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Love of a stoic.

Up early this morning because the sweet young man came home about 2:30 AM from his Saturday night endeavors.

I was the recipient and witness to an unexpected and spontaneous beautiful (to me) if somewhat gutwrenching confession of love and appreciation from him.

Of all the young people who have stayed with me in the last three years, this young man is notably gentle and sweet, if tough and stoic. To some people, he also may appear intimidating and menacing. He's had a tough few years (starting before we met) and though I've done things for him, I've done many things for the other young people as well. I've known that he feels fondly and grateful to me for what I've tried to do to help him though he struggles deeply to deal with his life and regain stability.

I'll call this young man, "Nino." (Not his real name.)

Tonight's unexpected confession - which he felt utterly embarrassed about since he's a stoic - came up because he had a recurrence of a health issue that I have been worried about. Lately, he has been suffering from unexpected allergy symptoms from food despite eating a variety of foods, even though he's eaten much of these same foods before. As we talked, I badgered Nino as usual to take steps to get appropriate medical care and related. My style is usually a heavy dose of tough love and often a caustic attitude, but it is a style that works for me and maintains the emotional wall of safety that I need (and often they need).

As we talked, I started to hammer him particularly harshly about his recent lack of follow up to monitor his eating and take steps to seek medical care (find a doctor, go to an ER, etc.). Frankly, Nino admitted to being scared as some of his symptoms seem to approach a full blown anaphylactic shock though fortunately had gone away or lessened in intensity suddenly. We had talked for almost an hour from the time he came home (and accidentally woke me up). At that point in our conversation, I was getting more irritated and harsh even as I worried.

And then, the damn broke.

He had started to struggle in saying things, then I noticed that he bent his head down and started to rub his eyes. It was several seconds before I realized that he was quietly sobbing and then he started to speak.

Over the next 15+ minutes, he quietly and intensely confessed his appreciation to me for how much I cared about him, how he felt about all the things I've tried to do for him, and just that fundamentally (strange to me and surprising, but made sense) I make him happy.

Hearing him say all this to me, in so many ways, was just a "wow" moment. I admit that hearing his gutwrenching confession of affection and devotion to me was absolutely weird, but appreciated. Nino truly struggled to articulate what he felt about me, but he struggled with his own embarrassment in confessing all this while feeling compelled that he felt obligated to share how he felt despite his inadequacy on this.

During this time - and we're not big huggers - I gave him a hug and he hugged back intensely. We hugged a few more times as he talked. I remember hugging him almost two years ago after a bit of a crisis and though he definitely gave me a warm hug then, it wasn't like the hugs we exchanged today.

I knew this all along about him, but this was that rare moment in which he revealed his emotional vulnerabilities and struggles. Also significantly, Nino also confirmed to me that he's struggled with some elements of suicidality, depression, and despair. For me, part of the difficulty here is that it reminds me how intensely vulnerable and dependent this young stoic is on me. To realize that I really do make him feel "happy" which he hasn't experienced in a long time also adds to me sense of responsibility towards him (and even the other kids who are far less able to articulate and share things).

It is odd to hear directly that I make a real if intangible difference in these kids' hearts. Hard and scary for me, too. It confirms how little these kids get, often in a long, long time (and tragically for a few, what they often have NEVER gotten in their entire, brief lives till now).

Though I rarely say it directly - perhaps because I don't like being too overtly mushy - I love these kids. I love Nino. One of the girls is pretty overt about saying to me, "I love you" and so I'll reciprocate saying it, if reluctantly (though I feel it). A few of them know I have great concern for them, but they often need to hear someone say to them, genuinely, "I love you, baby," or related. It may seem cliche, but too many kids haven't been loved and cared about for so long, that little things like this can make them melt. And so, though I've rarely heard the words initiated by others for myself in my own life, I struggle and make myself say it. Every so often, it comes out of me spontaneously.

I care about them, but despite the care and concern, I get heartsick over needing to limit what I can do to protect my own frequently fragile emotional and mental health.

As unexpected, it was a wonderful emotional outpouring I received, even if Nino still feels bashful about it at this point.

Thanks, Nino. I still love you even if were unstoic for several minutes.

Lois Carmen D.
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