Love, As Experienced by a High School Student

Kaia Wirth, Staff Writer

I felt the presence of love before I was able to taste the vowels of the word on my tongue. Unbeknownst to me, it found me from thousands of miles away, in the lovely form that is my parents-yes, my real parents. Sleeping six-month-old me would soon be swept from South Korea to America, in hordes of unpleasant taxis and a turbulent airplane to meet my new life, and brother. From that point on, I had an exceedingly healthy and routine childhood. Throughout my first few years of life in America, I discovered the miscellaneousness of love. I found it on the backs of wiggling caterpillars making a home in the fairy houses I built in my childhood backyard. Or during thunderstorms, when clouds would cry heavy tears against my window panes. 

My small town in Southern Maine is not something frequently mentioned on the news. The neighborhood children acted as my first group of friends, as well as a community in itself. Regardless of the tight-knit society that was created in Garrison Oaks Drive, my brother and I formed a bond dissimilar from my other friends and their siblings. We bickered like we were meant to, but in the security of our own home we recognized our similarities in the strength of our familial love. In junior high, when the whirlwind of gossip began to pick up speed at an alarming pace, my family’s love is what came to cover me, a blanket in that cold storm.  Our parents loved both of us regardless of our biological relation, and it was for that unconditional compassion that I grew up knowing of my worthiness. 

I’d never fully recognized how fortunate I was to grow up in the harmonious household that I did, until around the sixth grade when a friend of mine was an hour late meeting me at a high school football game. I saw her from across the lit field, and it was only when she reached the stands that I could see her raw eyes, red from tears. I instantly swallowed my laments about her lack of punctuality as she explained to me through shaking breaths how her parents had just split. Divorce was something I’d only ever seen in movies and television shows or heard on the wagging tongues of adults on the sidelines of soccer games. While my friend cried behind cheering high school students, I became exceedingly aware of my personal circumstances. I had always assumed marital love was like the diamond on the left hand: unbreakable. I was wrong. 

As the years pass, I watch as more and more parents fail to avoid that fifty percent chance. And I see my parents, married happily for twenty-one years, with many more to go. I have the advantage of experiencing firsthand what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. My parents’ love is the smell of pancakes early on a Sunday morning as my dad stands at the griddle, my mom sitting at the table. He’s got his station of plates, utensils, syrup, and fruit all laid out buffet-style while she types away at her laptop. My brother and I stumble down the stairs in a half-asleep coma, but rouse once we hear the sizzle of the “good sausages from Trader Joe’s.” This habitual routine serves as a sort of safety net for me. Because I know of the unwavering consistency of family breakfasts, I in turn know that my family will be there for me. Always. 

Despite confidence in my familial support, I found great struggle in navigating the tribulations of being a high schooler, not unlike many students my age. I gradually lost faith in the beliefs I’d relied on so heavily. Teenage girls proved themselves far more conniving and vicious than any villains I’d ever read about in fairytales. In place of poisoned apple offerings, they murdered my dignity with poisonous glares, stealing my voice by a single comment instead of a spell. As a single sleepless night turned plural, I discovered how profoundly difficult it was becoming to communicate my emotions, with both my family and myself. It’s so much simpler to paint on a brave face than to ever let anyone see how much their words hurt. That’s the thing about bullies, isn’t it? To find a chink in the armor, to stab it and twist until this gaping wound is left bleeding. My wound is not literal, yet still apparent in my sudden emotional inarticulacy. For months I kept quiet, hid last night’s tear-stained eyes with ice cubes pressed onto my sockets. The longer I hid these discussion topics from my parents, the more unmanageable it seemed to start talking about the truth. 

Eventually, like a suitcase stuffed past capacity, I reached a peak of my submission. After I’d talked with my parents, I finally understood how “weights could be lifted” after confessing agitations. Finally communicating what I felt, honestly and in a healthy atmosphere did absolute wonders for my mental health. My parents helped me learn that wounds, metaphorical and otherwise, heal.  I discovered how to combat those who are trying so hard to break me by surrounding myself with those who build me up. I’ve found a new community in my friends, those who I am eternally grateful for. Being encompassed with such positive influences and genuinely kind people did wonders for my outlook on life and my internal state of well-being. I will never again underestimate the capabilities of authenticity.

The largest influence in my life was, and will continue to be, the presence of love. What I didn’t take into account during these rough patches of my life, was that the lack of it tends to be a significant motivator in the bullies I’d encountered (and will most likely continue to encounter). I’ve since developed a newfound understanding that those with ugly intent tend to harbor emotional abuse from family or others, something I’d never had to confront. It was because of this realization that I made a pivotal decision in my life to always choose love over cruelty. Of course, there aren’t many I’ve met that willingly choose hate. It does sounds simple, doesn’t it? Love is (sometimes) painless. It is simple and cost-efficient. It truly makes the world a little more bearable. Despite this, the act of love takes energy and lots of practice. In order to change my reactions towards those who’d treated me with no respect, I had to realize that these were the ones who needed love the most. Everyone is deserving of kindness, especially those who don’t believe they are. When life presented me with obstructions in my predetermined path, they were not what defined me. To me, no person’s identity is determined by their experiences, but their reactions to them and how they choose to respond. My response? I will no longer sit passive while I am mistreated. I will continue to surround myself with healthy relationships. I will continue to love and be loved with the fervor in which I was raised, because isn’t that what we all deserve?