When Love Takes Your Breath Away

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L_Colvin

When I was younger I thought love was like fairy tales or the big happy song that plays at the end of a Disney movie. I thought love was all grand declarations and huge romantic gestures. I thought it was so big the world shook when love spoke its name.

I know better now.

Sometimes love is grand and huge and sweeps you off your feet. But other times love whispers, and it still takes your breath away.

I was bullied badly when I was in high school. At the time I was told I was “just being teased” or “couldn’t take a joke”. I was often told that I took everything too seriously, or too personally. Part of the reason for that was because I worked so hard to hide how bad it really was, and part of it was people who just genuinely did not understand what I was going through. I was unhappy, they could see that, and they wanted me to be happy, so clearly the answer was simply to tell me to smarten up and feel better emotions—feel the right emotions—in response to my circumstances.

This approach left me very alone at a time when I was so very vulnerable and it added a thick, sticky layer of guilt on top of the damage that was being done. I thought I was weak. Less than. Not handing this well. A bit of a wuss. A drama queen. A grump. It was an identity I carried with me for a very long time and it was heavy, like concrete.

After high school I came out to the coast to attend Trinity Western University and my time there was like one long therapy session. There aren’t enough words in the world to accurately tell the story of that transformation, but it culminated one night toward the end of my senior year.

I had a friend, a very good friend, and somehow he guessed my secret. All my closest friends knew about the bullying but he guessed that the scars I let them see were just the beginning. He saw how much hurt I was still carrying and just how deep the unhealed places were.

I don’t remember how the conversation started, but one night, alone on my couch, I told him the story. I told him the whole story, the complete, unedited version of what happened to me. I kept hiding my face as the words spilled out, first behind a pillow, and then behind my hands. He tried to gently pull my hands away, he begged me to let him see me. I told him the truth—that I couldn’t get the words out if I had to look at him while I said it. He said, “ok” very quietly, and then he said nothing at all as the story came tumbling came out. At one point he took my hands in his and just held on while I shook. I couldn’t stop shaking. It was and is the one and only time I’ve told the whole story and he sat there and received it like a champion.

When it was over he hugged me and he asked if I wanted to him to stay. I told him I needed to be alone, and it was the truth. I felt raw and naked. I needed to wrap myself up in something and just breathe. I walked him to the door, locked it behind him and went back to sit on the couch. I was too wired to sleep. I was shocked at what I’d just done and also a little proud of myself for being brave.

Sitting there in the dark felt like … well you know what it’s like when you feel sick to your stomach but your body refuses to do anything about it? So you’re stuck with a storm twisting your insides around and it’s awful until finally your body lets go and after there’s that feeling of helplessness you sit on the bathroom floor cold and shaking and empty, but relieved? It felt exactly like that.

After a while, I heard a noise I couldn’t quite place. I walked out in the hall and there was an envelope with my name on it. My friend had come back and slipped it under the door, respecting my need to be alone but unable, unwilling to leave me entirely to my own devices.

I picked up the envelope and walked back to the couch. I opened it and inside was an absolutely beautiful love letter. He wrote:

Claire,

Don’t listen to the voices.
You are beautiful.
You are intelligent.
You are loved.
You are not alone.

He signed it with his name and twenty years later I still have it tucked between the pages of my journal. He was not in love with me, but he loved me at a time when I really, really needed it. His love was quiet, but it has echoed over the years as those words came back to me again and again. On the days when it’s hard to remember who I really am I open up that old, beautiful letter and I’m reminded not to listen to the voices.

That love letter still takes my breath away. What could be more romantic than that?

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