Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Growing Pains and Relentless Pursuit

It seems like all I did was blink and Victoria was 14 years old. The 10 pound, 6 1/2 ounce baby with a full head of dark brown hair came promptly into our lives at 8:19 on a Tuesday morning, March 3, 1998, and I was a brand new person too.  In a family whose strength had endured some most delicate situations, Victoria Ruth was our rainbow, our symbol of God's promise that love perserveres and love prevails.  For months I had anticipated and hoped for a baby brother but today I wouldn't trade my baby sister for anything because I had never, never in my life loved the way I love that girl - selflessly, relentlessly - and even now, when my world seems to be coming apart at the seams, she inspires me to hold on.

I remember vividly the day she was born, the day she ccame home from the hospital, her first pigtails, her tiny voice calling me "Anja," her first day of kindergarten and the many milestones between then and now.  Still, somehow I never anticpated Victoria being a Freshman in high school  Now, as I watch her struggle through her 14 year old angst and boldy challenge -defy, even - the long-standing "No-Dating-Until-You're-16" Hernandez family rule, I consider how despite our near 17-year aged difference, Victoria has always taught me more than I could ever offer to her.  And she did it, as she always has, with a couple of simple, poignant statements:  "Life is hard.  Sometimes I just need someone."

My first instinct is to tell her that she doesn't need anyone.  I want to tell her that she is a strong, capable, intelligent, beautiful, independent girl.  She can do anything.  The world is hers to take.  Life hasn't even begun for her.  Fourteen is just the beginnng. She must learn above all to love and respect and have confidence in herself and the rest will come in time.  I want to tell her the words I most wanted to hear at fourteen, "Everything will be okay." 

Victoria, though, has never lacked for self-respect or confidence.  At 5'8" tall as a freshman in high school, Victoria has been nearly a head taller than her peers since she HAD peers.  She has always worn her length boldly.  Everything about her is bold and confident, from the way she wears that coveted defect, a dimple in her left cheek; to the way she accepted her role as the baby in a family of adults; to the way she walks the halls of her schools both new and old. 

But Victoria is right, life is hard.  Life will push you around and throw you curves and will bear its weight down on even the lightest and freest of spirits and lead us to do things we never thought we would do.  I know I owe Victoria that conversation.  I should sit her down and say to her, "Life will never stop being hard.  Life will never stop throwing you curves.  I wish I could tell you it will.  But along the way you will learn to take those curves and that's all you can do.  In the meantime, you have to learn that all you need is you." 

I know the truth in what I write, but I can't help but admire Victoria's vulnerability.  Victoria has always loved freely, has always been more affectionate than the rest of the family, has always been more comfortable expressing her feelings than the rest of us.  Where so many people fear labels like, "desparate" or "co-dependent" or "diaper baby," Victoria has always just been unafraid to love, and unafraid to seek love. 

At heart I think I've always been very much like Victoria.  My place as the oldest of four children meant I wouldn't always get the affection that I craved.  My willingness to open my heart as an adult, only to have it wounded, left me scarred and jaded. 

"You're always looking too hard," says Elise.  "Just relax, and let it happen."  I took the words to mean that I am desparate myself and afraid to be alone.  I know, though, that I can be alone and I'll be fine.  I just don't want to be.  And I don't want to be ashamed to admit that.  I seek love, we all do.  It is one of our most base desires and we try to find it, or its substitute, in ways that can seem irrational or in things that can never measure up but it is our nature to look for love and acceptance. 

In recent weeks the same person has appeared in my dreams many, many times.  The dreams lack any sort of plot, and this person, this "he" has just sort of been there, woven into my life.  I wondered what he was doing there until one day it struck me that it wasn't who he is, but what he represents.  I want love and romance again.  Passion and heat will always be romantic to me but now love translates to me as stability, consistency, and trust that even my own vulnerability won't frighten love away.  I want companionship.  I want to look beside me, confident that love will be there. 

Sometimes we do just need someone.  I feel greedy, knowing I have two parents who love me unconditionally, sisters and a brother who are my closest friends, as well as an abundance of people that I am blessed to call friends too.  I feel foolish sometimes too, for the times I've offered my own heart to people who didn't want it when I already have people who care.  For all the love I have in my life, I want more. Love is something I want too much to quit trying for. 

Among life's difficulties, Victoria cited losing her nephew Gabriel.  Loving him was a risk, one I couldn't imagine NOT taking, one she took with trepidation.  For all the differences in our experiences with Gabriel, I don't think either of us can imagine missing the chance to love him.  I don't think either of us has any regrets.  Because if there's one more thing both of us know about life, it is that life is short.  Life is too short to not love with all that you have.

I am disappointed in the way that Victoria has chosen to challenge the dating rule.  She has abused the trust that we placed in her.  I also think she is a still a minor who broke the rules - and the rules can't bend just because SHE decided they should. As disappointed as I am, as hurt as I am that she didn't feel like she could talk freely with me, my parents, Monica or Timothy, I can't dismiss her attempts as just the coniving activities of a teenager in puppy love.  Love at 14 is every bit as real for her as it is for me at 31.  I admire her tenacity.  I hope I will never be afraid to engage in the relentless pursuit of love. 

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