Contributed by Nadia Persun, PhD
“I love you,” I told him in a soft whisper, as he was closing his big blue eyes, ready to immerse in his night slumber. “Of course you do!” he responded, sparing the words, but giving a confident glance that was followed by a release of a hearty yawn. With no further ado, he was asleep.
So many times that year I’d tell him over and over how much in love with him I was, with a desperate hope for a reciprocated gesture. At best, he’d acknowledge my exasperated feelings by a glance, squint, or a quick smile. Meanwhile, I was finding myself falling deeper for him. I’d stare at his face as he was asleep, caress his hair, and hold his hand.
Trapped for months in the bittersweet feeling of unrequited love, I was getting desperate and began succumbing into bribery. I’d buy him gifts. Many, anything he’d want, or I’d think he’d like. Like a sugar rush, getting gifts gave him quick joy and satisfaction. He’d show his appreciation for the object, grab it, and scurry away. Sometimes he’d mutter something resembling “I like it.” Not quite the confession I was shooting for. I’d try to smuggle a quick hug, but he’d feel smothered and bored in an instance. He was squirmy, busy, and not a master of words. He’d rush away to avoid further confessions and tenderness demands. I was learning simple lessons: bribery does not work for getting more liked and loved.
I did not know he was so dangerously addictive when we met. He was not even my type: short and bold, with strong dependency needs, and frequent nasty tempter outbursts. He came with no instruction manual. I could never figure out the location of the buttons that turn off foul moods and switch on sunny disposition. It was random and exasperating.
At first I loved him in some worrisome way. I wanted to make sure he was safe and protected. He needed me like a flower needs soil and water. Later that worrisome feeling only had grown into something stronger and ever present. I was dreaming about seeing his face again when apart for even the shortest time and wanting to do anything to make him smile.
Somebody should have warned me that once I held him, I’d get attached forever. There will be no way to let go ever, in space or time. Creatures of his kind are both dangerous and irresistible. They storm into your life with short warning, marking their arrival with a loud scream. They take all of your time, space, and energy with a never ending trail of needs. They want, take, and request some more. The power of their dependency on you is addictive. You can’t help but stare at and admire breathless their bold headed, toothless, pudgy beauty. They conquer you by nothing but their sheer cuteness and raw emotion. By some strange rule of reverse psychology, instead of running away in self preservation, you just fall deeper for their crude charm.
One sunny summer day, I took him for a walk. I stumbled upon a boulder and released a loud “ouch” scream. He got scared, ran to me, bending over and kissing the tip of my dusty shoe, trying to make my “boo-boo” go away. He held me and told me that he loves me. First time of many times. He was about to turn two, starting to speak sentences.
It was heartwarming and felt even better than I’ve imagined. At the same time, after the long months of exasperating and anxious waiting to be told, I was less desperate to make anything related to him about me. The egocentric need for praise and acknowledgement of my prior childless self had evolved and blossomed into something that perhaps defines parental love: desiring to give more of and better parts of myself, wanting nothing in return. I just wanted to hold his hand, finding solace looking into his wide, open eyes that immerse my whole world.