Sunday, 29 May 2016

The wall of in-between

If you are the one who died, 
why is it that I feel myself to be a ghost? 
The sun's rays shine straight through me as I sit 
like a spectre on the wall of in-between. 
You opened a door to the other side 
and now it won't quite shut. 
I fear that if I close it, 
I might lose you forever.

Sure, I know how precious life is, 
I have seen first-hand how tenuous our grip 
but how can I live wholeheartedly when half 
of my heart is on the other side of the wall 
and the only access to it is through that door, 
the door I cannot go through, 
the door I cannot shut?

I want to seize the day - 

it might be my last after all. 
But the day I want to seize is a day with you in it
and the days we seized together
are numbered now and finite.
There will be no more. 

So I sit on the wall with the door ajar
and hope for a time when
I might keep your presence 
with me in the whole of my heart
and be wholeheartedly present, 
my outline solid as the sun sets again
on a day well-lived. 

Sunset on Burbage - 29th September 2015

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The last great day

The last really great day we had was twelve days before you died. It was Saturday again but this Saturday you had jobs to do, the first of which involved erecting a giant ostrich outside of the Psychology building at Sheffield University. You were done early and came to meet me and the dog in the park. It is one of those snapshot moments again: the sight of you running towards me, the reciprocal smiles, the open arms, the warm embrace on a cold day, the way we held each other, pulled apart, linked hands and moved on together in one motion, already deep in conversation.

I saw your friend the other day. Sometimes I think your friends find it hard to imagine us together. The big, scruffy blacksmith who they saw at home in industrial workshops seems incongruous maybe with this, how do they see me, posh arty-type? They never saw us together. 'What did you and Paul do?' he said. I want to tell him that we made love morning, noon and night, the way new lovers do. That it really was love we made. That we talked and talked and talked. That we walked the hills and lay down on bracken gazing at clouds shifting above us. That we hugged a lifetime's hugs, in hallways, on steps, in parks and kitchens.That we danced and cooked and sang and played, like life was a game and we were winning. That we shared music and ideas. That we sat together on sofas and benches and across the table, debating the rules of Scrabble. That we read poems and recited Shakespeare standing on kitchen chairs and compared our artistic tastes in galleries across town. That we browsed bookshops and craft stalls in search of hidden treasure. That we raced to fill the gaps in crosswords and conversation, but could sit peacefully together. That we loved words but didn't need them. That we tossed those words between us like the ping pong balls across the table at the Abbeydale Picture House, equally matched, always. That we opened our hearts and cried tears of sadness and joy together, that we shared our dreams. (How it hurts now to be the keeper of your dreams.) That we schemed and planned and how we laughed. They can all understand, I'm sure, how we laughed.

That day was no different. We made love at lunchtime and hung out in my kitchen cooking. I made sweet potato brownies for the first time while you investigated the delights of turmeric tonic. (An interest in nutrition was another surprising thing we shared. You were looking after your health. You wanted to live. 'I want, I want, I want,' you said, like you needed to squeeze every last drop of pleasure out of your time on earth.)

My brother called round with his partner and children. I wanted to introduce you to my family. I watched you sitting across from each other chatting and saw the future - barbecues, bonfires, you constructing braziers in his garden, a world of harmonious family Sundays to come. The world that I had never known. He knew, like I did, that finally I had found a good one.

You went back then to take down the ostrich. I stood on the plinth and nearly broke it. You chided me. We laughed. I watched you and Ed prostrate yourselves beneath the ostrich's feet, watched you doing ninja moves with his kids. You wheeled the beast back into the building and we hugged again and I watched you hug Ed's crying child and saw my own sweet son in your arms and, at that moment, I knew. I really knew. 

I went to have tea with my friend, aka Madame Zucchini and you went to the gym. (You were keeping healthy, losing weight. You wanted so much to live.) We were reunited with you at the Free Radicals gig. We made a gooseberry of my friend, kissing and cuddling in public. I'm so glad now that we did. You drew pictures on the tablecloth - a tree and an owl, I think. And you won her over when you turned Mr Mushroom round to face the band, propping him up so that he had a good view, teasing her gently. I saw an old boss from a previous job. She told me how her partner had died of a brain tumour. 'Spend time with your loved ones while they are alive,' she said, like a harbinger of doom. 

I tried to dance but I was tired and grieving still for my mum so you drove me home, stayed for a quick cup of tea and then went back to help the band dismantle the equipment. It was a day of putting things together and taking them apart. That day, for me, it all came together. I didn't know that it would fall apart. 

I met my friend in the cafe on the Monday, updated her as I did each week. 'I'm going to introduce him to the kids,' I said. 'I just can't see anymore how it can ever go wrong.'

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Road Less Travelled Part 2

Today your mum and I went on our own adventure. Where she used to rest her arm on yours, today she rested it on mine. Where I used to hold your hand, today I held hers as we went on a voyage of discovery down the hidden path to the river at Baslow. I helped her to find her way back to the memory you shared and she showed me a spot that you hadn't yet taken me to. We fed ducks, held back tears, searched for you in clouds. We shared our stories, felt your presence, mourned your absence. We watched the nameless fish beneath the water - trout, perch, carp?  It seemed absurd again that you were not there. We don't know how to do this yet, without you. But together we took fairy steps into the light of the sun.

The Road Less Travelled

The first day that we went out together feels like the happiest day of my life, though I know there must have been other happy days before it, in years gone by, memories faded by time. This one shone so brightly though, I'm not sure it will ever be eclipsed.

You arrived at my house, freshly shaven in your bright blue fleece and the shirt that became known as the 'Beverley Shirt'. You came equipped with tools on the pretext of sorting out some jobs but you didn't do much, just cut through the chain that bound my bike to his, set us free.

I made chilli and told you of my internet dating exploits, taking in the barely concealed look of disappointment on your face when you realised you were not the only man on my radar, though you were already, the only man in my heart. And then it began. The first adventure.

You took me to Redmires, stopping the van by a derelict building to take pictures for your 'shack project'. (The folder sits on my desktop now.) Later you told me how mesmerised you were by the look on my face as I stood like a ghost in the house. You wanted so much to capture that look again, but I didn't know what it was. A mixture maybe of uncertainty and desire. A look that probably belonged just to that day.

And then the real journey started, from the car park and up the hill. We went through the wrong gate from the moment we set out and strayed further and further from the path, but closer and closer to each other.

'We could make a coffee table book,' I said. 'You could take the photos and I could write poems to go with them.'

You sent me your photos of that day and I sent you a poem.
'A beautiful way to remember a magical day,' you said.
Our collaboration had begun.

A Road Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and knowing he had but two choices,
Frost chose the road less travelled,
laying words along the path as he went
like a mantra for wise feet to follow.

But you have led me to a landscape
that dips and dives like the nameless birds
that swoop overhead in the September sky:
starlings, skylarks, swifts?
Here, I'm not even sure there is a path
and though you claim to know where you're going
in truth, we neither know nor care,
content as we are to wander and to wonder
side by side in the open expanse of the day.

