When I was about six or seven, I remember my father sitting the family down over breakfast. He said, “We’re going to start saying ‘love you’.” He had gotten this idea after hearing his Caucasian coworker saying this term of endearment to someone on the phone before hanging up.
Looking back, I thought nothing of it at the time, but I really thank my father for openly discussing the concept of love and bringing an openness to emotion into our family. I grew up hugging my parents when I see them. I give them a kiss on the cheek when leaving for the airport or when I know I won’t see them for a while. Even at age 29, I will blow raspberries on my mom’s cheek and crush her into a bear hug.
I say it to the people I love the most, sparingly, but with meaning to show them I care. Uttering these words mean a lot to me; there are very few people I’d say it to or have said it to. It’s spoken over the phone to my parents and older sister, written on cards to my best friends, and said silently to people I miss in my life.
Being loved by our parents in that way really shaped the way my sister and I perceive love — that it should be hilarious, bright and warm, that it should be openly expressed, and that with love, we can work through anything.
Some of my fondest memories of my father includes us going to the local Korean market. I love SamYang noodles and I’d point it out to him, asking for one. Then he’d return back with an entire 24 pack box full of them. I remember my mother who would always make pork chops after I come back from three hours of tennis, and now that I’m older, I realize she purposely wouldn’t eat any so I could have more and dad could have some when he got back from work.
We love with gusto—I was taught to love with gusto. Through the ugly and the bad, through the ups and downs, and through the hardest times that we ourselves cannot control. We love through it all.
But lately, I’ve found myself growing colder, more hardened. I feel angry sometimes, and lost. I push feelings down hard and ignore them, stomping my way into places and things. I hide behind a facade, only for my face to break into pieces when I am alone.
I feel sad and I don’t know why.
But love will pat me on the back; it drapes a sweater over my back as I curl up into a ball on the couch. It absorbs the tears when I weep silently and retreat. It shows up in my green onion garden, in sprouts from attention and care.
As I watch my nephew grow up in this household, it’s filled with love. His father scoops him up and kisses his cheeks, joking around, “Where did this cutie come from?” His mother patiently squats on the ground with him, swirling the mochi batter mix in a bowl while he grasps the spoon and makes a mess.
Sometimes, I’ll catch her sneaking a kiss and he burrows his little head into her shoulder while hugging her. His auntie (me) spends her sacred weekends with him at the park, often times seen pushing him up the hills of San Francisco while he babbles in the stroller. He’ll crawl into my lap, shoving a book in my hand and I read to him. I muss up his air and holds his tiny hand in my palm. We love him in all the ways we can, so he knows how to love too. He clutches my face, smooshing his into mine. He throws his hands around my neck, laughing and patting my cheek in affection.
Love in our home has been outward, affectionate, and obvious.
But I realize that love comes in other forms too. It shows up in ways I never thought about, like offering a space to stay, sending flowers for my birthday across the continent, taking Caltrain up to spend an extra hour at an event I planned, making plans without being prompted, and something I think I’ve taken for granted—consistency.
Consistency to show up, to communicate, to lean on, and to just work it out.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is when despite every shit thing has happened, you still work things out because you love that person and want that person to be in your life. But not because that person makes you whole, but because that person makes you a better person, that your life has more color and adventure, and that every day you know your life is better with them being there by your side.
Whether it’s your parent, sibling, friend, nephew, or lover.
When I asked my sister, she responded:
So I know I need to change, and to let love in little by little. I am already loved, and I will love again.