I was going to post this on Valentine’s Day, but I had trouble writing it.
It all started with a boy named Daniel.
My mother’s husband’s parents were foster parents, and he was one of their foster kids. We related to each other, in that we adored art to the point that my step-grandmother/his foster mom got us each a small, rectangular storage box full of roll-on glue, a pair of scissors, a box of crayons and colored pencils, some stamp markers, and more.
When I was over there (usually because I was being babysat whilst my mom wanted to feel like a teen again), Daniel and I would play in the backyard. We looked for grasshoppers and made our own community for bugs in the Radio Flyer wagon, putting torn grass and wildflowers, and random sticks on the bed of the wagon. Since I found crickets gross, he’d pick them up and move them elsewhere for me. He taught me how to find and capture grasshoppers: cover them with your hand like a dome, then lower it.
Once, we saw a small black spider with white dots, and he picked it up and let it crawl all over his hand. “It’s going to kill you!” I yelled.
Calmly, he replied, “It’s fine,” but once I went into full-on freakout mode, he smiled at me and stood, walked to a far away part of the yard and kneeled down against the grass. When he came back, he said, “All gone.”
A few times, he asked me about my stepfather. I was scared to answer at first, but then he’d opened up about why he was in foster care. I caved and started talking about my home life, and I remember how fast his face fell and how sorrowful his “oh” was, how quiet we were for a bit thereafter, and then how he said, “At least I’m here.”
The next time I visited him and we played in the yard, he picked up some flowers and held them out to me. “I’m not sure how to do this, but will you marry me?”
I said yes.
We prepared our bug community, and he made rings out of torn grass and wildflowers. The dogs were in the front yard, separated from the backyard by a fence and the gate. We pulled the wagon over to them, because Daniel said we needed witnesses.
Then we were married. We said “I do” to each other after we each asked the other if we wanted to marry, and then he kissed my cheek. I blushed.
That Christmas holiday—when we got the art kits—he told me he’d just learned he was leaving. I don’t remember if he was going back to family or being adopted, but I do know I cried on the way home. They wouldn’t let us hug each other at first, but then one said, “Oh, what’s the harm?”
As he hugged me, he slipped something into my pocket and whispered, “Open it when you’re alone and need me.”
I opened the note up in the van right after buckling and smiled. “He loves me!” I didn’t mean to say it aloud, but I did, and sure enough it resulted in scoffs and laughs from my mother and her husband.
“He doesn’t love you,” he said. “You’re just kids. What do you know about love?”
Looking back, I can see where they were coming from, but…I know to this day, after experiencing love and knowing what love is, that that was love for Daniel and me. The you-don’t-know-love argument is one for another post, but…love is an experience—not a thing—and when I think of my ultimate first love, I think back to Daniel. He loved me and saw me and understood me when I felt no one else did. He made me feel safe and was patient, and maybe the only “love” we did which my guardians deemed real was that one kiss on the cheek, but…I don’t care.
He was my saving grace during a time when I had no one on my side.