Lately I've been wishing I were a kitten at the bottom of a pile of larger cats. I generate love the way a cat generates purrs. But I want more than to simply feel the love that I feel, I want to be engulfed by it, like a diver at the bottom of the sea, like a mummy wrapped tightly in gauze. It's not that I don't have love in my life. I do. A gracious plenty. But I seem to have to learn to re-navigate it and re-define it every step of the way.
In Kindergarten, Jason and I played Cinderella in the back of my mom's Pinto station wagon while she was in yoga which meant that we showed each other our butts. I don't know what happened to Jason but he's one of a long list of Prince Charmings who magically vanished after I took off my pants.
In second grade, my Dad and I lived downtown on Grace Street next to a little boy named Patrick. Every afternoon Patrick and I built forts out of trash in the alley behind our apartment and we lived in them happily, like feral animals, until it was time to go in for dinner. One day I came back to my dad's house after a week at my mom's to learn that Patrick's house had burned down and his family had moved, taking an unnameable part of me with them. Patrick left me a paint by number of the Fox and the Hound with a heart on the back drawn in magic marker next to the date and our names, Patrick + Valley, 1982, that I still have to this day.
In high school one of my boyfriends said, "My God, Valley. You even flirt with your mother." But how does one extract one flavor of love when it is immersed in the sea of another? Who delineates the lines that love draws? Not me. I'm working on having friends and being a friend. Having a husband and being a wife. Loving my students and my community and the people in my life wholeheartedly but safely, without allowing myself to drown. Having a house full of animals helps. I can love them foolishly and unabashedly and allow them to love me.
I used to feel ashamed of how much love and care and tenderness and attention I've always seemed to need. Now, I'm trying to hold the hand of the little girl reaching her hand out to be held, helping her gather warmth, love and protection without crawling through the jungle, the wilderness, over broken glass on her bare knees. I'm working on loving myself and others with big soft, loamy boundaries, like the padding in the playroom that keeps everyone from getting hurt. And each time I ask God if I can do this, if I can learn to love safely, to love and be loved enough, God says, Oh honey, yes. Yes, you can.