Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Letting go


Sometimes I wonder if there is a part of us deep down that has some inkling of our life's narrative before it is complete, if we know somewhere in our unconscious the way that things are going to pan out. I find myself wondering about premonitions and feelings of deja vu, about me and you and the way you told me before you died that a heavy, sad feeling had come over you from nowhere as you drove into Sheffield one day. And about the dream you had on the last night we spent together where you watched me walk through the door to a pub while you diverted into an empty factory. I didn't attempt to analyse it at the time but I wonder now. I sit here in my new house, looking over at the  'Stardust' print that you bought me for my birthday and it looks obvious from here, that swirling pathway to the stars that you said epitomised the journey of our love. It is an image of a journey up into the cosmos where I search for you now.

Last week I sat through the first film that I've managed to watch since you died. (It is a strange but common side effect of grief, this inability to watch anything, to read anything.) It was Truly Madly Deeply, my favourite film of all time. And there they were, Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman gazing at clouds, and there she was, sitting in a therapist's office sobbing, 'I miss him, I miss him, I miss him,' the way I have done so many times. I wonder now why I have always been so drawn to that film and why we chose to watch it together in tears during the early stages of our relationship. Did some part of me know that my narrative would be one of gut-wrenching loss even back in 1990 when I first watched it, nineteen and full of hope? Did we know as we cried, that we would lose each other too?

I remember how back in Knaresborough in February, a month before your death, we stopped in an antique and book shop by the river. You bought yourself a penknife and a book about sailing. You bought me a second-hand version of the Penguin Book of Love Poetry. 'Open the book randomly,' I said. 'And the first poem we see will be about us.' The book fell open at a poem by E.E. Cummings. It went like this:

it may not always be so; and I say
that if your lips, which I have loved, should touch
another's, and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart, as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as I know, or such
great writhing words as, uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay:

if this should be, I say if this should be - 
you of my heart, send me a little word;
that I may go unto him, and take his hands,
saying, Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall I turn my face, and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands. 

'I don't like that poem,' you said. I tried to think of an explanation, scanned the page for a different poem but it was already done. Enough of the magical thinking, we said, switching our romantic heads for the heads of cynics to suit the moment. But I wonder now. It was a poem about saying goodbye, about moving on and letting go.

As I  packed up my old house and my mum's house this month, I have been forced to think a lot about letting go. I have sat in both houses weighing objects like snowglobes, looking at days and years gone by through the mist, wondering what I should keep, what to relinquish. I have sifted through love letters from the ghosts of boyfriends past, stared at wedding photos from marriages now dissolved, packaged up the remnants of my grandparents' lives in tissue paper. I had already moved my precious mementos of our time together to the new house and eventually, only your toothbrush remained still sitting in the cup on the washbasin. I wasn't sure if I could leave this mundane reminder of the life you lived behind or if I should bring it with me into my new life.  What would a new partner say if he saw your toothbrush sitting there? Could there ever be a new partner after you? Can you really love someone new when you still love someone who died? As I pondered these questions I looked up and saw my stickers still clinging to the wall of my old study - an image by Banksy of a girl watching a heart float like a balloon into the sky. When you love someone so much, how can you ever let them go? And did I know, when I bought it, that this would be my story?

I think about the film again and the ending where Alan Rickman watches Juliet Stevenson pack her own toothbrush as she embarks on a new relationship and the poem he recites to her, not Cummings this time, but Neruda: 'My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall go on living.' So often I have longed to join you on the other side, in the clouds or the stars or wherever you are. So many times I have cried, saying, 'please, can't you just come back?' But however much I love you and however much I cry, I can't bring you back. My magical thinking only gets me so far. I left your toothbrush behind. You don't need it where you have gone and I don't need its reminder that you are no longer physically here. Your absence is already as strong as your presence.

Yesterday, at our house-warming party, I watched my little boy playing with the inflatable helium balloon that he got for his birthday. There he was in the garden, next to the logs that you said you would chop, six years old and full of hope. And when he lost his grip on the ribbon and gazed after it as it tumbled and danced over hedges and trees and up into the sky, I held him close while he cried and thought of that girl again. Nothing is permanent. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole of life is a process of letting go. I turned back to the house and left the balloon to join you and Alan Rickman in the clouds. Your physical body has gone somewhere that I can't reach it and, though I don't like it, I am returned through the pub door of your dream to keep living.