Mostly we spring on tussocks,
tossing words and laughter as we go,
moving swiftly from grassy hump to hump,
topic to topic, to avoid getting bogged down,
marooned in the mire. And though we speak
sometimes of paths taken and not taken,
trod and untrod, we plant our feet firmly,
smack bang here in the glory of the present.

Then we spy a spinney, a copse, a triumph of trees
waving their branches to us from a desert island
in this sea of purple flowers and we know
without a shadow of a doubt that we must
abandon the path (was there ever a path?)
and head to this oasis, like pirates
(you do have an inner pirate don't you?)
on a quest for hidden treasure.
And we join hands briefly as we tred on rickety rocks,
assail the barbed wire fence, go AWOL on the moors.

But then something unexpected happens
and one view leads to another and we see
a house - a solid pile of stone perched
above a tranquil pool like a call to home.
And, still in sync, we change track again,
cross the bridge from the past to the future
and back again.  And we sit, side by side,
watching ripples from hidden fish on the water,
not knowing where we will go next
but thankful for the road less travelled today.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Saturdays and Tuesdays with Blacksmith Paul

I'm reading Tuesdays with Morrie at the moment.
I can only read about death.
I can only think about life and death and love.
I can only live in the heart of this pain.

I haven't been able to watch TV since you died.
I've tried a few times but there is nothing that doesn't freak me out.
Even Neighbours is too distressing for me now -
people keep falling in love or breaking up or being reunited
or getting sick or living or having accidents or getting married or dying.
Fictionalised, it's all too much for some reason.
I want to escape but instead I find more comfort from writing and reading,
even though it means diving headlong into heartache.

Turns out Morrie would approve:
By throwing yourself into these emotions,
by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, 
over your head even,
you experience them fully and completely.
You know what pain is,
you know what love is,
you know what grief is.
And then, maybe, one day,
no, it's too soon
to even think about
letting go.

I watched a bit of Anne of Green Gables with Edie,
tears spilling from my eyes.
My Gilbert Blythe is dead.
My happy ending is gone.
Nothing is safe.

Our days were Saturdays and Tuesdays.
Saturdays and Tuesdays with Blacksmith Paul. 
It's not as catchy.
I need to work on a title
for whatever this is.

Every day we had was precious.
'One day,' you said. 'We're going to have a bad day.'
But we never did.
On the beach at Filey. A very happy day

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The man of my dreams

I dreamed about you again last night. How I have longed to dream about you. One of those gentle dreams where you might appear as if in a vision and offer me some words of comfort. Or the other kind, where you might just be there talking and laughing as you used to. But this dream was a dark dream.  You were sitting, eating and your belly was swelling up as if each mouthful was inflating you like a balloon. And the next minute you were running towards some marble steps. You tripped and fell and then it was over.

'Be quiet,' I said to my children in another dream. 'I just need to send this message to Paul.' And I pegged colourful flags to a washing line, desperately trying to reach you with some kind of domestic semaphore.

I had spent three days desperately trying to reach you before we found your body. From time to time I re-read the messages now. They start casually with a 'Hey. How's you?' on Thursday morning and end with desperate pleas for you to get in touch on Saturday. All shades of emotion are there: humour, worry, fear, anger and despair. I left every kind of message: text, Facebook, voicemail, notes on your van and your door after all of my shouting and crying outside your house in the darkness had failed. You couldn't come to the door because you were already two days dead, lying on your bed, alone. I thought you might have gone out walking, (it was quite normal for you to go wandering in the night), though my tears and shaking limbs held a different possibility and I knew already that there was no happy ending to the story. Either way I knew that I had lost you. I couldn't commit to a man who would disappear for days on end without warning and the only alternative (ridiculously far-fetched though it seemed) was that you were dead. In the end, though I lost your body, our love was restored when we broke down the door and found you there.

'Hey Jack,' I said, in one message that week. 'Have you seen Bert? I can't find him.'
You were a man of many aliases. To most people you were Paul Harding, or Blacksmith Paul but on Facebook you masqueraded as Jack Smythe. You were one of those Facebook sceptics, wary of giving away too much. Jack Smythe, the exorcist from Vatican City who studied at the University of Yangon and lived in Timbuctoo, California, born in Hong Kong. To me, you were also Bert Mulligan, the persona you inadvertently set up on your new phone in order to communicate with me via Messenger. You didn't realise that you could just connect to your old Facebook account. It led to some interesting exchanges. Jack, we saw as a vagabond and a pirate. An all round ne'er-do-well. Bert was also a bit of a scoundrel, who worked the fairgrounds. They were bitter rivals for my love. Once I invited them both to my birthday party and they planned to resolve the issue once and for all with pistols - water pistols, of course, because the children would be there. Occasionally, our banter would get so convoluted that, eventually, I would have to ask if I could speak to Blacksmith Paul.
'I love Blacksmith Paul,' I said.
'At last, Beverley Writer,' you said. 'She's the one for me.'

When you woke on the Sunday morning before your death, you told me about your dream. You told me that in the dream I had walked off into a pub and that you had gone through a door and found yourself in a disused factory. It seems portentous now that we went off in different directions and that you ended up in an empty factory, alone. Sad and poignant, though a disused factory would have been an Aladdin's cave to you.  I wonder if that is where you are now. I hope that soon, you will come back to me in my dreams.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Blacksmith writes about our first date

Paul's reflections after our poking making. Found in his notebook after his death.

A day with Beverley Ward - Wednesday 26th August

After a brief meeting with Ed and co, I met B after an interval of some years. The last time I met her was at a Free Radicals gig......small world! Anyway, we spoke, chatted, she offered to give me a lift to my house (we were in Baslow at the time). It was dark, she dropped me off. I said perhaps you would like to come and have a go at something. A date was arranged. 

Fast forward, she arrives. I am strangely smitten with this intelligent, proudly beautiful woman who has undergone many emotional trials - bad husbands, poorly son, difficult father. We have a fun day. We make a poker. We talk a lot. We have much to say. She has brought some homemade flapjack - very healthy and delicious.

The day draws to an end but there is a brief moment, I think a possibility of something more. It passes. Nothing has happened. 

Later we embrace. I am restrained in my hug. I am not fully open.  She leaves.

Afterwards I ponder on the feelings I have and recall what was said, her behaviour and begin to analyse it all. Perhaps a mistake! My first thoughts are how I yearn for her completely, physically and emotionally but as my assessment of the situation becomes ever more forensic I realise she is out of my league and I am seized with a deadening emotion. I feel paralysed, weakened by the realisation IT CAN NEVER BE.

Next day is work. I am out of sorts. I realise I must turn the situation around and just think of it all as one lovely day with a lovely woman.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The best first date ever

If you want to stand out from the crowd, they say, plan an unusual first date. And our first date was as unusual as they come: we made a poker together.

