this is where the heart lives

My nose is cold as I lay my head on Mom’s shoulder, knowing Em’s already claimed her other one. The three of us take up the back seat of the car, cuddled against each other for warmth in this cold, cold weather. Tucker’s phone rings. We chuckle over his ringtone, smile as he starts to make plans with his friends. He leaves for college on Sunday.

Again, I should say, or back. He goes back to college on Sunday. “Yeah, I’d love some quality time with you guys, bro.” My brother talks loud, but not annoyingly so: startling, perhaps, if one did not know him, but comforting and familiar to those of us that do.

Q. T., I mumble. Mom shifts her head against mine. Hmm? she asks. Q. T.?

“Q. T.,” I respond. “Quality Time. One of the five love languages, you know.” She does know. I saw the book in her room last week. She regards me quizzically, face patterned by the changing lights as Dad continues to drive home. “The five love languages, like that book? Gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service — that’s yours, mom — and… there’s another one. Um –” I rack my brain. “Ah, touch! Physical touch.”

“And which one is yours, Connor?”

“Oh — probably quality time and acts of service, I suppose.”

“Really? I just figured that since you’re such a wordsmith, it might be that.”

“I… Well, I suppose it’s all three, really, in some sort of combination. Depends on the circumstances, I think.” I stare, frowning, at the headlights of the oncoming traffic. We’re nearly home now. Five blocks to go.

Well, she asks me, when have you felt most loved? What made you feel most loved? A letter, an action —

She’s lost me, I’m afraid.

I’m caught up in memory now, sweeping through my past experience to find an answer to my mother’s question, wondering what it says about me that I can’t seem to think of when I’ve felt the most loved.

Of course, it comes easily now that hours, days, even weeks have passed. I am not particularly good at answering questions on the fly if I’m outside of the classroom. Words come easily to me when I spin sentences from facts and readings, from others’ experiences and writings.

Ask me to explain myself to you, though, and I’ll ask to get back to you or make something up on the spot. Self knowledge flees my mind the moment I am asked to consider myself. What’s your favorite book or What’s your favorite film are frequently met with blank stares as I try to remember what books and movies are and what, if any, are my most-read and most-watched and most-quoted and most-loved.

When have you felt most loved?

Like I said, it’s easy now. I can list the memories off my fingers like a toddler learning to count.

That time when my friends all helped, I’d say. That time that the whole world — or at least the play — seemed to be crashing down, and then the next thing I knew, we had help. I turned around on the stage at camp that day, staring down at ten or twenty girls covered in glitter and camp gear as they tramped around our workspace: fixing set pieces, finalizing costumes, painting backdrops, gluing props. And that time the next day when the same thing happened again: I turned around and we were ready. We had help, the theatre looked amazing, and instead of falling to pieces? Well. The show must go on, they say, and so it did.

Camp. So many of these memories are from the months I’ve spent there.

Wordsmith, she told me. You’re such a wordsmith. She asked me to think: a letter. I sit here in my grandmother’s arm chair and smile at that memory: coming back to my dorm in Dublin after a long, hard day. Stopping by the mailbox, seeing a postcard, turning it over and seeing those three signatures — Pri, Vids, Cristina — and bursting into tears.

Coming home to find all four family members at the arrivals door, holding a homemade sign to welcome me back to the States. Sitting around that old, stained coffee table to play Settlers of Catan, or maybe that time all those years ago that we sprawled on cushions upstairs and played Scattergories. My foot is so asleep it’s dreaming, Em told us. We laughed loud that night.

Maybe, though–and this one always hurts a little, makes my heart throb in a raw and sad sort of way– maybe that night when I didn’t go to Bible study like I’d said I would. I walked down the hall to my room half-blind, stumbling over my own feet, still feeling a bit shell-shocked. DeAnna and Giulia found me there, I think — though I have to admit, I don’t rightly remember it at all. They handed me a card, said they’d heard about my friend and oh, they were so sorry, and here, this is for you–a card filled right up with prayer and love and empathy.

Sitting at home and hearing Tucker playing music down the hall as I write and read and study.

Joking about co-dependent internet relationships with Basia as we plot out the first manifestation of our third internet entrepreneurial endeavor with large mugs of tea at hand.

That day last spring when I found myself once again buried in homework, trying to figure out the differences between certain stereoisomers and reaction processes, and seemingly no closer to the end of my homework than when I had started two hours earlier. Kerry came over that day. She brought me homemade quiche, sat with me while I devoured the food, and then managed to sneak into my room with clean laundry piled on the bed and textbooks scattered on the desk. She brought me my ID card a few minutes later, kissed the top of my head, wished me luck, and swept out the door with her dishes.

I only found out hours later that she’d folded all my laundry and rescued the ID card from the depths of t-shirts and jeans while doing so.

Brunch with Becky at Briana’s. Snow days in high school spent eating pancakes with my siblings at Julia’s. Dancing with Kerry at Mike’s ordination.

Checking my mailbox out of habit after a month of living in Ireland with no mail, finding a package notification, and smiling giddily as I carried Shirley’s box of goodies back to my room.

Grandmother telling me she read every single blog post I wrote while I was off in Ireland.

Those times when we were still in Virginia and I came down with the croup– mom and dad sitting with me in the cold night air, blankets draped around us, rubbing my back and moving my sweaty curls back from my fever-heated forehead.

Phone calls with Taylor. Skype dates with Meghan. Baking with Erika. Hanna not punching me whenever I started humming Feed the Birds during our trip to London. Seeing Frozen twice with Jess and yelling at the screen each time.

Dropping to the floor in a melodramatic rendition of a faint when mom told my sixth-grade-self she was going to spend the long weekend flying down to visit Rachel in South Carolina.

Sitting around our kitchen table with my roommates late at night, debating what our spirit animals are. All of us turning to Cristina and declaring hers to be a koala before laughing at the similarity of our thoughts.

Whispered conversations with Meryl over dinner that result in loud laughter and lightness of heart.

Tackle hugs from Stacy on Locust Walk after a year of not seeing each other.

Curling up and watching Pushing Daisies with Rachel between school and rehearsal.

Waking up while I was abroad to long e-mails from my mom or from Becky.

Hugs from my brother. Secret handshake with my sister.

What’s that lyric by The Script?

Love is this. This is love.

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