At the age of seven, I came to a most damaging though perhaps truthful conclusion: love is not always enough. Like most kids my age, I paid no attention to my parents’ relationship. They hugged, they kissed, and it was “icky.” Sometimes they held hands, but they always held my brother and sisters’ hands too so we wouldn’t feel excluded. All I saw was a happy family that loved each other. I was not privy to the late night arguments secretly conducted out of earshot. I didn’t understand that mom’s working later and later was not because she was being forced to work more, or that when my dad slept on the couch, it wasn’t because he had fallen asleep watching television. It was because of all the alcohol. When all was revealed, it came as a huge blow, and my mind could not comprehend it all. What was divorce? If they loved each other, why couldn’t they make up like my siblings and I did after a fight? There couldn’t possibly be a problem so big that it couldn’t be fixed. Obviously they were just giving up without even trying. Clearly people could let go of all they shared when it became too much to handle and forget that they loved each other.
This wasn’t, however, what I had been taught and so confusion began to fog my thoughts. My family, like most, could be labeled a Disney family. We had every fairy tale memorized, every movie ever made, and even the books that went along with them. I had been raised on the stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Each one embodied the same idea: true love conquers all. Cinderella’s prince didn’t quit just because she ran away; he searched an entire kingdom for her. Both princes from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White had to kiss seemingly dead girls to bring them back to life. My father was not a “true” prince, but every little girl sees her father as this ideal man who can do anything and make every injury better. And my mother was as beautiful as any princess with jewelry and fancy clothing. Surely if Prince Philip could fight a dragon for Aurora, my dad could fight whatever demon was splitting him apart from my mom. And my mom, in return, would act like a princess and try her hardest to fight for love.
But she didn’t fight for love, and he didn’t overcome the dragon. And now, more than ten years later, I find myself thinking more and more about their failed relationship and how it affected me. I was, for many years, cynical about love and relationships. I didn’t date and scoffed at my friends’ claims that they had found “the one.” But in my thoughts, I was bitter and jealous. I desperately longed for the type of relationship I thought my parents had once had, for the true love of fairy tales. All that I thought I knew conflicted with all that I thought I wanted. I wish I could say that I had a brilliant moment of clarity or an epiphany that suddenly helped me to make sense of it all, or that I have come to understand the immense complexity that is love, but I cannot. What I can say, however, is that they did have love, but they lacked the heart.
It is odd to consider having love without having heart, but all my measly experience with love has brought me to this. You see, the fairy tale characters all had the love, just like my parents, but they also had the heart. What exactly is heart? It is that extra something that makes you act on your feelings of love. Some may call it courage or insanity, perhaps even a complete abandonment of rational thinking in an attempt to achieve the most irrational human emotion. In the simplest terms, it is the determination to seek out and fight for love, no matter the cost. Love may be the deepest most unfathomable emotion known to man, but without the heart, it can never last.We must be willing to give all in order to gain all, and some people never find the inspiration to do just that. My parents are all the proof I need.
So maybe they loved each other. In fact, there is no maybe; they were deeply in love. But when the time came for battle, they both found that they lacked the heart, and they found themselves fighting with each other instead of fighting for each other. I cannot save what has already been lost, but I can fight for what is yet to come. I will strive to learn from past mistakes in order to overcome my cynicism so that, when I finally find love, I will have the heart to make it mine.
Maggie McLinden is a junior from Louisville, Ohio, majoring in Integrated Language Arts/English Education.