The first time he said it, the words felt like they were being uttered in some ancient language.

“…and never forget that I love you.”

At the time, my definition of love was much flatter, more static. I had never really experienced it and couldn’t make peace with the idea of love being something that could last forever. Years of abuse at the hands of others and of my own doing had borne in me a cynic who had no belief in anything that intimate and lasting. But he kept saying it. I think it took three months before I ever told him that I loved him. I know now that I loved him well before that day, but it took that long for my brain, my heart, and my trust issues to come to a quorum.

He taught me what love was, what it meant, and how to do it. More important, he taught me that I deserved it. He ended every conversation we had with those seven words. Little did I know they would become the mantra that reminded me to breathe again after the tragic day that stole him from me. I couldn’t have known the peace those words would fill me with every day since.

Every time I say those words, I am speaking the incantation that returned life to my heart in the hope that someone who reads or hears them will take another long, deep breath and know they aren’t alone.

Even if we haven’t met, even if I don’t know your name, even if we have met and are no longer speaking, I love you. No matter what you’ve done, or what you’ve been through.

In July of 2022, after the loss of a precious man named David “bearbear” York, I have amended and updated the phrase. It now says:

Never forget that I love you, and that excludes no one.