44: Love in Four Panels

44: Love in Four Panels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Love in Four Panels

You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.

~Author Unknown

I can tell you the exact second I realized just how much my mother loved me. Of course, I knew she loved me in that same abstract sort of way that everyone knows their parents love them, but I had never given it any thought past that. Some days I believed ours was a case more of happy coexistence than any sort of deep love.

After I graduated from college, finally moving back home, I found that I was drowning in books. My years away at school had led to the accumulation of more and more books, and so by the time I came back, my shelves were overflowing and in a state of total chaos. Fiction was not alphabetized, reference books were stacked under chairs, thin volumes of poetry and plays were stashed between brick-sized novels. Things had gotten so out of hand over the years that I wasn’t even all that sure what titles I had. So I decided that that summer I would do a massive inventory, cataloging and filing and properly shelving every book I owned.

This turned out to be a much bigger job than I had initially anticipated. I threw my house into an even greater state of chaos as I meticulously wrote down all the information about every book, placing each in temporary stacks and shelves, wherever I could find a flat surface. One night I set out to manage one of the more difficult tasks of my inventory madness: cataloging all the comic books.

As a young child, I read comic books almost exclusively. Not the kind about superheroes, but the kind that you could read in the newspaper. Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or For Worse, Garfield, every Bloom County book ever made. I sat on my bedroom floor, feeling nostalgic as I flipped through them. I had read every one of them multiple times, over and over till I practically had them all memorized.

One of my mother’s favorite rules of parenting was, “Let a child read whatever they want, because at least they’re reading something.” It had proven to be a good way of looking at things, since I had grown up to become an avid, if not obsessive, reader of books of all shapes, sizes, and genres. In fact, books were probably what I loved more than anything else on earth. And all my love for books could be traced back to hours spent reading comics. They taught me to love reading, but also taught me how to have a sense of humor about my life and myself, which was another thing that my mother strongly believed everyone should have if they wanted to navigate the world with as little self-loathing as possible.

I smiled at yet another pocket book, Wizard of Id, as I set it aside and glanced at my papers. I was up to nearly 400 comic books, 175 of which were pocket books, fragile little things with yellowed pages from the 1960s that somehow had managed to survive my childhood. And that was when it occurred to me that I hadn’t bought a single one of them. My mother had.

This fact was so obvious to me that I wondered how I never thought about it until then.

Why had I never noticed? All the Christmas gifts made up of rectangular packages? We had never been a very wealthy family, and as I sat in my room adding things up in my head, I was staggered by the amount of money my mother must have spent in her crusade to make me love reading. Out of the 1,164 books I owned, nearly all of them were bought by my mother. She could never turn me down when I asked for a book, always willing to buy whatever title had caught my eye that week. We spent hours in the bookstore in the mall, me excitedly awaiting the new Lemony Snicket book or the next Garfield treasury. So much time, so much money, so many stacks of paper and ink, many of which had changed me, made me the woman I am now.

Never in my life had I ever been so aware of just how much my mother loved me.

While I sat on the floor surrounded by the printed evidence of my mother’s love, I heard her footsteps in the hall.

“Hey, what do you want for dinner?” She stopped in my doorway, staring down at me looking shell-shocked, surrounded by towers of comic books. “What on earth are you doing?”

“You bought all of these for me.”

“Yeah?” she said, not quite understanding what I was getting at.

“Nearly every book I own, you bought for me.”

“Well of course I did,” she said. “You liked to read them.”

We weren’t the most demonstrative people, rarely baring our hearts in any way to anyone. But even if my mother never said “I love you” to me a single time out loud for the rest of my life, I knew she loved me. I had 1,164 I-love-you’s, all sorted by genre and alphabetized, thousands of pages of evidence to remind me of her love.

So a few months later, when I opened a birthday present and found yet another book, I smiled, and thought to myself: “I love you, too.”

~Karen Wilson

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