The Greatest Love Story I Know

This week is Valentine’s Day week and your social media feed will undoubtedly be filled with pictures of gifts, gestures, and #RelationshipGoals but I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you the greatest love story I know which became the basis for everything I have done in my writing and which still influences my life in ways I am only beginning to understand. I do want to say that if you decide to read on – and I hope you do – this blog post does contain spoilers to some of my works. But I hope that in reading it, you can understand why I am so moved to write about it.

I want to tell you about my grandparents.

My grandfather, Alejo, was born on Guam on April 14th, 1924 and my grandmother, Eliza, was born on February 7th, 1925. They met for the first time as children in the village of Inarajan where they lived and attended the same school. To be fair, it was the only school in the village. By the time they were teenagers, it was love.

It was also war.

Eliza and alejo quinata on their wedding day, 29 July 1945. 

In December of 1941, the island was attacked and invaded by Japanese forces that overran the small American and native garrison of just over 400. The result was two and a half years of occupation and martial law – of unspeakable horrors and memories that still hurt my family to talk about if you can even get anyone to agree to speak on. During that time, my grandparents were separated when my grandfather was taken from his family to be trained as a Japanese language teacher and assist in the assimilation of the Chamorro people into Japanese culture. Without phone calls or letters or permission to travel between villages in a time when they didn’t know from one day to the next whether they would live or die, Alejo and Eliza spent months not knowing if the other was safe or if they would ever see each other again.

But as we all know, the war did end eventually. In 1944, American forces reclaimed the island forcing the Japanese to surrender after intense fighting. When the smoke cleared, my grandparents were married in July of 1945. My grandfather wore a white linen suit and the dress my grandmother is wearing in the photograph she made herself by hand. 

Alejo and Eliza went on to have six children but only five would survive to adulthood. Their second child, Annie, died before her second birthday. After my father was born – the youngest of the six – my grandmother nearly died. She had been in poor health since childhood, plagued by problems with her heart, and she contracted rheumatic fever. She was on bedrest of weeks, unable to take care of her newborn baby but tended to by her family and loving husband, she recovered. My dad would tell me stories of how strong her personality was. You would never guess she was actually still sick.

In 1967, my grandparents and their children traveled to the mainland United States for Eliza to undergo an experimental surgery in Colorado to help her with her heart. Before they went to Colorado, they made a stop in Anaheim for a family trip to Disneyland. My grandmother’s favorite ride was “It’s A Small World”, according to my dad. It’s one of the last happy memories he has with his mother. He was eleven years old.

Eliza died at forty-two on an operating table in Colorado, unable to survive the stress of the surgery. Her body was taken back to Guam where she was buried alongside her daughter.  

Alejo remarried not long after leading some to question whether or not he had been faithful to Eliza while she was alive; a rumor my grandmother’s own sister, Nitang, vehemently denies. She told me once, “I have nothing bad to say about your grandfather. And, oh, he loved my sister. He loved her.” I am inclined to believe Nitang because even after years had passed, my grandfather couldn’t bring himself to let her go. Instead, he would take walks around the house in his sleep, talking to her as if he were recounting the day as we would to our loved ones when we come home from work or school. He’d tell her what was going on with the kids, ask her her opinion, and answer back as if she were an active participant in the conversation. For all we know, for him, she was. My dad and his older brother would have to take turns staying up at night to make sure their father didn’t leave the house, to make sure he was safe. They tried to tell their father that their mother was gone and his response was:

Eliza and alejo in their home in tamuning, guam.

“No, no. She would never leave me.”

The truth is, he hadn't stopped loving her. And I don’t think he ever did. Not even as he took his last breath in 2008 – forty-one years after her passing.  

Like countless other love stories, the tale of my grandparents’ relationship isn’t famous like the love immortalized in Shakespeare, but it is the example of true love I turn to the most. They lived through war and years of military occupation. When they got married, they had nothing, but they had what mattered most. They rebuilt their lives from the literal rubble that was their homeland, they suffered the death of a child, endured years of illness, and even after my grandmother's death, their love was still there. To me, “true love” doesn’t mean every moment shared is easy; instead, it means that through every moment, it lasts.

What is the greatest story of true love you know? How does that story influence your life? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Valentine's Day.