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Understanding the Love I Deserved

“Knock knock,” my father whispers while he creeps open my bedroom door. He delivers a plate of sliced apples and mangoes to me as I try to focus on what my history teacher is lecturing on. I had no idea what she was saying, but I ate as much as I could; I had already been spending the rest of my day studying.

He always knew when I was famished, and catered just what I needed most. He was available each time I needed to be picked up from school because I wasn’t feeling well, and was patient to wait when I was stuck in school, planning prom. Even though he had a stern look on his face because I had interrupted him from his work.

My mother scolded me when needed because she wanted to make sure I was my favorite character in my drama — not just the main protagonist. She’d make my favorite foods, even when I mumble “I’m craving bánh xèo” under my breath, and she’d help me navigate the weaves of homework, friend group drama, and boys.

The Disney and Nickelodeon shows I grew up watching had to have the protagonist showing their love interest a grand parade of love, even if it just was to ask them out to Homecoming. I wanted that kind of love — gifts, words of affirmation, and full-blown, extravagant expressions — because this is what I thought love was, either from their love interest or their supporting parents. Love had to be shown in a specific manner in these shows, but this manner wasn’t the way I was taught love was. “I love you” had to be said for the relationship to work, and for that, I questioned my parents’ love for me.

All of the criticizing, the scolding, and the patience was the gray space between tolerating me and being tired of all of my nonsense. The absence of the verbal “I love you” hurt me, because I was used to what was on TV and what my taken friends were saying to each other. My mom and dad were hard on me — they needed me to keep my As, be kind to others, and stay humble. Unfortunately, this made me scared of them, and it closed off to their means of affection.