Writers are always interested in learning new things. You never know when you might need to describe a blacksmith at work in a novel (and I'm sure one will feature in the next book I write)  but the honest truth is that I wasn't really that bothered about learning the tricks of the blacksmithing trade. I just wanted an excuse to spend the day with you and it was the best one I could come up with. You'd said you would show me your blacksmithing skills years ago so it was an easy suggestion to make and one you were hardly going to say no to. 

In advance of the meeting, you asked me a few times what I wanted to make and I basically had no idea (see above - I wasn't really bothered about making anything.) So, in the end we settled on a poker even though I don't have a fire. I've always wanted a log burning stove so we decided that this could be the incentive I needed. When I look at prospective homes now, the potential for a log burning stove is my No 1 criteria. I need somewhere to use that poker.

I was nervous coming to your house for the first time. I got lost on the way and had to phone you to check where you lived. When I finally found it you were there at the bottom of the drive waving your arms and jumping around like a giant child. All my anxiety dissipated when I saw you there. It was always like being reunited with my best friend when I saw you, even at the start.

It's funny how memories become like multi-sensory snapshots over time. What is it that makes the mind record just moments within the hours spent together? How does it choose them? What mechanism springs into action when we fall in love to say, stop, absorb this moment, it will be important later? 

This is what I recall:

You, the childlike giant, jumping about at the bottom of the drive, dressed all in black. The way you signalled the way to a parking spot in an empty field as if you had reserved it specially for me. That moment when you stood behind me and held my arm, helping me to hammer the molten metal and we both knew that something more than friendship was brewing. (The resolution at that moment that, no, the sexually submissive man with the 97% compatibility rating on OK Cupid, was not the man for me. That the 3% incompatibility was crucial!) You, flustered, moving rapidly from one side of the forge to another trying to rescue me from danger. The smell of singed gloves as I picked up the wrong bit of the poker.   You testing me, naming the parts that I've forgotten now though I remember your laughter and your voice telling me that I was the loveliest of distractions. 

Your big black boots resting next to my purple boots on the railing of your verandah against a backdrop of fields and trees. Your straightforward appreciation of my company and the pivotal moment when you said something that made me sure of your feelings though the sound on that memory is turned down and I can't remember the words, just the glow of your warmth and the opening, 'well, Beverley........' Drinking tea and eating flapjack, the staple refreshment of our time together. Me admiring your free range lifestyle, you complementing me on my mind: 'You exude innate intelligence,' you said. How to woo a Beverley in one easy step. The hug as we parted. Me telling you that I'd had a lovely day. The promise that we would meet up soon. Perhaps a walk or something, you said. Or a bike ride. (We never did have a bike ride.) And, oh, I said, perhaps you could help me with some jobs? Like cutting the lock that held my bike to his bike in the yard. Symbolic, we said. And another excuse, setting the scene for us to get together again soon. Which we did. Really soon. 

Where our boots used to rest together. Just me here, after his death

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

This is how you loved me

Like an archaeologist excavating the lost city of his dreams,
an artist gazing on his Mona Lisa,
an engineer fascinated by the workings of my mind,
a musician who heard the sweetest song in my words.
Like the reader of a book he couldn't put down,
a pirate who had found the x that marked the spot.
Like the sun whose job it was to warm my earth,
the magnetic south to my magnetic north.

Without your love I feel like:

clumps of scattered mud,
a painting hung in an empty room,
a scrapyard full of rusty cogs, 
tumbling words falling from a cliff,
a book whose pages have been torn out,
a hole in the sand where the treasure once lay,
the dark side of the cold moon,
just a pole, alone, all at sea.

I didn't just lose the man I loved,
I lost the man who loved me.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Some days, these are the only words:

I really loved you.
I really miss you.
I wish you could come back.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The people we meet in heaven

This morning we were running late for school. It was a sunny day and the dog needed walking and so I decided to breakfast in the park. Such are the perks of the freelance writer. While I ate, I sat watching a little girl chatting with her grandmother over breakfast. The girl had plaits and sunglasses. She was interested in my dog who was sitting at her feet salivating. The grandmother and I shared pleasantries about the sunshine and the dog. My mum must have been like that, I thought. I remembered all of the days that she had looked after my own little girl while I was working, the way she was so focused on the child, the way grandmothers are, like there is nothing more important in the world. There is nothing more important in the world, I thought. Suddenly I couldn't help myself. 'My mum used to look after my children,' I said. And, then, before I knew what I was saying, I said, 'she died.' And the woman said something about time being precious and no-one knowing how long they had and she tried to wish me something positive, 'you have a nice dog,' she said. And I walked away crying, thinking about the precious time my mum had shared with my children and the influence she will have had even though her time with them was short.

It took me by surprise a little, this sudden grief for my mum this sunny morning. My grief for that loss has been eclipsed by this new grief for you. I had barely had time to process it before I was in shock, left reeling. Your loss was so brutal, so visceral, so unexpected.

I lost my mum in stages. I had time to prepare. And yet it was still unexpected when it came. She had bounced back so many times and was so determined to live that even I sometimes thought that perhaps she would go on forever. Perhaps we are never really prepared even when we know that death is inevitable, unavoidable, a fact of life. It's a fact of life that no-one wants to talk about, especially not my mum.

We never met each other's mums during our relationship. At our age mothers get jaded. They have welcomed too many partners. They raise their eyebrows when we mention a new one, wait to see if it's serious before they get too interested. It was serious as it happens. Very serious.

Although you never met, you were often in the same building, separated only by air and doors and staircases. The narrative of my mother's death runs in parallel to our love story. It's impossible for me to believe even now that you are both on the other side of a one-way door, that you followed her so quickly out of this world. But I know it's true. I went to both of your funerals and your ashes sit in two separate jars, waiting to be scattered, memorials to both of you still need to be planned. It would be comforting to think that you have met now but my magical thinking only takes me so far and not to a world where you are sitting together taking tea and chatting about the good old days.

Your mum had never drunk tea, she tells me. She had a phobia about it. It used to bewilder you. But she has started drinking chamomile tea now. She wanted to have her first cup of tea with you. It's another thing she will never do now. So she drinks tea with me and we talk about you and the air is thick with love and grief and loss. We know a thing or two about loss. We are not fine. We are not getting over it any time soon. We're ok with that.

When your story first collided with my mother's it was not a good moment. We had spent the night together for the first time and that morning, you had sent me a message saying that you thought we should just be friends after all. I was shocked. I was so sure that you liked me. I couldn't understand what had happened to make you change your mind. And then, just as I'd got the children to school, my mum phoned to tell me that she couldn't breathe and asked me if I could take her to hospital.

The next time, we were 'just friends' again. We had talked things through, slowed things down. I had told you that I couldn't handle you being unreliable, not just now, with all this going on. We'd been for a walk on a Tuesday night. I was in the middle of cooking curry. You were playing DJ on my laptop, when my mum phoned again to ask me to take her to hospital. I didn't want to leave you, was overwhelmed with emotion. I walked over to you and half-hugged you, half-kissed you, not sure what I was doing. We ate tea quickly and said goodnight.

