak in hurried tones or bark orders around to one another. But, during a single day, each person has heard that he or she is loved, is a blessing, or just makes another person happy.
It doesn’t fix everything; but it doesn’t hurt anything.
These past few days have been an out pour of love. The amount of support my family has received has been incredibly overwhelming. We have been gifted a fundraiser and community event, shown kindness from across the country with care packages, cards, gifts, and notes, and have been embraced by so many people. All of this love has been a wonderful blanket on these cold nights, and has served to light the path for these last few days.
What has made me smile most is an unexpected gift. It is the gift of “I love you.” Every card I read, and every person I have seen over the past week, has closed our goodbye with “I love you.” In a video tribute from my students, to hear them say “I love you” makes my heart melt. To hear it from colleagues and acquaintances sends me, at first, into a bit of shock, but I slowly melt into the embrace and loudly proclaim, “I love you, too.” But, for me, it’s not so much hearing it, it’s the action of people saying it. I believe that we spend so much time guarding our feelings, thinking that being strong means being cold, and that “love” should only be shared on special occasions. But, what would happen if every opportunity to care was an occasion to make special?
What could happen if the worst part of your day was hearing that you were loved?
This evening, I was sitting in front of my couch reading from a giant card given to me by my colleagues and students. My two older children crawled up on the couch behind me.
Just minutes before, on the car ride home from school, my oldest daughter expressed that she was feeling scared, nervous. She was worried about me and my operation. She has been asking more questions, wondering what the Countdown is on now, and repeatedly seeking confirmation that someone will take care of her and her siblings while I am gone.
“Mom, I hope your surgery goes well,” says my older daughter, legs dangling over the cushions and her feet tapping on my shoulder.
“Why, thanks, Joli. Gosh, that’s really so nice of you,” I replied through my surprised smile.
“Yes, Mom. I hope that you get well soon!”, says my middle child.
“Jada? Really? Well, with your help I sure will, honey!” I said in my most proud Mama voice.
“Yes, Mom. And, I really do hope you come back to work really soon!” says Joli.
“Yes, Mom. See, right here. This person says that she hopes you come back to work really soon.”
I’ve cried enough times in the past few days to fill a pool. Some sad tears; but these days, mostly joyous and thankful tears. I really did not expect to receive the kind of support that I have had the past few days. I am forever grateful to my friend Anne Mattina who, along with a team of friends, organized the huge bowling event! It was so much fun, and it was a wonderful demonstration of the kindness within my community. Thank you to all who attended, those who could not attend, and those who have come by to see me these past few days. From what I understand, this will not be the last Bowling Event as certain teams seek to claim the title of Bowling Champs next time!
A very special thanks to my students, the ALANA-A Leaders, to my Diversity Dream Team of Randall and Jackie, to my Mb4M running pals, and to my Retinoblastoma Family who have pulled out all the stops these past few days.
Thank you to the Dreizen girls who have sent a package for just about every occasion in my family’s life.
Thank you, in particular, to my sisters Mary and Grace, and to my cousin Joy who have mentored me in this mastectomy decision. The three of you, in my life, have cleared the road for me, and I am so thankful for what you have done.
And, while a future blog post is already in the works, thank you to my parents. I know what it’s like to see your own child suffer. You have had to see three of your children have this surgery. I can only imagine, in a very small way, what you must go through. Thank you for being the best parents ever.
Thank you, of course, to my husband Jorge. He’s seen his mother diagnosed with breast cancer, his grandfather, his daughter, his sister-in-law, and now his wife go through so much. It’s sometimes easier being the patient — you get a lot of attention. It’s not always easy being the spouse.
And, to my kids, who may never remember a time when Mommy did not have “fake boobies.” This blog has been as much for you as it has been for me. Should you need to go through this with your own lives and with your own families, I hope I leave you with a legacy and a history of a road less traveled.
And, to all of you reading. Love more. Live more. Show you care more. Worry less about what people think of you, and more about what you can share.
After all, imagine what life would be like if showing you cared was the worst part of your day.
Peace, love, and giving a little bit,
(PS scroll down for some great photos!)