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  • ZahliaBreaux

Always Say "I Love You, Too"

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

It was Monday, June 17th, during summer break of 2007. I was fourteen years old and, like all the other kids in the family, I was at my Nanny’s house in Birmingham, Alabama for the summer. I didn’t tell my father goodbye before leaving Jacksonville to head to Nanny’s.

My mother, who was seeing a man named Tim, had just left Sunday. I remember coming down into the kitchen and my very English Nanny, who never outwardly displayed any emotion, looked me in the eye and told me, “I’ll never not say I love you back. If you ever tell me, I’m gonna say it right back.”

Okay, Nanny, whatever. Love you, too. I ate my cereal and thought nothing more of it.

In walks…my mother? You have to work Mondays, I thought to myself. I was completely confused, but looking for every good excuse as to why she’s back. My fragile, innocent mind couldn’t fathom reality, so I began asking silly questions like, “did Tim propose to you?! Are we moving?! Did we get a new dog?!” You know, all things an excitable fourteen-year-old girl would ask. “I wish it were that simple,” mom says as she walks me up the stairs into the room where my sister, Briana, was still sleeping.

She woke Briana, sat us both on the edge of the bed, put one hand on each of our knees and said, (and these words I will never forget...)

“There’s been an accident…and your father was killed.”

As she was finishing the sentence, my body was already pulling in the breath to collapse. As the word “killed” left her lips, I was sent sailing across the room in a frenzy of panic, fear, and anger. It was later revealed to my sister and me that he was shot in the head. She tells me to this day she still remembers the sound of me screaming, and that it’s a sound a mother will never forget.

The next thing I know, I’m being held by my grandfather, the stern war veteran that, like his wife, showed no emotion. Although he held this exterior all other moments of my life, my grandfather was collapsing with me. The man who fathered his grandchildren, his old friend, is dead.

Even with everything I was feeling, I still couldn't help but notice Briana... still sitting on the bed. Stunned. Motionless. Whenever you lose someone close to you, you also lose a piece of yourself. A piece of Briana died that day. It's a sight a sister will never forget.

I didn’t say goodbye to my father when I left for Nanny’s. I had just got in a fight with him over the phone about that, too. This isn’t something that I’ve held onto, though. Do I regret my last conversation with my father being a fight? Sure. Am I glad that I got to have that conversation with him…even if it was him yelling at me? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

I now understand why Nanny was explaining to me that she’d always say it back. Ever since then, she hasn’t hesitated to tell me she loves me, too. Not once.