The way you stood by me and supported me is one of so many reasons why I loved you. I had a new boyfriend when my dad suddenly started dying, twelve years ago. I'd been to see him in hospital. He was brain-damaged and confused me with his wife. He started trying to take my clothes off. I went to see that boyfriend on the way home. I needed a hug. He dumped me after that. He said I was giving off 'negative energy'. He didn't want that in his life. But you sucked up that negative energy and left me replenished with your love. You spent Tuesday nights sitting in your van or in hospital cafes while I waited to see consultants. I kept saying sorry. You kept reassuring me. You had a book. You were fine. You were always fine so long as you had a book and nothing was more important to you than me and the mum that needed me.
You almost met at my book launch. The chemotherapy seemed to be working and my mum was out of hospital and in good spirits. You were loitering in the background because the children were there. For such a big man you were surprisingly good at loitering unobtrusively. I wanted to introduce you but I was busy being an author and looking after the children and my mum was so proud and so happy to be out, chatting to my old school friends. The moment just never arose. The next time you were loitering was three weeks later at her funeral. In the same room again.

'I wish I'd met your mum now,' you said. 'She seems like she was really special.'
'What about your mum?' I said. 'Maybe I should meet her.'
'You will,' you said. 'Let's arrange it.'

Instead we arranged it ourselves, the week after you died, building new connections in our mutual grief - the ones who are left behind. I have lost a mother and lover. She has lost her eldest son. Nothing about it will ever be ok. But we reach out to each other across a sea of loss. 'I won't ask you how you are,' she says when she phones. 'We don't do that do we, you and me?' Instead we skip that bit and we sip our chamomile tea and we remember.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pieces of you

We spoke about ashes before we'd even got together. I've no idea why. No-one had died yet. In fact no-one's death was even imminent. My mum's cancer was still pretty much in remission. Your Auntie Joan was chugging along. We weren't anticipating having to think about where to scatter ashes for a while. But that was the nature of our relationship. We covered most of the important topics in a few short months.

We were up on the moors above Redmires Reservoir. You told me about the family arguments over your father's ashes. (We were never even allowed to argue about my father's ashes. They were buried in his wife's garden and then she moved down south with all of his money and possessions. But this conversation was about your father.) You were uneasy about the fact that he had been scattered in different places. We joked about the various ethereal body parts struggling to reach each other, longing to be reunited. I think, now, that you wouldn't want your ashes to be split and sent to the four corners of the wind, although I know how much you wanted to travel.

I remember this as your family discuss where to scatter your remains but I'm not sure what my role is. I'm not your widow. We weren't married. We'd only been together eight months. Although your family make me feel so welcome, I don't have any rights. And everyone wants a piece of you. Everyone knew a different side of you. We all have different memories.

'Tell us one of your memories,' your friend, Pete, said at the bonfire, as I cried onto his shoulder, saying that no-one shared my memories, that my memories all belonged just to the two of us. That now they just belonged to me.  So I told him this story.

We'd been walking at Wyming Brook, walking and talking. There had been a lot of talking. We weren't yet having a relationship. We were in some limbo between friendship and love, wondering where we were going. We spent much of our time wondering. Mostly I had been talking and you had been listening. Your listening was intent, you were thinking hard. I was laying it all out for you - the sick child, the bad separation, mum's cancer, the heartbreaking ex, how hard it all was. I know you were there alongside me, taking it in, weighing it up, wondering whether you were up for the job. I remember us standing on the bridge staring at water and sitting on a bench, gazing ahead at trees, afraid to look each other in the eye.

It was getting late when we arrived back at the campervan.
'We should be somewhere where we can see the sun set,' I said.
'We should'.
We drove to the car park at Redmires and raced the sunset up onto the hillside. We lay down side by side on the heath. I turned onto my side so that I could watch the slow descent of the sun on the horizon and you did the same. We were two spoons, lying a respectable distance apart. There was no-one else around and all was silent, save for the sound of the breeze in the long grass, making a soundtrack to the movement of clouds across sky which gradually deepened to a rosy pink. The air grew cool as the sun sank. I shuffled back towards you to share your warmth and you put your arms around me. And we lay there until all the brightness had gone from the sky and I was starting to shiver in spite of the heat between us. And when we stood up, you held out your hand and we bounded down the hillside, joined together, the blacksmith and the writer, at the end of another perfect day.

If it were just up to me, I would scatter your ashes right there in that spot where we lay. I know for sure that there, in that moment, you were perfectly content. You told me so. Life doesn't get better than a moment like that. But you were fifty-three. You had other relationships, other lives, other beautiful moments. I can't keep you all to myself. And so the discussions about who should have your anvil and which tree should be planted where continue, and we talk about benches by the sea and by the reservoir, discuss whether to free you to the wind or bury you in one spot. I don't know where you will end up but I know this much: whatever we decide, there will be a piece of me that is forever yours and I will keep a piece of you forever in my heart. And that spot, that piece of ground, will be forever ours, that memory shared, now, by the people who read, by the people who listen.

The alignment of stars

I guess everyone's love story begins this way, with the what ifs. If I hadn't gone out that night, if I hadn't broken up with that girl, if I hadn't been late for the tube......Looking back it seems like magic was at work, or chance or fate or luck. Whatever it is, it feels good and we weave it into the narrative that it was all meant to be and, sometimes, if we're lucky, it is mythologised in a wedding speech and, if we're even more blessed, we get to the end of our lives and it is validated by the fifty years of happy marriage that we shared. It was written in the stars. If we're unlucky, we end up as star-cross'd lovers sacrificed for the greater good at the end of the play. Hey ho. Destiny is a tricky customer.

But still, if he hadn't left me broken-hearted back last April, I wouldn't even have been single last summer. I never thought there would be a silver-lining to that cloud. But there was. If I hadn't seen you outside of Ian's party two years previously, I wouldn't have known that Ed was divorced. If Ed hadn't got together with his new partner, he wouldn't have been taking kids to school with my friends' kids and she wouldn't have mentioned him. And maybe I wouldn't have gone searching for him on Facebook after 12 years.

If Ed hadn't been working round the corner from my house that day. If I hadn't bought my Bongo campervan. If he didn't have a Bongo too. If I hadn't rudely abandoned my writing friend in a cafe and rushed home for a cup of tea with him. If you hadn't phoned while he was there. If Ed and his gang hadn't been going for a walk near your house that evening. If the kids hadn't been at their dad's that night. If I hadn't decided at the last minute to drive at 90 miles an hour to join them, at least partly, in the hope that you would be there. If you hadn't decided to meet us for a drink at the pub later. Maybe it would still have happened another way. But, this is the way it happened. And the way it might just as easily never have happened.

It was a lovely walk. I nervously chatted to people I didn't know about questions of life and love but I was mostly focused on the main question of whether you would come to the pub or not. It was touch and go until the last minute. The pub near your house was shut and we had to go to Baslow instead. You probably wouldn't have bothered to walk that far just for a drink. You didn't even like drinking and liked your own company more. I could hear you on the phone to Ed, could hear you wavering. I almost said what he said, that I'd come and fetch you, but that seemed ridiculously keen. But he fetched you and you came.

