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.