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Love is...a verb

By Darleen Hunzinger

PROMPT — What is Love?

How do you love someone

and cringe

at the sound of their voice

all at the same time...

When that person

has leapt

from her wheelchair

and stood

eyes blazing

body rigid and shaking

voice reverberating off the walls

as she exploded into rage

in front of her neurologist

who, after quietly observing

her behavior

then turned to you

gave you

a penetrating look

and said

we'll fix that...

followed by, you call me anytime you need help

When you've had to call her neurologist

because that person

fired a malevolent stare

at her grandson

as she shoved a full size

sectional couch

out of her way

and hissed

I'll kill you!

when he didn't jump up

and readjust the window blinds

to her satisfaction

When you've had to intervene because that person

with eyes laser focused

on her doctor

was growling deep in her throat

coiled and ready to spring

as her doctor continued

to tell her

she needed to lose weight

When you've had to change cars

and move that person

to the backseat

because, along with her repertoire

of grabbing your right arm

the wiper control

and your visor

she has hit you

in the head

now, since she can no longer reach you

she pounds the back of the seat

while she yells at you

when you don't turn

or change lanes

at her command

When that person has blamed you for everything in her life

that makes her unhappy

and is a master manipulator

trying to come between you

and your husband

when those attempts failed

trying the same thing

with your husband and his brother


until she achieved success

with certain friends and family somehow convincing them

there was nothing wrong with her and sparking their anger

with you

for medicating her

taking away her car keys

and moving her to a group home

When two days

after you move her in

that person has called

your sister-in-law

and announced her intention

of running away

forcing the group home

to go on lock-down

When that person

has strategized a second plan

for she and another lady

who had been content

in the home for 8 years

to escape

causing the other resident's family

to consider uprooting

and relocating

their loved one

When all of her contriving

and conspiring

to get rid of you

and regain

her independence

has failed

that person has proceeded

to weaponize

her vocal cords against you

by yelling




making false accusations

ordering you around

and demanding impossible things

while at the same time

wielding her hands to

grab you

shove you

and hit you

As a result of all of this

you are in constant

911 mode

dealing with her medical

and behavioral crises

while your less important things are cast aside

your weeds are waist high

your flowers are brittle

your house is buried in dirt

your haircut is six months past due

you and your husband

are living on fast food

and gas station snacks

and your pillow nods

a distant hello

day after day as you rush past

You have sacrificed

almost everything

to take care of her

and yet

she continues

With the authority

of a 5-star general

the tenacity and world view

of a toddler

and the arrogant, filter-less mouth

of a teenager

all twisted together

in her 76 year old brain

she has spent

the last five years

perfecting the art

of attacking you this way

You struggle to look beyond

the hateful,



and the angry



and remember who she used to be many years ago

you try to remember laughter shopping, lunches

and quilt shows together

you try to remember

even two hours ago

when she looked at you

and said thank you

or yesterday

when the two of you

watched a baking show

and chatted about macaroons

or last week

when she told the doctor

my daughter-in-law

is so good to me

You leave the room

to refocus

you say

this isn't her

this isn't her

you plead with God for strength

and endurance

your brain spins

you pace the floor

you fail multiple attempts

to take a deep breath

when you are, at last, calm enough

to fill your lungs

you force yourself

to turn around

and walk back in

Some days she falls asleep

and you sneak out early

other times she holds you hostage

extra long demanding

you do projects for her

that will be cast aside

and forgotten



At last, this day

anyway, is over

it's time for you to escape

The voice


and hands

that have hated you

for most of the day


peace and happiness

her lips curve upward

in a true smile

as she says, good bye

I love you

You burn with the need to embrace the love she is offering

but, after how she has treated you

those words

coming from her mouth

tear you apart

you battle

with yourself

to reply in kind

you overpower your tongue

but don't have the strength to control your face

so, it's an unsmiling

see you tomorrow

I love you


you mean the words

with all your heart

Nevertheless, as you speak

you take a few steps backwards

with the plan of disappearing


she can say anything else

You stumble to your car

open the door

and crawl inside

the tears

that you out maneuvered

all day

beginning to trickle

down your cheeks

white knuckling the steering wheel

and the I love you

you put it in drive

and touch the gas

Before you have even made it

past three houses

your phone rings

she says your name

the trickle widens to a river

you pull over

and press your hands against

the knot in your stomach

She barks some orders

followed by what should be

an endearment


using the same tone

she commands you

drive safely

You croak out,

I will and hang up

as you are putting your phone away

the sound of a text alert

makes your heart rate skyrocket

the words blur and smear

into each other

Her pcp

just one of her 18 doctors

is reminding you

of an appointment

for 8am tomorrow

you manage to type confirm

and send

you beat down the desire

to scream

throw your phone

hit something

or even just drive away

and never return

Instead, you attempt

to put the phone away

and regather your self control

you reach for the pocket

of your purse

and miss

try again

and drop the phone

on the third try

you get it back

into your purse

and manage to zip the pocket

about halfway

before catching some fabric

jamming the whole thing

and giving up

With a sob

you turn off the engine

undo your seat belt

fold yourself

between the steering wheel

and the door

and relinquish this day

face crumpling

chest and shoulders heaving

you let the, now

raging white water

purge and soothe

your soul.


Darleen Hunzinger is a mid-fifties American woman with many interests and desires, but two intense loves: God and her husband. After five years of family care-giving resulted in her loss of health and subsequent diagnosis of FND (functional neurological disorder), she came to expressive writing as a tool for coping. Darleen writes from Congress, Arizona.


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