'Blacksmith Paul!' I said.
'Beverley Ward! you said.
We hugged with the warmth of old friends reunited after fifteen years.
'You look good,' you said. 'You've lost weight.'
Cue, the same old story about the sick child and the allergies and how if you cut out dairy, gluten, eggs and sugar from your diet, you will lose weight as a side effect. You had lost weight too but I had no idea how much. It's only when I look at old photos now that I realise what had happened to you in those intervening years. If you hadn't picked yourself up that new year and lost all that weight, would we still have got together?

I made sure we sat together. We joined in the general chat. I wished everyone else would go away so that we could have a proper conversation. We had a little one, about my imminent camping trip to Matlock and the raft races you used to do there. You asked me to see if I could find you some gold. We bantered about Fool's Gold and crocks at the end of the rainbow. We were already on another planet. I asked you how the blacksmithing was going, reminded you that you once said you would teach me to make a poker. You said you would.

As we were leaving the pub, Ed could see what was happening. He'd tried once before to get us together. He tried again now.
'Are you giving Paul a lift home, Beverley?'
'Would you like a ride in my Bongo, Blacksmith Paul?' I asked.
'You don't get an offer like that every day,' Ed said.
"I know! I'm taking it!' you said and raced off in the direction of my new campervan.

You directed me in the blackness to the driveway up to your place, the driveway I have driven up more since you died than I did when you were alive.
'I won't ask you in,' you said. 'It's not suitable for ladies.'
We exchanged numbers and said that we would meet up soon for poker making. I put your name in my phone as Blacksmith Paul.
'I want an interesting name,' I said.
'Bongo Bev,' you said.
I laughed. We said goodnight. And I went off to Matlock in search of the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Grief and Soggy Flapjack society

Today I looked at a house to buy. Unlike the other houses that I looked at with you, this one, I know for sure you will never live in. When I've looked at other houses, I've taken you with me. I've pictured you building bonfires in the garden or tinkering in a workshop in a basement. We joked about you living in a shed at the bottom of the garden or sleeping on a camp bed in the cellar. You had a thing for unusual dwellings. It was a bit of leap for either of us to imagine you living full-time with me but we hadn't ruled it out. It is ruled out now.

Instead of spending my afternoon with you, today I spent it in a community centre in Pitsmoor at a Grief Writing Workshop. It's not unusual for me to be in a writing workshop but, as I packed my pen and notebook in a bag on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the absurdity of it struck me. How, one minute, grief is a distant cousin mentioned in anecdotes every now and then, and the next it has moved in, not just into the basement but into the house. How suddenly grief is part of my persona and now I'm talking to Off the Shelf about grief literary events and discussing with the bereaved the etiquette of grief TED talks and blogging publicly about pain. Whose story is this anyway? Do I have the right to tell it? Does anyone want to hear it? The questions we ponder in grief writing land. It's like the Jane Austen book club. But really sad.

One thing we have learned is that there is no rule book for grief, although there are many books about grief on display and I take most of them. Knowledge is power, or something, or something to do. The man sitting opposite me says he doesn't get angry. He doesn't see the point. But others rage against death like they are Dylan Thomas and it is the only thing to do. Some people, I know, sob their way through every day. Others remain dry-eyed, unable to squeeze out even a single dignified tear. Usually, I'm not one of them but today everyone but me cries as they read. I remain cool and detached. Maybe they think this is just a writing exercise for me. I don't look sufficiently grief-stricken, I feel.

The man in the grief writing workshop tells me that it is five years, four months, one week and three days since his daughter died of an unexplained cause. (I think about the blood and your brain and wonder again if they will ever tell us for sure what happened.) I apologise for not being able to remember how many weeks and days it has been since you died. It hasn't seemed important. I know that you're not here and that time is passing. I thought it was enough to know.

When I come home,  I make flapjack for the first time in ages. For some reason, now I am compelled to count the days. It is imperative that I know when I last made flapjack. I check the calendar. It is two months, one week and three days. I made my flapjack every Friday ready for your arrival. I haven't been able to make it since. But today, I do. Today I am sufficiently together to mix ingredients in a bowl and put them in the oven. When it comes out, it looks strange. It hasn't set. It is a congealed mess, singed round the edges. Something is missing. It takes me a while and then I realise, I forgot the oats. It is not the same, without the oats.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Reconciliation to the Impossible

I keep coming back to the matter of time.

If time is a linear concept, we had eight months. For you, they came at the very end of your life. I try not to wonder now about the length of my life, I don't have much taste for it. But the thought comes round now and then. What if I live until I'm ninety? What if this is just the mid-point and I have forty-five more years to live without you? What if, at the end of it all, I look back and think, 'that was the best bit', that you were the true love of my life. What if your image is still sitting there at the end of it all sparkling like a solitaire diamond on the plain platinum band of 'the rest of it'. What then?

'We're the right people at the wrong time,' you once said. I can't remember when you said it but it was a recurring theme, this matter of timing. It was certainly the wrong time for me. I was only six months out of the most heartbreaking relationship of my life. I wasn't ready to get involved with someone new. I was messing around on OK Cupid, flirting with virtual suitors, enjoying the ego boost of being pursued by 400 random men, just trying to forget him. But I wasn't ready for anything serious. It troubled you. This is one of the things you wrote:

26.9.15 - Prior to going on a walk with Beverley

I preface these remarks by saying I have never known a woman, indeed anyone, who has made me question my relationships with them in such detail. I seem to have long periods of analysis and then a sort of summation. For instance, my latest one is 'Reconciliation to the Impossible' being the realisation of my unsuitability for Beverley. I am currently mulling over why a woman who seems to  yearn for company has none, clearly she must be rejecting it. Surely not all of her admirers are unsuitable?

The walk we went on that day

You certainly thought that you were. You couldn't see yourself through my eyes. You didn't see the funny, kind, intelligent, interesting, attentive, beautiful man that I could see. You only saw obstacles. You saw the huge disparity in our income and our responsibilities. You saw your eccentricities and foibles: your ramshackle living space, your unique lifestyle and peculiar habits (garlic sandwiches, midnight walks, sleeping with earplugs in after years of living in inner-city workshops, foraging in skips for fragments of metal). You didn't see that unique is amazing in a world of middle-aged men whose weekends are ubiquitous lycra and Netflix. Yes, those 400 men were unsuitable for me.

'You don't have to spend every Saturday with me,' you said to me on that walk. That was the week after we'd got together and then gone back to being friends. It was all a bit irrelevant really, whether we were a couple or just friends. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and this thing between us was as sweet as sweet could be. 'I know I don't,' I said. 'But I want to.' There was nowhere I would ever rather have been than with you. I know you felt the same.

