While I was home for the holidays, pretending anything fried and delicious was also calorie-less while lounging on anything that would hold me for long periods of time – my pup, Lucy, was doing the same. A funny thing happens when a city dog from the Upper West Side meets the great wilderness that is a fenced-in back yard: freedom.
Lucy had fun playing with my family’s dog, Suzie, and my uncle’s dogs, Lincoln and Cooper. She ran out the doggy door. And back in. And out. And again and again, over and over. She ate whatever she could find, buried her toys in the dirt outside, rolled in the mud – anything and everything that was Southern and grimy – Lucy was game.
So you can imagine that when bedtime rubbed its sleepy eyes, I had one tired little gal that easily and deeply fell asleep. That is, except for her first night. You see – my apartment in New York is rather quiet. My window faces the buildings behind me and I almost always sleep with a fan to drown out the eerie sound of silence that makes my ears ring. Slumber in the city is very quiet, but in North Carolina – you can hear all sorts of sounds. The tree frogs sing their melodies late at night, the birds wake you up before you’re ready, the dogs have conversations from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac and angry women shoo them to simmer down.
To Lucy – this was a lot to take in.
I spent a good hour trying to convince her to come out from underneath my childhood bed, luring her with treats and the sweetest (irritated) voice I could muster. But this stubborn tiny white dog was having none of it – she had tucked herself into a corner, ready to hide from anything and everything that was apparently out to get her. As I was attempting to wiggle an arm in to grab her, I hit my elbow on a big plastic box, concealed under a blanket that I used to snuggle with when I was four.
Curiosity always getting the best of me, I pulled out this unfamiliar Tupperware, giving up on my runaway pet. I peeled off the top and inside I found something that within minutes, brought me to tears.
Hundreds and hundreds of love letters.
You see – my ultra-romantic father who is even gushier than me (if you can believe it) – has written a note to my mom nearly every morning in the 27 years they’ve been married. I remember stumbling across them as a child: sometimes in front of the coffee pot, sticking out of the corner of her purse, on the dashboard of her car, taped to the side of her vanity where she sat to do her makeup. They didn’t say much, usually just loving sentiments or funny inside jokes that I don’t want to know the meaning of.
I hadn’t realized that my mom had kept every single last one of them. Or that she stowed them away in a sealed container, underneath my bed where I’m assuming she sometimes pulls them out to read again or continuously add to her already very large stockpile. As I sifted through the notes, careful not to rip them and making sure I didn’t read anything super-personal, I thought about what my dad must have been thinking when he penciled these.
Was he just trying to make sure my mom started her day off with something kind-hearted? Did he want to ensure that she always felt loved? That she always knew how treasured and valuable she is to him? Did he feel so much love toward her that he simply couldn’t hold it in anymore? Was his heart bursting with all that he felt from that day he laid eyes on her from across a crowded, smoky dance floor in the 80s?
These are answers that I’ll probably never know and questions I wouldn’t dare to ask – those letters and the meanings behind them are for my parents. And between them. They’re part of their long-winded, strong and compassionate love affair that has continually shown me what it really means to love unconditionally. Every date I go on, every man I think could possibly be someone to me, I compare the guy – intentionally and not – to my dad. Even if this man won’t write me a note every morning before I hop the train to work or make me a cup of coffee to wake up to – would he express his love in a different way I’d appreciate? Would he remember to tell me how he cares – not just on anniversaries and Hallmark holidays but all the time, every single day?
The verdict is still out – but those letters in that box taught me that what I’m really looking for in a man is one who has one hell of a heart. And a heart that’s full of love. Sure, there are other things – like ambition, loyalty, humor, height – that also rate pretty high on the attraction scale –but someone who isn’t afraid of his feelings and knows how to show them. That’s important, too.
And apparently, important to Lucy, as well. Because as soon as she heard me sniffle as I read those pages, she quickly came to my side to comfort my heart. The one that aches for another one… just like it.