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How long is now?
notes on loss, beginnings and endings.
I started writing this one about 5 weeks ago but hadn’t been able to finish it. I struggled to find its end (that will make more sense as you read on). Part of me also thinks I have pushed it away, told myself maybe not this one, not this time. It has sat here in the computer patiently waiting for its call time.
I would say this is late, but I wouldn’t know what it was meant to be on time for. So here it is. Please note that this piece contains writing that includes themes of loss, death, endings and suicidal ideations. If you aren’t prepared to read that then please stop here.
Wishing you love and safety.
I’ve spent the past week reading through an archive of particular writing from the last 4 years. Things I’ve usually written in a sad and speedy panic, rushing to the page as though it were a bucket and me ready to vomit all the thought and feeling out. Reading through some of the puke was difficult, not because it’s terribly written or total nonsensical drivel (though some of it comes close). Instead, because there are things I had written that were so deep and killing when I wrote them.
I have been single for 4 years now. The label ‘single’ has never fully made sense to me. I am singular to my experience but the foundations that build this tiny existence of mine are mixed with many humans, each giving part of their existence to me. In respect of sharing my bed, yes, I am single (though if you include the dog jumping up and curling himself between my feet at 2am, then even there, no I’m not).
I’ve found myself able to read those notes from a distance now, rather than as the person in the thick of it all. I can read it as past and not present - which changes your experience massively. “The past is just a story we tell ourselves” said Scarlett Johansson in one of my all time favourite films HER by Spike Jonze.
I remember hearing that line and my eyes being blown to the back of my head with a gale force wind, my thoughts and feelings ricocheting off the skull in a dancing panic towards a new reality.
I wanted to share one of those notes I wrote to myself 4 years ago in the middle of it all, and cut it open. The me holding the scalpel now is not the same me holding the scalpel then. Now, I cut through the skin of memory with a delicate hand. Then, I was less considerate.
Excerpts from You Suddenly, written December 2019 -
“How is it that I grieve him more than anyone else? I stood at the foot of her bed and watched the life pour out of her eyes and leak onto the hospital floor, pooling at my feet. I turned my shoes to make the ripples of a life. Of a death. Confronted my own reflection as it danced between the ripples. I saw a real death, in real life. I watched that body of somebody turn into a body of nobody and yet I grieve the loss of him more. The death of us. How? When he is still there. Somewhere. Still burnt by the same sun as me.”
“What is life now without him if he was my life? What am I now without him if he was all that I am? Relationships are like stories, they have a beginning, a middle and an inevitable end. All things do. Songs, road trips, seasons, books, days, nights, weeks, years, meals, you start with the first bite and end with the last. And there is life. You are born, you live and you die. Beginning, middle, end. I don’t know where I am anymore. Where am I in this story, this book, this season. The days don’t seem to end, but nor do the nights. I have lost my bookmark. I feel like this is the end but I have not yet met it. Where is now? How long is now?”
You give so much of yourself to someone, is it any surprise that they take you with them when they leave? And even if they gave it back, that version of you, would you really want to take it? That burning stinging shouting for love you, the I have nothing left to give you, the ripped in half and damp at the edges you. That version of you? No.
You poured yourself into them. Your glass is empty. Why would you want them to spit you back out just to fill it back up?
Let the glass be empty, let it refract the light of your life on to your bedroom wall for months as it sits on the sill waiting to be topped up. It’s ok to feel thirsty for love and feeling and Sundays on their chest in front of the tv and that simple quiet that isn’t awkward and hand written notes on the back of bills and clothes unfolded on floors. Sit and quench a thirst for those things. When the day comes to drink again, it will be pressed from the freshest fruit. So sweet and satisfying your mouth splinters in joy and your ears tighten by the lobes forcing you to stretch a smile to ease it.
I’m saying all of those things to myself, really. This kind of writing is just talking out loud, I suppose all writing is. It’s the listening that differs.
