I’m seven years old, sitting amidst grey walls, staring at the smiling old woman. She tells me to smile and that I look prettier when I do—psychologist; too heavy of a word for such a young child. She tells me everything will be fine, but it will take time. Smiling takes less effort, I learned, and I keep that in mind for the rest of my life. I love you, I whisper to her because she does understand. And she does care, she does give her ear to the dilemma of a seven-year-old sad a little too early in her life.
I’m nine years old when I walk into my mother crying. Her face was blotched with the weight of still-unshed tears. I ask her why. A stupid question, for I always knew the answer. She smiles then, taking my face in her hands whispering, It’s nothing you don’t have to worry. And I still remember how I was overwhelmed with love for my mother. And I whisper a quiet I love you in my mind, for words are never enough to express these feelings for the woman who raised me. Smiling, loving, with all the burdens of the world resting upon her shoulders.
I’m sixteen, and I’m watching a movie in the darkness of our room. My two sisters sit by my side as screams echo on the TV screen. My other halves, who’ve seen the pain and who’ve known every single tear, have souls so interconnected with mine that I could see the hurricane behind their eyes. My little sister screams, hiding her face in the sheets, as the screen lightens with another jump scare. I laugh, teasing her. My older sister, always the brave soul, stares at the screen with a little too much resolve. I love you, I think looking at them carrying those wicked memories with them. My sisters were there through it all, holding hands under sheets and crying silently to sleep.
I’m seventeen years old, and I’m texting strangers online. A small group I’ve never seen. I’m spilling my wretched heart in words, bleeding in letters, and asking for comfort. They listen. They always listen, holding my broken heart in their open palms. “It’s going to be okay,” they say, staying awake with me for hours. “Please put down the blade. Please eat something, I’m here.” Sweet words and sincere. Holding me from seas apart, understanding every single syllable of my pain, and trusting my words. I love you, I whisper to the darkness of my room, for how could I not love them when there’s so much love in the three dots at the edge of the screen, keeping me company?
I’m eighteen years old, and I’m sitting between my two closest friends. We’re talking about everything and nothing in front of the class. Everyone’s shouting around us, and I can barely hear them. But I’m smiling while listening to their bickering. I keep listening. The quietest girls in the class, with worlds of words hiding behind their silent lips. So comfortable in each other’s presence. So observant, holding my soul together when it’s breaking apart. The two friends who know me like the back of their hands. I love you, I think, for joining in on the conversation. Thank you for letting me in.
I’m nineteen years old, and I’m at a friend’s home. It’s midnight as we close our books, calling it a day. She tells me how she sometimes wants nothing in life and how everything feels so useless. So much effort melts into dilemmas and pain. I tell her I’m terrified of life. Terrified of the future. I tell her sometimes I’m too uninterested to keep going on. That night, we hold each other’s hands, whispering a promise to talk. To call when we’re dancing on the precipice of death. She tells me she’s there, and I tell her I’ll always be here. I love you, I say. I’m so glad to have you as my friend.
I’m nineteen years old, and I’m talking with my teacher. I’m sitting in front of her, terrified. She listens when I say I feel sick with frustration. I tell her I cannot face it. The self-depreciation of looking at myself in the mirror to view that girl with seething anger. I tell her I’m always too sad. She tells me she’s here. Tell me I deserve every good things I have, I’ve achieved. Two weeks later, she sent me a voice note, promising me it was going to be alright. Wishing me all the best in my future. Call me whenever you want, I meant it. She says. I love you, I think packing my life in one suitcase, getting ready for the move.
It’s my twentieth birthday, and a boy I’ve known for a while gifts me a song he composed. Listen to this when you want to focus, he says. Attached to it is a thank-you note, a note of gratitude for being in his life. I think back to my months of silence without a single message. Me being a constant question mark in his life. All the nights and mornings of his worried texts. Someone who never left my side when there were a million reasons to leave. I love you, I think listening to the track in replay. Thank you for staying.
I’m twenty years old, and I’m breaking down in a call, spilling all the hurt piled upon me and hurling it towards the man I call dad. I tell him it hurts, and I ask him to stop. Speaking all the words I’ve always wanted to speak. I still love you, Please be a dad for me at least for once, I hear my own heart breaking with a clatter when I hear his voice, accepting my accusations. For the first time, I wonder why I have so much love for someone who’s ruined my life, broken my mind, and broken my spirit. I still look at you, Dad, and I still love you. You’ve never been there, but it must be the curse of a daughter to forgive for all the unforgiving sins you’ve committed.
I’m twenty years old, and I’m sitting on the grass with my new friends. One, a brilliant artist but oblivious to her radiance. Another the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen is still insecure about her looks. Another calls me her long-lost sister and talks herself down every time. One of them tells me it’s fine if I mess up but is paranoid of the future herself. I love you, I tell every moment I get because love is better spoken, and I do love these people who are unaware of their greatness.
I’m twenty years old, and I’m on my way to my lectures. I smile at the young child staring at me by the bus stand. I wish a good morning to the kind man who greets me every morning. I give directions to another lost soul and rush to my classes. That’s why when I say there’s so much love in the world that goes undetected, it’s true. I’m just a cringe poet writing love stories at 3 a.m., but I mean it when I say I love you. A quiet stranger whom you’ve never seen, a girl with a face you never make out in the crowd. But I still look at strangers and think how pretty they are. I still stop to stare at the sunsets. Still believe in love when it’s betrayed me in a thousand different ways, for it has made me believe in a million different ways.
Love is around you and within you. You have to open your eyes, darling, the blind cannot see. When your friend says, I love you, she means it. When that boy calls you pretty, he means it. Life is moving too fast, and we’re always running out of time. You’re too lovely to be sad. Too precious to be forgotten. I love you.
-Rtr. Barani Elwaththa
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