I never ask why I was unlovable; I only ask forgiveness for getting it wrong for so long.
I come from a long line of women who were never loved the way that they should've been. My grandmother, my mother, numerous aunts, both my sisters — our fathers all managed the bare minimum and not much more. Our mothers gave us the best they had and sometimes it fell short.
As we moved through life, we let that first failure of love form what we saw when we looked in the mirror and whose voice we heard in the long nights when sleep didn't come easy.
When my grandma was seventy-four years old, she wrote of her family in her journal:
"None of them ever come here. I don't know why. No one ever comes. I think I'm kind and friendly but no one comes."
All those years, so many years, of feeling unlovable, because the man who helped make her also helped to break her. Her family did come to her. We all did. But she couldn't see us through the fog of her father's abandonment.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my mom was in the midst of divorcing her third husband and she would call me every day in tears, asking, "Why me? What is it about me that makes them cheat and lie? Why do I always pick the ones who hurt me?"
Even though she was loved enormously and endlessly by five children, cared about and admired by untold numbers of friends and family, she still felt a part of her was unworthy of that and sought out broken men who would prove her right.
When I was nineteen, before I learned to find myself, I laid in a bath full of lukewarm water and submerged my head and face, inch by oppressive inch, and although I didn't open my mouth, I was screaming out:
"What part of me is so awful, so inhuman, that it deserves the way he looks through me like I'm even less than an inconvenience? Why do I always end up with these empty outstretched hands and a hollowed out heart?"
So much anguish, flowing back through my bloodline, passed from womb to womb like crumpled paper dolls.
But I broke the chain.
I came to see that it wasn't that I was unworthy of love but that I was defining love as the fractured thing I'd sought to sustain me since my earliest memories.
That wasn't love. That was the best effort of men raised on silence and addiction. That was the sweet desperation of women covering up for them. That was yearning and affection and misplaced confidences. But it wasn't the love we desired — and it wasn't the love we deserved.
The kind of love we deserve is letting you sleep in late when you've been up all night with the kids, making you a pecan pie from scratch when you're pregnant just because you're craving one, and massaging your shoulders when he sees how tense they are.
That kind of love is letting the oldest crawl in our bed at 4:50 in the morning, even though he's only four inches shorter than I am now.
That kind of love is laying with her long legs slung over my chest, her feet in my face, not moving even though I know I'll be sore in the morning because she's sleeping so soundly.
That kind of love is letting him have the biggest portion of the covers because he gets cold under the fan I insist on sleeping under, even if I do wake up in the morning with my teeth chattering.
That kind of love is cutting the grass for your uncle, and making dinner for your sister, and crying along with your broken-hearted cousin after an unexpected death.
That kind of love is never giving up, even when every other path looks greener, even when your own yard looks like scorched earth. That kind of love is sometimes saying yes when you'd really rather say no, or saying no and having that heard, and respected.
That kind of love is Saturday night Netflix marathons and the long dry spells of twice-a-month sex. That kind of love is our legs winding around each other in bed at night, an infinity circle of who we were, and who we are now, and who we'll be tomorrow.
It was never love that let us down. When I look in the mirror now, I never ask why I was unlovable, unworthy, unwanted — I only ask forgiveness for getting it wrong for so long.