memories: the porch / by Carey Pace

Words have always been tiny sacred vessels to me, from the time I was a young child. Words of sentimentality don't leave my lips flippantly. Love is real and strong and powerful and should not be mentioned casually. When I confess words of deep affection or care, I mean them and mean them deeply. Do I have a tendency to exaggerate? Yes, I do. Do I have a tendency towards being reactionary when something triggers my anger? Most certainly and rather vehemently. But when it comes to expressing heart felt words, real and true LOVE, from my earliest days, I have been bound to a law of truth. 

Trying to defy that law was like trying to defy a law of nature such as gravity, or buoyancy, or the force exerted between two magnets of opposite poles. I always loved to play with magnets as a child. I would press them together, feeling and experimenting with that invisible force repelling them apart. No matter how many times you tried, the force never weakened, never ceased. I loved to press up against that force, reveling in that steadfast source of strength.

Speaking words of endearment that my heart did not accurately feel yielded that same sense of repelling I felt between the magnets. If I didn’t feel the sentiment, I couldn’t utter it. I was physically unable to do so. Like trying to hold a ball underwater, truth would always break free and come bursting through the surface.

My grandparents lived on Plateau Road in Asheville. It was a 50s ranch home situated in a beautifully maintained area of town. However it had an unusual feature: there was a patio off, not the rear, but the front of the home. When my dad was growing up there, the photos show the shrubbery was young and small. But when I visited as a child, it was mature and dense, completely enclosing the sitting patio that housed a swinging bench and a table and chairs. It always felt secret and dark with a tinge of surreptitious. It was a secret world that passersby had no access to and would not be privy to its goings on. It could have been a sanctuary in a world with little privacy among homes crammed into neighborhoods, but it never felt that way to me. I always yearned to remove those bushes and let the Light in, expose the truth. There was always a tension to it.

That patio is the setting for my first memory of being aware of being bound to a law of truth with my words. I was around five years old. Old enough to know better but not too old to be punished. My dad had brought our family to visit my grandparents there at Plateau Road. It was time to leave and we stepped out onto the private front patio to say our ritualistic and expected goodbyes: hugs and utterances of “I love you”. I felt that law of truth pressing on my core. It came to be my turn and my grandfather had said to me “I love you” but I didn’t reply. How could I? I didn’t feel those words, and those words hold power. How could I speak something so profoundly meaningful if I didn’t really feel the sentiment? And so I stood there, mute.  

I cannot recall the exact punishment I received, whether it was just a good verbal lashing both there and in the car on the long ride home or whether it involved a hearty spanking as well. But I remember making the choice, and sticking to it despite strong urgings otherwise, to hold my ground. I didn’t FEEL it, and so I didn’t say it. What is a little strange is that I’m not sure why I couldn’t do it - my granddad was always good to me and played with us. Why did I feel like I couldn’t say I loved him?

Parenting experts say that you cannot MAKE a child do anything - they either choose to or not to do things. We can encourage them to make certain choices based on the consequences, but ultimately, we are each to our own free will as to what we do or say. I think that 1980s day, while I literally stood on the secret, private patio, I decided to figuratively stand up. It was the first day of realizing, “No. No, you cannot make me. I am my own person, and I can endure the ugly consequences of this choice. It is worth the risk. I will not give what I do not feel. It is too sacred.”

I have always had a strange hesitation at saying those simple words 'I love you’ when I didn’t feel it. During my teen years and through college, saying it to general people became a very popular and common thing. I loathed it. My heart would yearn to cry foul when I’d hear it. I wanted to yell “No you DON’T! Do you know what that MEANS? That isn’t what you FEEL. Do not use that word in vain.” I never did, though. Over time, particularly with social media, it has become even easier to say it without meaning it. Someone does something you like or enjoy and you easily comment “I love you.” I’ve even done it myself, violating my inner truth force. What you mean, however, is that you really enjoy the person, are amused by or feel entertainment at the person. But you don’t LOVE them.  

I cannot explain why I feel so strongly about Love. Perhaps growing up in a home that was so misguided about what love really is and means is the cause. Perhaps it is just a function of my particular personality with a tinge of first born achiever mixed in. Who can say? I delayed having children because I feared I wouldn’t be able to raise them well, and I would perpetuate the cycle instead of break it. That fear was unfounded, though. I feel overwhelming love for my children - it is love so strong I feel I cannot stand under the weight of it. I love my husband fiercely. If I have told you that I love you, please know that I mean it. I mean it with every fiber of my being.