Kalina Mladenova

Love. It is indescribable and unpredictable. It is peaceful and frantic, beautiful and painful, happy and sad, easy and hard. It is both the lightning that strikes during the storm and the rainbow at the end of it. Love is, well, love. 

I’m no expert on love. Then again, no one is. Love means different things for everyone. Some call it fate or destiny, while others call it hard work and patience. All I know is that I have been lucky enough to experience it. In fact, I have already had the greatest love of my life. 

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but even in my earliest memories of my mother, I knew it was love. At first, it was the little things that made me know. When we would bake together and I would inevitably end up with frosting smeared across my face and the kitchen covered in flour. When we would spend hours together playing Just Dance on the Wii, failing miserably at hitting the right moves, but succeeding in laughing so relentlessly that we’d find our abs sore the next day. I could sit on the couch with her in silence and still be the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.

The pure happiness and relief I felt when I saw her was unmatched. No matter what had happened she would never fail to melt my worries away. A smile or laugh from her was contagious, the best cure in the world. There was always this sense of security and contentment with her, a sense that I could not get from anyone else.

As I matured, I began to understand how thoughtful and compassionate she was. Every argument or fight always ended with her apologizing first, even when I was in the wrong. Once, we had a heated debate about her belief in the superiority of waffles. It ended with a homemade stack of pancakes in front of me, a peace offering, even though we both knew she was right about the true winner. I stopped taking everything she did for me for granted. She sacrificed everything for me: her mind, body and soul.

I was constantly in awe of her. The way she captured a room every time she walked into it. No matter how many people were there, the world stopped. It wasn’t because she wanted all eyes on her, but because she had her eyes on everyone else. She was always able to make people feel like they were the only person in the universe — that they were heard and important. And the thing is, to her, they truly were. She never forgot a story or the face that went with it. Everyone, even the construction worker paving the grocery store parking lot knew her name because she knew theirs.

One night we were watching the Oscars together, and the in memoriam part of the show came on. An intense feeling of dread washed over me. I had never really thought about death, or what it meant. I asked her what she thought happened when someone died. She said she didn’t know.

I felt a tightness in my chest — a response to the newfound panic in my head. Not because I found dying scary, but because the idea of losing my mother was unimaginable. I couldn’t even begin to think of a life without her. That is when I truly realized what she meant to me. I loved her with every fiber of my being.

The thing about love is that with it comes heartbreak. The greatest love of my life was my mom. She passed away a few years ago. It was heartbreaking. The kind that never really heals.

 

My mom grew up in Neptune Beach, Florida, right on the water. A year before she passed, we took a mother-daughter trip down there to help pack up my grandmama’s house. After a couple of long days that involved lots of cardboard boxes and trips to Goodwill, we decided to take a breather and go for a walk on the beach. We walked along the sand looking for shells and time got away from us. A snap of cold February water hit my feet as high tide met them. I let out a squeal and ran up towards the boardwalk, looking over my shoulder at the water chasing me. 

I saw my mom standing in the same exact position I had left her in, and watched her let the saltwater pool around her feet. I saw a glimmer in her eye and the corners of her mouth started to turn up. I knew what was coming. She turned on her heel and ran straight into the ocean, fully clothed, laughing and splashing as if she were a child once more. 

“Chicken!” she called back at me. “You’re not scared, are you?” she said, facetiously. I looked down at my long sleeve T-shirt and jeans, mentally preparing myself for what I was about to do. I sprinted towards her, clenching my teeth when the water hit every part of my body all at once.

We spent time diving under and floating over waves as they came to us. Years before, she had taught me how to read approaching waves at the very same spot. I remembered being scared to dive through the big ones at first. Eventually I had gotten up the courage to try. Somehow, all of those years later, I still remembered what she had said: “You know, most of the things I love in life start out a little bit scary.”

I told her she’d said this as we were walking back up the boardwalk on Magnolia Street, soaking wet. She cracked a joke about how wise she was, but then she stopped and looked at me a little more seriously. A warm breeze swept her hair away as it touched her face, revealing the gold speckles in her blue eyes, “What I said is true, though. And, in your heart of hearts, you will never run out of love to give. Especially, if you’ve learned how to love to live.”

I loved her more than anyone else in the entire world, and I still do. After losing her I didn’t think I would ever love so deeply again.

 

Until I did. I don’t know if it was destiny or fate. The best way that I have found to describe it is through a Japanese term, “Koi No Yokan.” This phrase — difficult to translate into English — represents the feeling upon meeting someone that you will inevitably fall in love with them.

I know she would have loved him. In fact, sometimes he reminds me of her. The way that he is always able to make me laugh and how people always like him. The way that he feels the need to always be okay so that everyone else is. The way I can see through his eyes into his soul, and how brilliant his mind is. I even hear her in his appreciation of little things in life, like the beauty of a bright yet unawake morning or the peace in untouched snow. 

 It isn’t just in him. I see her in my brother’s smile and my sister’s walk. My cousin has her sense of humor and my uncle, her wisdom. I sense her in one of my best friend’s thoughts and in the twinkle of the other’s eyes. I think of her when I hear the rush of the ocean, look out at a breathtaking view from the peak of a mountain or laugh at the stars above. 

I believe, through her, I’ve begun to learn how to love to live. For me, that has come in the form of living to love. When my mom died, all that was left of her was a whole lot of love. So I take that love she left me and I give it away as much as I can because I know that’s what she would have wanted.

I don’t know what exactly love is. But I know how it feels, and I know that it’s out there. It can be scary sometimes, but then again most of the best things in life are. I know that there is always more love in this world, if we can only find it in our hearts of hearts to give.

Katherine Williams | kate.williams@yale.edu