'Sometimes, I just can't see how it can work out,' you said. 'But I love being with you so much. And the things we do: the walks, Scrabble, collages (not just the sex). It just feels so right and so good.' And it did. And knowing that something was 'right' and 'good' was new for me. It was something people had said to me so many times over the years. 'You just know,' they all said glibly, like they'd been to some secret school of Hollywood romance in which the hero is announced with an appropriate backing track and a big Cupid's arrow over his head. But it just wasn't like that for me. I never 'just knew' anything. I was still in therapy trying to figure it all out, trying to work out which things matter in a relationship and which things don't. I had made so many terrible relationship mistakes. Life and love have not been straightforward for me. So, of course, I still had doubts but I was working through them. As one friend said, 'But you doubt everything! I've never known you doubt anything less than your relationship with Paul.'

I got there in the end, wrote my closing letter to my therapist a month after you died. This is part of what I wrote:

Paul's death has totally clarified for me what I knew deep down all along. That it is the heart and soul of someone that matters and external success, superficial looks, money etc are of very little consequence to me. I'm absolutely sure now that he was plenty good enough for me and that I wasn't making any kind of horrible mistake. It is just horrendous for me to lose him now that I know that. I felt like I'd finally found the kind of love I needed and now it's gone again. He was far from perfect but he was wonderful for me and will be very very hard to ever replace.

It is true. You will be. Which brings me back, eventually, to the matter of time. We were the right people, no question. As for the timing. Who knows? Maybe we could have had better timing. It turns out, perhaps, that you were a ticking time bomb. If it was already written, that you were going to die then, on March 10th 2016, how perfect, in your narrative, that I came into your life again when I did, That the last eight months of your life contained some of the best bits. That you went out on a high, knowing that you were truly loved and knowing what it feels like to truly love someone else. As for my narrative, it is I who am left now to reconcile myself to the impossible. I who is left to ponder the possibility that maybe time is not linear. That maybe quality of experience is more important than quantity. Maybe the quality of your love will last as long as I do and permeate all I go on to do. At least I 'just know' now what love is. A woman in my writing group was talking this week about a previous relationship and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films. There are relationships that, if I could, I would erase from my memory. But not ours, not ever. It was beautiful, rare and precious, like that diamond, built up of perfect moments that shine out in their brilliance even now in the darkest days.

Monday, 9 May 2016

The times we missed

                                             Paul around the time when I first knew him 

I want to remember the first time that we met.
I want it to be etched onto my brain,
hammered in with a chissel,
imprinted by the giant machine that you hated to clean.
I want it to be part of me, like the years of grime,
silted into the grooved landscape of your hands.
I want it welded to my neurons.
But it isn't there.

I remember you though and the time,
spoke of you to my friend who encouraged me then
as she encouraged me later.
She knew what I was yet to learn,
that your iron was worth more than all the words
of the other suitors, the poets and tutors.
But I was enjoying my freedom, living my dream,
didn't want to choose, afraid to lose.
There was no rush.

I must have been doing my MA.
Maybe I spoke of it to you.
Maybe that's why you told me you were 'impressed' by me,
too impressed to get close.
Maybe you were recently out of that relationship,
the one your mum clearly had hopes for
though you told a different story.
She didn't want children.
She was too much for you.
Maybe you saw that potential in me too
when you took me in over the wooden table in Ed's dining room.
Too clever.
Too much.
No rush.

Only once were we alone.
You came round to my home,
the one with the terracotta walls.
You put up iron coat hooks reclaimed from a station cloakroom.
You'd picked out the numbers in neat, white paint,
fine work for such big hands.
You charged other people but you gave me mine for free.
'I must have really liked you,' you said later.
I can picture you standing at the top of my cellar steps,
wedged in with one leg a few stairs down,
grounded, anchored as you were,
drilling into my wall while I watched,
not quite seeing what was in front of me. 
It wasn't the best place for the hooks
but I didn't have anywhere else to put them.
You were probably wondering why you were giving them for free
to someone who would shove them in a cupboard,
who didn't even make you a cup of tea,
who barely made conversation though she had so much to say.
It was wham, bam, thank you man and you had gone.
The first moment that we missed.

Or maybe I was already with Chris.
Because, the next time, that's what I remember,
sitting at Ed's table with Chris by my side and you opposite.
You were talking about your work and I was enthralled,
said 'it must be therapeutic',
probably imagining myself banging out my own incessant worries:
to stay or leave, that was the question going round and round my head.
(I should have left, of course, I know that now,
but we all know about hindsight and that's not how the story went.)
You said you'd show me how to make a poker one day,
planted a seed that would grow years too late.
You took Chris down a tunnel on a job.
I stayed at home when I should have come
but I was always too scared of being trapped.
'Lovely guy,' he said and we carried on
like a broken record until it snapped
and stuttered and could play no more.
And I was alone.

The next time is certainly carved in stone,
or stained in my mind's indelible ink.
Surrey Street on a summer's day.
We were going the same way,
me on foot, you on a bike.
You were smarter than I'd ever seen you,
under some female influence,
wearing beige shorts, a blue and white checked shirt,
it was even ironed.
You pulled into the kerb and stopped to chat.
I told you about the break-up.
You told me that you hadn't seen Ed for a while.
He was with someone new. And so were you.
You didn't have time for a coffee just then
or perhaps you thought you'd better not.
Things were going well maybe, with the new one,
not the time to rock the boat.
We didn't realise that we were barely afloat
and that this was it and one life is all we have.
Sometimes there isn't time to catch up later.
Keep in touch, I said. But you never did.
And you cycled off to look
like a stranger in photos of remembrance,
that I only see now

when you are gone.

The stories we tell

Unlike you, I have never been a reader of science fiction. I haven't studied quantum physics or pondered the conundrum of parallel universes or time travel. I was about six when I last watched Dr Who. But suddenly I find myself wondering about these things now.

Today, I drove out to the Peak District with my children on the first really hot day of spring and imagined, as I often do, the narrative in which you didn't die. In this narrative, today, you came with us. I would have introduced you properly to the children by now and things would have been going well. For the first time, perhaps, today, we were like a family in the making. I felt you sitting next to me as we drove out of the city and pictured you paddling in the stream with the children, trousers rolled up, a giant in a mini adventure of stones and leaves and water. I saw you studying the rocks that Douglas collected, watched you carry the sticks that he'd found. You acknowledged to him that the big one was like an evil emperor's staff, the little one like a sword and the nobbly one like a walking stick. You demonstrated each one in turn and agreed that it was essential that he brought them all home because that's the kind of man you are. I imagined us sitting on the picnic blanket and you telling me stories of your childhood trips to Padley Gorge and you would have told me the story about wrestling some dog in the water, the story that Ed told. We would have been like all the other families out there today enjoying the sunshine. It would have been a lovely day. It was a lovely day. Except for the shadows.