I feel so much more of myself now than I ever was. Perhaps it’s because I exist WITH so many people and not FOR one person. My life is filled with their intricacies and the unfolding of their love. They pour themselves into my glass. They exist in and with me. And the glass is often held by their hands when I am too opaque to see it myself to hold it.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s heart bending book recounting the year following the death of her husband of four decades John Gregory Dunne, Didion wrote: “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be. … Grief has no distance” […] “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”
I know I was loved by him, somewhere along the way. Perhaps even at the very end. When he left he said “you need to be without me to learn to love yourself” and for so long that irritated me. It was just another thing I felt blame for, like him leaving me was my fault, and as if he was the only person capable of showing me love even though there he was, cutting me in half.
I hated him for saying that. But now, I wonder if that was the one final act of love. To let me go.
To go beyond what I was with him and instead, be me, this, here, right now. This version of me.
Or maybe it was an act of love for himself. How possible is it to love someone who hates themself so much? Maybe I was a mirror he didn’t want to look into, and the reflection of my hatred was just a way to blame himself for how I felt. A sculptor seeing the hardened bust they spent years moulding now not soft enough to mould any more.
There are people I value (some who might be reading this) who will say I am being too kind. And perhaps they are right. But it helps to think that even in doing something hurtful - you did it with love. Love does hurt, even when it’s going right. There is a sweetness to some of the pain, and then there is the knowledge that we are throwing ourselves into a deep ocean of feeling that we might one day struggle to stay afloat in, but we swim and kick our legs and wade ourselves for as long as we can.
He was right, It is only since he left that I began to love myself, or more accurately, love being myself. I am a truer version of myself now, guts and all. Rather than a version I convinced myself of so that he would love me, want me, need me. I suppose he never really knew me at all. He only knew a version of me that was painted with a brush that he held in his hand.
The idea that we need to convince ourselves of something implies that we can’t believe it, that maybe it’s too good to be true or that perhaps it isn’t true at all. I’ve spent many years of my life believing that love is just something we have convinced ourselves of. A word we gave agency to somewhere along the way and the feelings we really feel are too hard to describe so we round it up and call it love. Maybe love is a feeling of many feelings.
It can hurt, and ache and poke and prod and send you tumbling into another skeleton. It can be so tiny and effortless that it brushes your life with such a softness a feather wouldn’t understand. And then, it can have the might and weight to split the world in half. Your world. Your life.
But as with all feelings, you feel them yourself. And actually, love is a feeling you sometimes need to convince yourself of. A feeling that you might not understand unless you understand it by yourself and not through another or alongside another.
This was the end of A love. Not the end of love. In the shaky aftermath of his departure, I have loved more people in my life than ever before. With one loss came a hundred gains. Busy friendships bustling away in my chest. Kind strangers became friends and then close friends and then people I love.
Losing him was the end of A love. A single love. Not the end of love altogether.
I struggled to know where I ended and you began. We were so entwined. That was of course until that Thursday night when I tried to find my end. Find it with a noose fashioned from the chord of my dressing gown.
An end that thankfully never began.
And now, a new beginning. The start of a new end. One that I hope will take a long time to find itself.
It is my end and it lives in me, not lost somewhere in you.
I have met the end of you now. I can listen to those songs from start to finish, to the end. I can walk to the end of the road without wondering where you went. I can look in the mirror and see my edges, blurred and marred by an invisible ending. I can speak to you without needing to know that you can hear me, because really I am speaking to myself.
I can greet a lifetime of endings and not need you to take me back to a beginning. To the time we met at London Bridge in the storm, you under your deep red umbrella. To the time where we sat on Parliament Hill eating ham and cheese lunchables and drawing on each other with a permanent marker, both knowing that eventually it will fade. Everything does. To the time when we sat in your room in Peckham, melting into the heat and sticking to each other like glue. To the time when we found a dog that was our dog, and poured him into our lives with a bucket full of joy. To the time when we stood together at the shore of one great big beginning, unmoored from a previous end.
That was then, this is now.
There is no knowing how long now is. Now is here. It lasts until it ends. It hasn’t ended yet. And it never did.