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By Jamie Holt

Unconditional love is not something I think mortals have the capacity for. Don’t get me wrong, we strive for it, we hope some big guy upstairs has it . . . but to say I love someone unconditionally would be false in my eyes. Not fair for them. There are always conditions. Always actions, lists, parameters when love is given or withheld. Mortals can’t love unconditionally. And since I am mortal and also an English major, two conditions I grapple with daily, I started to see punctuation as the same thing.


There is no such thing as unconditional punctuation. Periods signal an end, commas make lists, parentheses keep secrets, exclamation points use loud voices, and semicolons just want to have groupies tagging along even if they don’t make much sense . . . but what would unpunctuated love look like? What would love without punctuation be capable of? Without ends or lists or secrets kept? So I wrote the following essay about:

unpunctuated love

I think it was my need to snuggle a baby

that brought about the phrase two

minute cuddles and I would call my fifth

and last child and I knew it would be my

last child my only boy to my lap just as he

had learned to walk and tell him it was

time for two minute cuddles and the first

year of this daily routine he struggled to

still his body and last the two minutes as

I curled him in my lap and stroked his

hair and quietly talked to him while he

watched the timer count down on my

phone while I ran his blond ringlets

around my fingers and talked about his day

of chasing after sisters and what he

wanted for a snack and if the puppy was

being nice to him and if he slept good

and did he want to wear his jammas all

day or did he want to change because it

was a choice he could make and when

daddy got home on Friday what should

we do and the timer would go off and he

would carefully hand me my phone back

and say thank you for the cuddles

mommy and patter away to a new

adventure after his imprisonment in my


I did not know I was creating a need in

my son to come sit on my lap everyday

and chatter about life and replay his

highs and lows and I do not remember

when the timer of the phone was

forgotten and the time would stretch

into a whole movie that was forgotten as

he lays by my side under my arm stroking

my hand as he jabbers about life and

things he had read and thought about

and his lesson for family home evening

and I don’t get to choose when it is time

for him to come find me anymore and sit

on my lap at my desk as my legs go numb

from his body that now outweighs my

own and he is pudgy and twelve and

starting to stink in ways I never wanted

to enjoy but miss as he laughs and goes to

take his shower for the day and cackle

about mom gagging at his stench and the

blood rushes back into limbs and heart

and I do not want to forget his smell and

smile and silliness as he plops down after

school for my two minute cuddles

To trace this habit to its origin it probably

started when I spent quiet time with my

mom when I was a kid and crawled up on

her bed when she would wake up from

her bedtime while we were at school and

I would let her run her fingers through

my hair and I would chat about my

loathing of middle school and not having

any friends and what she needed me to

do so she could stay in bed two more

minutes because I would go iron her

nursing uniform that was white and crisp

and she had just sewn new buttons on

with a baby theme and I would run my

hands over her belly that bobbed and

tumbled as my sibling stirred to life and

pressed on her bladder and made laying

in bed another few minutes impossible

And then the day after Christmas my dad

and I rushed my mom to the hospital and

within minutes the tenth baby was born

and something was not right and before I

ever saw her she was rushed to the NICU in

St. George and then flown to Primary

Children’s in Salt Lake and mom was left

without a baby to snuggle and milk that

came in and was thrown away and my

father complaining about the four hour

trip to go pick up the baby that would

die anyway

So I did not mind being the one to stay

up at night and feed the baby and change

her diaper and miss sleep a girl in seventh

grade needed so my mom could go to

work and my dad could sleep and

perhaps ignore his daughter that was not

quite right and really I think he just did

not want to get attached to a child that

was not supposed to live more than a day

and she lived many months and I never

complained about rocking her to sleep or

getting up with her and sometimes my

littler sister who was just two years

younger than me but has a heart bigger

than Africa would want to cuddle and I

would tell her just for a few minutes

because we had a schedule to keep and I

would wrap baby number ten in a

blanket and give her the chance to get to

know her new sister until one night Dad

and Mom went grocery shopping and I

did our little schedule and I put her to

bed as I had for nine months and I called

my friend Natalie to chat for a minute

and I dismissed the feeling to check on

my sister and I dismissed the feeling again

to check on my sister and a third time the

words hang up the phone pierced my heart

and I stood to check on my sister at the

end of the bed in her yellow rolling crib

and I had missed the chance to ever give

her two more minutes of cuddles

And I lived my life from eighth grade on

in stages of grief dealing with my missed

opportunity to love a loved one so

twenty years later when my father was

raging about the cost of a funeral and my

mother was in bed on the last day of her

life knowing that the oxygen was not

doing anything but keeping the cancer

alive and the hospice nurse had left and

two of my brothers were diligently

standing watch to keep my father from

accidentally entering the room in his

angry and contentious state and I had to

take her pulse from her wrist and then

her elbow and then her neck as her

heartbeat faded and her breaths came

once or twice a minute and the room

distilled into some other place that I

could not see but felt a crowded presence

and I looked at my brothers and we knew

without speaking it would take more

than two minutes to process the passing

of our mother and there would be no

words to describe it to my father who

stormed down the hallway ten minutes

later irate we had not called him into the

room when he had not been in there all

morning and I hugged my brothers and

told them I was leaving and when they

want to talk about those few minutes I

do too and when my father wants to talk

about those few minutes I am at a loss for

words to describe something that has to

be felt not heard by repetition or

examination but by subjecting oneself to

the miserable contracts of life and love in

order to understand why just two

minutes can feel like an eternity


And I do not know as I look back at the

last seven years since my mother passed

and the years of rarely talking to my

father if I wish I had spent a mere two

minutes explaining to him why I cannot

explain the passing of my mother in

words he will ever feel and looking

forward two minutes I think I will call

him and see how the Jazz did during their

last game and tell him about my puppy

who loves me unconditionally and would

love to meet grandpa and then maybe

someday he will understand what

unpunctuated love feels like but probably

not from me because I still can not put it

into words that someone can feel


This essay won 1st place and was published in the 2022 David O’McKay Essay Contest.

Jamie Lewis Holt earned an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University in 2023. During her program she served as nonfiction editor for Inscape and actively recruits her creative writing students to submit to the journal. Many of her own visionary works including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and photography have been published in-print and on-line around the world by such places as Zimble House Publishing, Wingless Dreamer, Beyond Words, and many more. She recently won first place in the David O. McKay Essay writing contest for nonfiction and is currently working on a fourth speculative fiction novel as well as another juvenile fiction novella. Jamie balances raising her five children, teaching at BYU, editing and publishing, a chronic illness, and various civic duties with the salvation of writing fictitious realities for readers of all ages.