My memories of the last week of your life are plagued with shadows. I was about to introduce you properly to the children that week. But something happened on that last Saturday to make me question things. I remembered it again today as I sat on the picnic blanket, looking up at Longshaw where we had walked. I was feeling sad that day. The prospect of my first Mother's Day without my mum was a cloud over the day and I was tired, so tired. And you were not yourself. You'd had a chest infection for weeks and you had dark bags under your eyes. You were forgetting things, not in the way that you usually forgot things, but in a way that seemed pathological, that now seems like it was a warning. It was so bad that I asked you what was wrong with your brain. 'There's nothing wrong with my brain!' you said. I pointed out the droopy eyes and you laughed it off as a sign of my critical nature. 'What fault of yours can I pick on?' you asked and made me laugh too. I loved that you would give as good as you got. We agreed that I was tired, grieving, paranoid. After all, I had a father who died from brain tumours, a recent ex-boyfriend with a brain injury, a child with a rare disease. I was hyper-vigilant.

A few days after you died, I had an epiphany and suddenly I found a new narrative and, to my grief-stricken brain, it all made sense. In this narrative, the whole of my life had been leading up the moment of your demise: the father with the brain tumours, the sick child and the heartache of the ex-boyfriend with the brain injury were all part of a complex plot.  I had thought he was 'the one' but I had misread the signs. He was a red herring, a plot twist, a foreshadowing of the main event. You were 'the one' and all of these previous tragedies had been some kind of universal training programme. In fact, I was put on this earth purely so that I could recognise that you were ill and save your life. In this narrative I had failed spectacularly. I was hysterical in my kitchen sobbing on my brother's shoulder. I should have saved you. No wonder Joan Didion called her widow's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. My writer's brain was piecing things together, looking for a narrative that made sense. Even if it left me and my survivor's guilt as the villain.

The notion of parallel universes may or may not be magical thinking. Apparently, the theory has some backing by scientists who believe that consciousness outlives the human body and transfers into another realm upon death. I find this a more comforting narrative. In this narrative your death was simply the opening of a door from one universe to another, a fork in the road, a pivotal point in a Choose Your Own Adventure story. In this narrative, you slipped, in a moment, out of this universe and into a parallel one where you are living in some different form, exploring some different realm. You were an adventurer by nature and there is no question that you would have loved to explore a different dimension, although I still like to think that you would never have chosen that path over the one you could have walked with me.

You sometimes talked about the narrative you would have chosen. The one in which we got together at the first opportunity, eighteen years ago. In this narrative we would have got married and had children. We spoke about it in the campervan on the way back from Knaresborough. Unusually for me, I was the cynic, joking with you that you would have been too messy and disorganised and that I would have been stressed and impatient, worn down with childcare and housework and eventually I would have fought you for custody of the children. You didn't like my version of the story.
'What about my version?' you said. 'The one where I get to gaze adoringly at my beautiful wife and baby. The one where we live happily ever after?'
'It's better this way,' I said. 'This way we get to retire together and have the bookshop by the sea.'
'I like that version too,' you said, though you still wished that you had passed on your genome, the little genome with a pointy hat.

I think about the various narratives and think it might make a good novel or a film and then I realise it has been done multiple times: Sliding Doors, The Time Traveller's Wife, One Day, The Versions of Us. We've all wondered at times about the paths we didn't take, about the role of fate or chance in the narrative of our own lives. We all want things to make sense. But life is not a story and the ends aren't always tied up neatly. There isn't always a scene of redemption or a silver lining to the cloud. Weeks after you had gone I sent you a message saying that I wished we could start again and do life properly. Did I think you could read it? Did I think we could travel back in time? Had my magical thinking come to this? The truth is we can't go back in time and do life properly. Even if we could, we've seen Back to the Future, we know the risks. We can't have the narrative that we wanted. But we did have this.

Today, the novelist, Lesley Glaister sent me an email. She'd been reading my blog and had to stop because she found it so painful. But she said the words of Raymond Carver kept coming into her head:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself 
beloved on this earth. 

You were beloved and so was I. And as people keep on telling me, not everyone can say that.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Swimming through the waves

Today was Saturday again. Saturday was our day. From the first Saturday when we walked over Redmires and discovered our abandoned house, I have spent almost every Saturday with you. Until suddenly you weren't there to spend them with anymore.

On Saturdays, I still walk out onto my street and see you walking towards me like a mirage. I saw you today, as on other Saturdays, but today I didn't cry. Today, somehow, I had reached some new stage of grief, some kind of acceptance that Saturdays are no longer the days when I expect you to arrive. Your absence no longer surprises me. But I still see you there, parking your van and walking towards me smiling. And I still feel derailed for a moment by the remembrance that your solid form is gone.

Saturdays used to go like this. I would walk with the children to their drama class and take the dog in Chelsea Park and then, sometime after that, you would knock on my door. Loudly. You always knocked loudly, even when the children were in bed. I'm not sure you were a person who could have done anything quietly. You had a touch of the dramatic about you. In the early days of our relationship you had a habit of prefacing any announcement by saying my name in a booming voice that would make a drumroll of my heartbeat. I was terrified that you were about to break up with me. But usually you were warning me that you might need to leave half an hour earlier than usual or that you might need something to eat. It became a joke between us and I started to do the same. 'Blacksmith Paul,' I would say. And you would hold my hand and look earnestly into my eyes while I said something mundane such as, 'Would you like to go swimming with me tomorrow?' You would always say 'yes'. I would always say 'yes'. It was always easy to make plans because we always wanted to do the same things and neither of us much cared what they were anyway, so long as we were hand in hand.

I remember the first time we went swimming together. I took you on a free pass at the gym. You were already in there when I arrived at the poolside. We were still at that stage of the relationship where I would look at you curiously from time to time, wondering who you were and how we had come to be here. I had that feeling then, watching you swimming towards me. Instinctively, I dived underwater and swam like a mermaid along the bottom of the pool, feeling the tiles slide under my belly as I had done as a child. You did the same and we emerged, laughing in the middle of the lane and I had that thought again: 'Who is this man and what is this thing between us that needs no words?' It was like a dance. All of it was like a dance.

It was inevitable that, before too long, the dance and the swimming would merge and we would develop a synchronised swimming routine. We were in the pool at the holiday cottages at Brimham Rocks in February. We had three whole days together. (How precious those three days feel now.) We had the pool to ourselves and spent some time perfecting a manoeuvre in which you hoisted me above your head, with my arms outstretched and span me around until I was dizzy and laughing. I remember it vividly. The utter joy of it. The recognition of how rare it is to be so in tune, harmonious, melodious with a fellow human being. We sat under the stars in the hot tub and talked while the wind howled around us and our noses froze in the cold night air and we lost track of the time and nearly got locked in the showers.

After open water swimming, there are no showers. So said the trainer at the Yorkshire Outdoor Swimming Club where I went today. You have to get in slowly to allow your body to adjust to the temperature and get out slowly too. A hot shower, like a cold dunk, can send your body into shock. Or so he said. Grief can send your body into shock as well. It has been two months and I still feel the vibration of grief in every nerve. The physicality of this grief has surprised me. It is unlike any grief I have ever known. And I have known a lot of grief.

