Sunday, 20 November 2016

Everything I ever wanted


I was looking through your photos again last week, putting slideshows together for your memorial and I came across this photo. Sometimes I think I have looked through everything that you left behind, but then I find, perhaps, a hidden folder within a folder and there is something new to discover. I am still uncovering the evidence, discovering new things about you, falling more deeply in love even though you've now been gone for longer than we were together. It is eight months now and counting, always with the counting, still with the crying, still not better, not fixed, not over it. Not over it at all.

This photo was taken at exactly this time last year. Our initial quandaries about whether we could be together had been resolved and we were going out together to a party. It was a kind of coming out. What had been private was becoming a little bit more public. Even though it is a photo of something so mundane, this photo touched me more than most, because I have some inkling why you took it. I was upstairs getting changed and I'd left the card for you to sign. You had evidently done so and then liked the way our names looked next to each other and taken a picture. Beverley and Paul. Side by side. A couple.

We had a lovely evening that evening. The party was at our mutual friend's house. It was really special for both of us to be there together. You danced with me properly for the first time that night and I remember being surprised that you had rhythm. Later, we sat holding hands, in that first phase of love when it is hard to let go. And afterwards, we walked, still hand in hand, down the park in the dark, chatting happily about the evening, deconstructing events, the way couples do. I can still feel the comfort of that rhythm as we fell into step so easily, side by side, a couple. We walked past the space where your tree is now planted and into our future together. We fell a little deeper that night.

Sometimes I am so lonely and missing you so much that I find myself searching for your name again in the list of friends on Messenger (I have to search now because your name is so far down the list of recent messages.) I scroll back through the months, from the messages that you never read to the ones we sent in the early days. It is a form of torture that I indulge in from time to time, to bring you back to life in this way and then to feel the full force of your absence again when the messages run out.

I read again the messages that we sent on the day after the party. I was worrying that you might still have doubts. 'Scary stuff, this falling in love,' I said. You reassured me. 'You're everything to me,' you said. 'I want you to know that. I'm just realising the importance of what's happening.' What was happening was really important. We were falling in love: deeply, completely in love in a way that felt new for both of us even though we were middle-aged. 'Somehow, you seem to be everything I've ever wanted and never quite had,' I said.

And, as I read, a crack opens in the universe and I fall headlong through the gap, tumbling into blackness. The past has vanished and the present and future have merged into a gaping chasm. I am crying so hard that I can no longer see the words on the screen, feeling that I can't breathe, sure that I can't survive this pain any longer. I am falling faster and faster into the darkness, clutching your clothes to my chest as if they are the life raft that will save me. Eventually I fall asleep with my phone cast aside on the bed and when I wake, I feel shipwrecked again, the ground like shifting sand beneath my feet, my body water-logged, the sun too bright in my tired eyes. The tears are poised again, waiting to fall.

I let them fall as I sob my way through my bereavement counselling again, as I talk about how precious you were and how impossible it feels to imagine ever finding that kind of love again. Of course I had known real love before but it was twenty years ago when I was too young to understand what I had. It didn't last for long. And now it feels like it took me forty-five years to find you and just eight months to lose you. The equation is all wrong. I talk again about how private our love was, how so few of our feelings were public because it was still so new. I talk about how upset I am that some friends don't seem to understand our relationship. 'Why do you need other people to validate what you had?' she asks. I can't answer but for some reason, I do. Maybe it's because we never had a wedding or a public declaration, that the closest we came to going public, was a party last November with our names side by side on a card. Perhaps I make our relationship public now because I need someone to understand what we had and what we lost. That this was not something small. That this was monumental. I search your files and our messages to remind myself what it was. I share them to show other people. I am digging up the past, looking for evidence that you lived, that we loved. Thankfully, she, at least, understands. 'You know, the more you talk about him,' she says, 'the more I realise how perfect he was for you.' She is right, you were. You were everything I ever wanted. And now you are everything that I have to live without. In some ways it should be easy; I am used to doing without. But how hard to it is now to live with the knowledge of what we might have had.