Sunday, 12 June 2016

On souls and soulmates

I meet your family for the first time a few days after I discover your body. It is surreal to say the least. With all of us in shock, we skip the small talk and set about the important business of discussing coffins and writing notices to go into the local press.  'How do you want to refer to Paul?' your Mum asks, trying to get the wording right for the newspaper. 'Partner, boyfriend?' I don't know the answer. I want someone to confer with. Actually, I want to confer with you but you are not here and it seems odd to ask if I can phone a friend. Anyway, which friend would I phone? No-one really knew us together. Partner seems presumptuous when we weren't even living together and boyfriend seems ridiculous; you were fifty-three and a giant of a man. It just doesn't seem right. And suddenly I find myself speaking, before I have had time to censor myself. 'Soulmate?' I offer. 'Does that sound silly?' And your mum, bless her, says no she thinks soulmate is just fine. I already like your mum.

Every once or twice in a lifetime, two people come together and something magical happens. Biologists might try to explain it with talk of pheromones and procreative urges and psychologists might tell us that we are drawn to each other in order to replay some familial drama but, for most of us, at the point of falling in love, all rational thought goes out of the window. In fact, we feel so far from science, that we feel that we have actually slipped through that window, or perhaps have gone even further and broken through some space-time continuum into a different dimension. Suddenly we exist in a new galaxy where we and the object of our affection are the only living things. We are twin stars on a collision course that has been predetermined by some unfathomable force. (As I said, science is irrelevant. This is how it feels.) Where once we thought we were the arbiters of our own fortunes, we are now inexplicably tossed on the waves of destiny, pawns on a cosmic chessboard, out of control. We don't care if we mix our metaphors, we just know that there is a rightness to this connection and that we are meant to be together, even though we have no idea who meant it to happen or why. Things that were blurred come into focus. We see our best selves reflected in the other's eyes. We have met our soulmate. This is how it was for us, even though we had no idea how we could make it work. We were discussing it right until the day you died.

In the aftermath of your death a few people took the opportunity to tell me that they weren't sure we could have made it in the long run. I wanted to punch these people. 'You could never have lived with him,' said one. 'He was a slob,' said another. I think they were trying to make me feel better. At least now that you had died, I could be spared the disappointment of finding that you squeezed the toothpaste from the wrong end. In fact, your erratic teeth-cleaning habits had already been a subject of negotiation. You had lived alone in a shack in a field for years and unconventional was too conventional a word for the way you lived. But both of us went into the relationship with our eyes wide open and what other people couldn't see was the focus and recognition of those eyes. What we had was unique. It was special. It was beautiful. It was not of this world.

It was, though, a paradox. We were deeply in love and, for both of us, nothing had ever felt more right and yet logic told us it couldn't make sense. I had two children who got me out of bed at 7am in the morning and, left to your own devices, you would go to bed at 2am and get up in the afternoon. I'm hardly known for being house proud, but your messiness was on a scale unlike anything I had ever seen. Caring for a sick child had turned my life into a military operation where you were disorganised and carefree. And yet, somehow it worked. And it didn't just work, it worked beautifully. When we were together, it was simple and magical and irrefutably right. But when we went back to our respective lives, sometimes, especially at the beginning, doubt would set in. Two or three times you sent me panicky messages saying that you couldn't envision yourself in my life, that our circumstances were too different, that it was doomed to fail. And then, one day, something changed. I wrote you a letter saying that I thought we had something special but that I needed to be able to trust you. I was reading a book on polyamory as research for my novel and I sent you this quote:

"I believe that every person you connect with on this planet has some sort of message to give you. If you cut yourself off from whatever kind of relationship wants to form with that person, you're failing to pick up your messages."

 You wrote me a letter back saying that actually, now, you couldn't imagine me not being in your life. You wrote: 'After much soul searching, many tears, and wandering up and down the road talking to myself, sometimes, quite sternly, I know what I want beyond all doubt. I want you more than anything in the world.'  When something feels so right why shouldn't it work? It might not be logical, but since when did logic have anything to do with love? I will never know now whether we could have made it in the long run but I know we were soulmates and we had a chance.

We still are soulmates though we are now living in different dimensions. Bodies may be separated but souls roam free and sometimes I feel your soul is still in communion with mine. Sometimes I feel you close by and I see signs of you still in nature. The other day, I lay on the ground looking at clouds and asked you to do something for me and the clouds shifted to form a heart shape. And as I walked away, I saw a heron (my symbol for you) on the river and I just knew you were there. Don't ask me how I think you control clouds and birds as I have no idea. But I feel you when you are around. I read that psychologists call it animism, imbuing meaning into creatures and objects, the grief-stricken mind constructing a false reality. But what do they know really? They think love is all about wanting to marry your father.

Your mum feels your soul too. She tells me that she feels you are more at peace now and not quite as sad as you were at being torn away from this world. She doesn't know how she knows it but she says it is like someone has just told her and that it feels true. On your birthday, I take her out to look for a spot for your bench and suddenly, out of the blue she says, 'Paul would have loved to see you dressed like that. I don't know how I know it, but he would. He would have called you his little wood nymph.' And she laughs at herself because the words feel so odd in her mouth. 'Wood nymph is a nice thing isn't it?' she asks. And we look at each other and smile because, of course, that is just the kind of thing you would have said. And I look down and realise that I am wearing the skirt that I wore when I dressed up as Heidi, on the day we first got together and that I haven't worn it since. And my heart sings with the closeness of you.

I tell my bereavement counsellor about some of the things I have felt. 'A lot of people tell me things like that,' she says. I tell her about the skirt and what your mum said. 'That must feel so real,' she says. And then she throws up her hands like she is sick of this charade. 'Well, it is real,' she says. We have slipped through that window again and we don't understand the science of it but some things are bigger than us, bigger than science.  Love and death and grief are unfathomable. In our cynical, empiricist culture, we just don't have the words.

Dressed as Heidi on the day we got together