Love is a dumb and dangerous word. People misuse the word more than any other in the dictionary. “I LOVE this apple, don’t you?” or “I just LOVE this shirt!” but do they actually mean it? Most people don’t understand the actual definition of love. I do, which is why it frustrates me so much when people say that they love each other when they don’t. I know for a fact they don’t. And don’t even get me started when people say they are “in love” with someone else. That phrase is destroyed by couples that say how they are “in love” with someone after a month of texting. They don’t and never will understand the true meaning of love.
How do I know what the word means? Joseph Bryant is the reason why, he was my third grade sweetheart. When we played tag during recess, he always went out of his way to tag me to be it. We would always walk in line together and sometimes when the teacher wasn’t looking, we would hold hands. He always shared his colored pencils and markers with me. He is the reason why I can do basic maths and he is the reason why I can count to 10 in Spanish. He is also the reason why I know the true definition of love.
You might be thinking, ‘You were in third grade, you didn’t know any better,’ but I did. One day when we were getting ready to go outside, Joseph pulled me out of line to go get a drink with him. I was nervous that I would get in trouble, but with Joseph, I knew I was safe. I followed him to the drinking fountain where I would have the conversation that I will remember forever.
I thought Joseph was going to kiss me or tell me that he wanted me to be his girlfriend, I remember having butterflies in my stomach and wondering what my mother would say if I had to tell her that I got myself a boyfriend. But I soon snapped back into reality once Joseph told me that he had cancer. Being in the third grade, I didn’t really know what cancer was. I jumped up and screamed and shouted and said “Oh my goodness, congratulations Joey!” but soon after my exclamation, I realized my reaction was inappropriate. Joseph then explained to me what cancer was and that he wasn’t even sure what it meant but that his mom said he wouldn’t be feeling good and he would have to spend a lot of time in the hospital. His mother also told him that he would soon have to stop going to school, which meant I would not see him anymore, which meant I would have to find a new best friend and crush. I didn’t know how to respond correctly so I just hugged him, for a very long time. As we were hugging, he whispered to me, “I love you, Charlotte Rose,” and gave me a peck on the cheek. Just as he was pulling away, our class returned from recess outside, forcing me to snap back into reality once again.
Later that day, my mother picked me up from school and asked how my day was. I started the conversation with, “Same old, same old. Lunch was gross and the kids are mean and smelly.” But then I remembered my conversation with Joseph so I asked my mother, “What is cancer?” and immediately she started crying. Joey’s mother had contacted my mother earlier in the day, making her aware of the current situation. “Oh honey, it means Joseph will be very sick for a long time. I talked to his mother and she’s going to make sure that we can set up dates where if Joseph is feeling okay, you can visit him in the hospital.” It took a second, I remember, for everything to set in. I would be losing my best friend and I didn’t know how to respond. I was angry and upset and so confused; what did Joseph ever to deserve this? He always shared with others and he always did his homework! He was also my best friend and I thought at the time, he would be my future husband as well.
Three years went by. Three painful years of visiting Joseph every single day in the hospital. Well, almost everyday; sometimes he was too sick for me to visit. Joseph ended up having a Wilms tumor, a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. He held on for longer than any of the doctors or nurses thought he would. Despite his condition, he would have flowers everyday in his room for me and he would always thank me for visiting even though I always told him that it wasn’t necessary and that there wasn’t anywhere else I would rather be.
I think why I fell in love with Joseph was because he wasn’t afraid of the unknown, and of course because his mom bought the smelly markers and he would let me borrow them. But Joseph was also the strongest person I’ve ever met. Even if he was in complete pain, he would always have a smile on his face.
Joseph passed away after those three years. He fought against his disease every single day. Maybe that’s why I loved him; he knew things were not going to get better, yet he still tried. He struggled and watching him struggle was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But towards the end, I could see him slowing down. He would grin instead of smile from ear to ear when I would come to see him. Our conversations would get shorter and that lead to his breaths getting shorter which then lead to his days getting shorter. Being so young, I was intrigued by someone who was so sick, but managed to try and stay the same person. Joseph did everything he could to hide his struggling from those around him because he knew it would upset us, which it did. On his last day, when he was really having a hard time, the nurses warned us that Joseph might not be getting better and the hospital was only able to do so much to help him. I went over to his bed and whispered, “I love you, Joseph Michael,” and went home for the night, knowing that my murmur of love would most likely be the last words that I would exchange with my best friend.
I would not ever cry more than I did that night. Loving someone that is gone forever is one of the hardest things you can do. You can still love them, but you can never hear their laugh again or see their smile or hold their hand. You can just try and remember how everything felt with them to the best of your ability but everyone knows it won’t ever be the same. Nothing will be the same, ever.
And Joseph Bryant, my fifth grade sweetheart, is the reason why I know the true definition of love.