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  • Iris Sirendi

A response to, i love you

When I was little, I couldn't go to sleep without individually saying "I love you" to every person in the house. It was a special promise that no matter what happened through the night, it would be okay because they knew that I loved them. As an adult, I now know that this compulsion was an intrusive thought, a symbol of anxiety that bubbled up and up until the bottle cap flew off in my early teenage years. Well over 10 years later, it's the same feeling of dread that always makes me say "Get home safe" to my friends before they leave, as though saying it would absolve me of any guilt lest the worst happened, even though I'm well aware that this is not how the world works. I never feel grounded, no matter how many times I check 5 things I can see, 4 I can touch, 3 I can hear, 2 I can smell, 1 I can taste. I'm a massive hypochondriac and far too well acquainted with WebMD. If a staff member acknowledges my existence, I can't leave a shop, even a giant supermarket, without buying anything, because I feel guilty for wasting their time, or embarrassed that someone saw me come in and leave without buying anything, or afraid that they think that I'm shoplifting when I'm actually just cutting through the big Sainsbury's because it's 10 at night and dark and I'm a five-foot-tall woman. If I ever talk about someone hurting my feelings, I put my phone on airplane mode, because I'm absolutely riddled with paranoia about accidentally ringing them or recording them and having them hear every single thing I just said about them. In a lot of ways, I'm still the same kid that repeated "Ma armastan sind" to my mum 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times if I had to until she finally said it back and my heart could stop racing.

My grandmother is the opposite. She is calm and collected and stoic, so genuinely unphased about the universe around her. To Memmi, the microcosmic bubble of her own life is all that matters. She taught Estonian for over five decades, well past her pension age- because she wanted to, but also because she was raising my older brother and sister. Her husband, my grandfather, passed away from a horrible battle with cancer 7 years ago. I only found out when I was 18 that he'd been a raging alcoholic and that Memmi busied herself with grandchildren and work and baking and Solitaire and cats and gardening as a distraction. When I asked her why she stayed with him, her response was typical of her. "It is what it is. I don't have regrets. I'm old now. I have my cats, I go to the theatre, I go traveling with Tiiu in the summer (her sister). But my life's been lived. It is what it is." She is the bravest woman that I have ever known, and the more I learn about her from speaking to her, and from others, it's only reaffirmed. She can truly weather a storm. Against the expansive backdrop of all the things that could ever go wrong that I constantly feel consumed by, she is my constant. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely anxious. That part of me might never leave. But I don't have to say "I love you" to every person in the house when I go to sleep anymore, a habit she remembers all too well. But when I see her, I sleep better knowing I've said good night, sweet dreams. It's our silent "I love you". It's our special promise that no matter what happens through the night, it will be okay, because I know that she loves me.

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