I’ve always been a bit of a romantic.
I guess you could say I took Disney movies a little too seriously as a kid. You know, the kind that preach love at first sight, soulmates, destiny.
While I had enough sense to know these stories were fictional — and dragons didn’t exist and teapots didn’t actually talk — I couldn’t separate fictional love with real-life love. These fictional movies helped form my very real view of what love should be. They assisted in creating this idea in my mind that true love is formed only through grand romantic gestures and loud declarations of adoration.
With this view, I spent years believing my parents didn’t actually love each other. Growing up, I never saw any of these grand romantic gestures. They never showered each other in verbal adoration. Then, when I was six, my parents separated and my dad moved into another house in the same town. Their split bolstered my belief of what true love was and that my parents didn’t have it. Even when my dad moved back into our home a decade later, I still had my doubts. I thought they bonded over mutual needs, financial and medical. If they did have love for one another, I thought, it was mediocre at best.
But, like they say, with age comes wisdom. As I grew into my 20s, I started noticing little acts of affection between my parents — a kiss on the head, a grip of a shoulder. I watched my mother struggle to learn how to operate clippers so she could cut my dad’s hair — because she knew it was difficult for him to walk from his car into a barbershop. And I noticed how my dad would stand in the doorway of my mother’s room every night, rocking back and forth on his heels trying to alleviate the pain in his arthritis-stricken knees, and ask about how her day was at work.
All of these little moments added up in my mind, and I started to believe my parents did actually love each other. It just wasn’t the kind of love I wanted.
That all changed this week. It happened as I watched my parents hold each other in a hospital room — my dad lying in a bed and my mom huddled over him. My dad, delirious from the infection flowing through his blood, screamed from the pain caused by his broken hip, while my mother whispered soothing words into his ear. They clutched onto each other so tightly the earth could split between them and still wouldn’t tear them apart.
It was the most beautiful act of love I had ever seen — both real and fictional.
Through my parents, I’ve learned true love doesn’t have to be fantastical or over-the-top. It isn’t always an eye-catching spark. True love can be plain, boring, even sometimes dull. It can be a small fire that burns unnoticed by most people, but, unlike how extravagant sparks often burn out quickly, these dull fires endure. And these kind of love stories may not have movies created about them, but they are still special to those who know of them.
In short, I’ve learned love doesn’t have to be fairy tale perfect. It can be riddled with flaws but can still be just as beautiful. And just as desirable.
And just as romantic.