February 14, 2020
By Ekta R. Garg
Today is a day to celebrate love, in all its forms. Valentine’s Day is often associated with romantic love, but I’m glad more and more people are using it as a day to recognize the ones they feel close to no matter what the relationship. Of course, not everyone feels like they need a special day to show they love someone. Not everyone feels comfortable showing their emotions at all.
Take Eleven, for instance. This child always has a joke on hand, is ready to act as “the funny one” when the occasion presents itself (or the mood strikes her.) The minute the conversation veers into emotional territory, though, she begins to fidget. Her tone of voice gets flat, and she avoids eye contact. At some point she’ll laugh in an embarrassed way or try to shrug off the conversation. It’s only in the last couple of years she’s become more comfortable with the tight hugs I ask for in the mornings after she wakes up.
So imagine my surprise when we got into a conversation a few days ago about how some middle schoolers seem to have a new crush every week, and she volunteered an opinion.
“I think Di-Di would be the kind of person who wouldn’t have a crush for just a little while,” she said.
It’s times like these I’m so glad the kids are used to me focusing on the road and not offering them any sort of facial reaction. It gives me a chance to think through my responses. Of course, it’s a little harder now that they can sit in the front passenger seat. Still, I get a chance to process what I’m going to say. Because, you know, traffic. I’m not stalling at all.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, I think if she’s going to have a crush, it’s going to last a long time,” she explained. “Like, she would take it seriously. She’d tell the boy, ‘You’re sticking around. You’re not going anywhere.’”
“I can see that,” I said. “Of course, that means that if he broke her heart, she’d be devastated.”
“If he did that,” she replied, her tone becoming fierce, “I’d have to hurt him.”
“We’d have to hurt him,” I said.
“In some very unpleasant places for boys,” she added, the ferocity carrying over. “I’d hurt him in some very unpleasant places.”
I didn’t know quite what to say to that. Should I have been proud that she felt so protective of her big sister or worried that she was threatening bodily harm to any boy who dared to leave her sister crying? I decided to go with the former.
“It would be terrible if he broke up with her just to go with some other girl,” Eleven said after a few quiet minutes. “Then I’d have to hurt him and the other girl.”
“Oh, but why would you want to do that to the poor girl?” I said.
“I’d hurt him so that it would last the rest of his life,” she said, ignoring my question.
“How about just for a year?” I said.
“Ten years,” she bargained.
“No, I think a year is long enough. And you don’t need to hurt the girl,” I went on. “The fact that you’d hurt the boy is good enough.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she conceded. “But he better be careful.”
We didn’t talk about it the rest of the way home, our conversation instead turning to other things. But her bold loyalty to her older sister surprised me. Not so much that she felt that way, I suppose. We often tell people we meet that the girls are best friends, and it really is the truth.
I think what surprised me was Eleven’s answer to the question of someone hurting her sister. She’d hurt that person back, plain and simple. Despite her getting older and understanding that the world is comprised of layers and not black and white answers, her thoughts in this case really were black and white.
Not that I advocate violence, but this child doesn’t talk about her feelings. She would rather make a joke or avoid the conversation altogether. She gets irritated when pressed on the topic.
It reminds me, again, that love comes in a variety of forms and expressions. It doesn’t always require big bouquets of flowers or long letters proclaiming one’s affections for another. Sometimes it can just be a promise to beat up the hypothetical guy who would theoretically break your sister’s heart. Promise made, hands dusted, love declared. Now on to something else.