We had planned to go to the club at Harthill together and I wondered today what you would have made of it. Neither of us are really 'club' people. Neither of us like following the rules. (Are/were, like/liked - I'm not sure still which tense to put you in). In the end there weren't too many rules anyway, but they did make me put a wetsuit on for the first lap of the orange buoys. I couldn't breathe it was so tight. They let me take if off once they had seen that I could swim and then I felt free. It's the way I like it, with the water against my skin. I hate things that interfere with my senses when I'm outside. It used to make you laugh, the way I wouldn't wear gloves to pick up snowballs, the way I won't wear sunglasses, the way I hate the idea of headphones. I want to see it all, hear it all, feel it all, just the way it is. Even when the way it is can be too much.

I swam off on my own into the water, left the wetsuit crowd behind, dived down and resurfaced, looked up into the sky. I don't know what it was about that moment. It wasn't the freezing water. It might perhaps have been the lack of clouds or the brightness of the sky. O perhaps it was the way I paused for a moment to pat myself metaphorically on the back for being here without you, doing something that I loved. But I started to cry out there in the middle of the reservoir. I miss you Blacksmith Paul.

I remember writing a poem about swimming last autumn. I had snuck off on a beautiful autumn day for a swim at Hathersage Pool instead of working. You recorded it and messed around with it on your recording equipment. I remember you directing me like some kind of theatrical lovey. It was hard to get through the whole poem without laughing. I've never taken myself seriously as a poet but you wanted to make backing tracks to my poems - you liked the idea of the harmony of words and music. But this was the only one you started. I'm not sure I ever heard the final version that you made but this is the one I have.  I listen to the last lines now and I shiver: 'We will not live forever.'

Thursday, 5 May 2016

If love could see me now

Love is knocking at my door tonight.
She peeps through the window and sees me
sitting pale and silent in the old armchair.
She isn't sure if I will let her in.
Truth be told, I'm not sure myself.
I'm used to a different kind of visitor -
the uninvited guest who pushes past me
regardless and refuses to leave.
The house is already full of them -
sorrow, pain, death and loss hanging around,
putting their mucky paw prints on the furniture.
'I come in peace,' she whispers
through the letterbox.

I won't say I welcome her with open arms -
my arms are too tired -
but I unlock the door, leave it ajar
and she follows me into the kitchen
on a breath of spring air.
'You sit down, my sweet,' she says
and puts the kettle on and
while it boils she strokes my hair
and hums a soothing lullaby.
She can see that I have had enough.

'It's not fair, is it?' she says.
'It's more than one person can bear
to have a lifetime's sorrow in a few short years.
You seem like a really good person.
You didn't deserve this.'
I nod my head and let the tears flow
and know that everything she says is true:
not fair, too much, had enough.

She takes a tea bag from a box that I haven't seen before.
The label reads, 'For emergency use only.'
For some reason it surprises me
to find that it has come to this, a state of emergency,
but I drink it anyway and it soothes me.
Love wipes the dust from the surfaces,
arranges daffodils in a vase,
opens up the curtains a crack
to let the light in.

The doorbell rings and I start to get up.
'No,' Love says. 'You rest. I'll get it.'
She picks up a broom and sweeps the visitor
off the step before I have even seen them.
'It was no-one important,' she says,
'The people that matter will come back tomorrow.'
I nod again and drink my tea.
Love seems to know what I need.

'Right,' she says. 'Off to bed.
Leave the washing up. It can wait.
You've a busy day ahead:
swimming, walking, writing to do:
the things that nourish you.
Oh, and those two, the little ones
with the curls, round cheeks, bright eyes and freckles.
You need your energy for them.
Keep them close and they'll hold you too.'

I get up from my chair and walk to the door,
prepare to see her out,
steel myself for the tears that always come now
when I say goodbye.
But she is sitting on the kitchen chair
with her feet on the table doing a crossword.
'Sleep tight,' she says. 'See you in the morning.
I'm moving in, if that's all right?
Someone needs to look after you.'
I nod again and smile.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Day 29 - the story of this story

I will write this story because it is all I can do.
If I were a painter I would splash my grief across the pavement.
If I were a singer, I would sing my love into the midnight sky.
But I am a writer.
And so I write.

I will write because the focus on the words gives my mind something to do instead of digging around in dark tunnels where there are no lights, or staring at clouds searching for a hint of silver.

I will write this story because I loved you and I want the world to know
that, at the end of life, there was love.
That at the end of life, love is all there is.

I will write this story because I want it recorded for all eternity that once there was a man like you and that he loved a woman like me and that it was beautiful.

I will write this story because I want to preserve every precious moment that we shared.

I will write this story because it is my story, and your story and our story.
In this story we can stay together, which is how you wanted it.
As a writer, I am all-powerful: your wish is my command.

I will write this story because it is a good story and a sad story and a big story and a true story.
And I am a writer and I know a story when I see one
even when it is handed to me in the most abominable way.

I will write this story so that people who didn't know you can understand how special you were.
I will write this story so that people who did know you might see a side of you that they missed.
I will write this story so that people might understand why I am so very sad.
I will write this story so that people might know that sometimes, sadness is what is. And that's ok.

At times I might have thought that by writing this story I could make sense of events which are senseless. But I am wrong. I am not all-powerful after all. Sometimes there is no sense to be made of things and searching for meaning is what drives us mad.

Sometimes I will write because, in the writing, I can forget for a moment that this isn't a story. That this was your life and my life. That you are gone. And that it ended. Some time in the first act.

But mostly I will write to remember.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Day 28 - Because you love me/ the shape of me in you

Because you love me, I will find the strength to carry on. Because you lost your life, I must somehow find a way to value mine. 
One day, when time has passed, I hope that people will be able to look at me and see your presence instead of your absence. 
At the moment, your absence is more tangible than my own being. I am just fragments of myself stitched together with pain. I am sad eyes, grey skin, tear-tracks and shaking limbs with a gaping wound where my heart used to be. Your loss is threaded through every fibre of my body. This body that you loved. 
One day, perhaps the world will see the shape of you in the way I can keep loving even though I have no reason to trust love. In the way I will build a new life moment by moment and never give up hope even though life has let me down so many times. In the way I value myself, knowing that, at least once, someone whole-heartedly understood me and loved me and thought I was wonderful. That someone wanted to stay even though their wishes were denied.
You nearly gave up hope yourself but you picked yourself back up and started to live again. You felt I was your reward for your faith in yourself and in life. I know you wouldn't have missed it for the world even though life was so unbelievably cruel to you again. I wonder if you could keep going if it was I who was gone instead of you? I don't know. But I know that you would want me to keep on going. 
If people could see you in me they would see a person whose heart was still open. Who loved and lived until the end. Who cherished the little things and a moment of beauty amidst the pain. Who kept on learning and exploring. Who laughed in spite of all the madness and sadness of the world.
I hope one day that will be me. It won't be today. It won't be tomorrow. But, one day. Maybe.