It's true that it is mostly waves: brutal, battering, crashing waves that leave me winded. But sometimes there is a space between the waves, when the sun comes out and the water laps gently at my feet and there is peace. In the peace I know that you are still there and that the love we shared has not diminished but brightened in the darkness of loss.
It is at those times that I feel myself weaving some kind of comforting narrative from what happened before and what happened after. Synchronicity is strong in this story. Synchronicity brings some kind of order in chaos, just like writing. Words moved around on a page distract my mind from the enormity of it all, make it temporarily more manageable, give a form to this amorphous pain. It helps a little to create something from this absence. Although the writing doesn't change anything. I didn't want a plot for another novel. I wasn't hoping for material for poems. I wanted the man I loved to stay here with me. Writing doesn't change that.
This is what happened before.
Looking back it seems that there were portents all along the way. It is in the films we watched together: Truly Madly Deeply, It's a Wonderful Life, Finding Neverland and in the poems that I wrote. I wrote about journeys taken in which we didn't know where we we're going, spoke of doors that we would never walk through, described us as 'racing time around the bend'. We didn't know how little time we had but somehow it feels like it was there in the way we cherished every single moment that we were together. In the moment, we were always so very happy. We only got confused when we tried to talk of the future. It was like we couldn't see it somehow. It didn't exist.
Once when we were lying in bed together I asked you what you were thinking. You said that you were thinking that if I ever left you, you would have to join the foreign legion. "You're the woman I want to die with," you said.
The week before you died, we were discussing whether to introduce you properly to my children. You wanted them to come to your bonfire so that you could show me what fun you were with kids, what a great stepdad you might become. I had been ready to do it but suddenly I couldn't. You were always scatty but that week you were extra forgetful and it was worrying me. I asked you if there was something wrong with your brain. You laughed it off. That week I met a woman whose husband had just suffered from a brain injury and my daughter wouldn't stop talking about my own brain-injured ex - it was the anniversary of his leaving. It was my first mother's day without a mum. And suddenly it was all too much.
"There's no rush," you said. But that evening, the neighbours had a bonfire and I told the children about yours. They were excited and asked if we could light the paper lanterns you had brought. And I found myself sending you a text and asking if you wanted to come and meet them and let off the lanterns, all the while wondering what I was doing. And you came straight round and made offerings to the gods with my children and they loved you, of course. You wrote on the lanterns with them. One for my deceased parents and one to the Greek gods. You wrote a message to Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, and you sent them up into the sky. "Can Paul stay?" my daughter asked. So you stayed with her for a while and watched a film and when she was in bed, we hugged. "I love you," I said. "I love you too," you replied, holding me close. And that was the last time I saw you.
But not the last time we spoke. The night before you died, I sent you a poem that I had written about clouds. You sent me a beautiful photo you had taken. Something about its beauty made me cry. We talked on messenger about doing something with my writing and your photographs. We talked of coffee table books, fridge magnets, greetings cards. "We must do something," I said. "We will," you said. And then I lectured you. "You're hugely talented," I said, "and hiding your light under a pile of other people's cast-off junk. Break free blacksmith." I didn't mean you to take me literally.
I asked you if you liked my poem and you said you did. "I love the poem, I love clouds and I love you," you said. And that was the last time we spoke. Poignant, poetic, the end of a beautiful love story. And the beginning of grief and a life without you.