Thursday, 15 December 2016

Where do you start?

'Where do you start? How do you separate the present from the past?
How do you deal with all the things you thought would last? That didn't last
With bits of memories scattered here and there
I look around and don't know where to start.'

I'm not ready for another relationship. At least I don't think I am. Mind you, I'm not sure what ready would look like anymore. At the beginning of this journey, I imagined I might be ready when I had stopped loving you. But I understand now, that that is never going to happen. I was in love with you when you died and you've not done anything since then to make me change my mind so my feelings for you will always stay the same. Which is kind of comforting to me but, I imagine, rather disconcerting to any future partner. It's a weird complication that I could have done without. I was hardly straightforward before you came into my life and died. I'm even more complicated now.

My other thought was that I might be ready when I'd stopped grieving. But what does that even mean? When someone you're in love with dies suddenly, in horrendous circumstances, do you ever stop grieving? I am going to be sad about losing you forever. Perhaps grieving has nothing to do with being ready for a new love.

So I look to mourning traditions and am none the wiser. In the Muslim tradition, widows must stay away from potential suitors for a period of four months and ten days. I'm long past that marker. On the other hand, in Victorian England, a widow wore mourning clothes for two years. But did that stop her from signing up to Ok Cupid? I don't know. Anyway, I'm not a widow or a Victorian or Muslim. We were only together for eight months and only the last four or five were official. In some ways it makes sense that I might be 'ready' sooner than someone who has been married for years. In other ways, not. I ask my bereavement counsellor how long it might take for things to improve and she tells me that, statistically speaking, the average time to regain equilibrium following a major loss is two years, eight months and four days. As I've had two major bereavements in the space of a year and lost three partners in three years (only one of them to death), I'm guessing I might need longer. It seems reasonable to round it up to five just to be on the safe side.

Besides, there's this blog to write. I thought I might be ready to meet someone new when I'd finished writing my blog. But when do you finish writing a blog (about someone you still love, who you're still grieving for)? How long is appropriate? I'm committed now to recording this process and I get messages all the time from people telling me not to stop. I can't let those people down. But how could I have a new relationship while I'm still writing about you? And what if I turn this into a book? That's going to take another year at least. Maybe two or three with editing and publication. Could someone please send me the manual for how to move forward?

The obvious solution is to never have another relationship or at least not until the five years have passed and the book is out. I've considered that possibility and it makes sense. I've known great love. Maybe it's enough. On the other hand, I also know that love is the only thing of value in this life and that life can be snatched from our grasp at any moment. Still, people live good lives as single people all the time so why shouldn't I? I know I don't need a man to complete me. I know I should love myself and I do. I have a great career, wonderful female friends, fabulous children and meaningful ways to spend my time. And yet, and yet......I am lonely. And I miss men. There, I said it. I feel like I'm betraying some feminist cause to say that a life lived entirely in sisterhood is lacking something for me. I miss male company, I miss male conversation and on a very primitive level, I miss being close to a male body. Of course I miss your conversation and your company and your body specifically but you're not here anymore and though you are eternally in my heart, a metaphysical love is not enough for me. And as a self-employed, single mother, I live almost entirely in the company of women and children. I rarely speak to a man at all. 

There are a few men in writing groups that I run but I'm in a different role there and boundaries must be maintained. Then there's your friends. I see them occasionally. If I bump into one, in the park say, recently I've found myself hankering for hugs, hanging about waiting for them to offer, sometimes just asking outright. And in my mindfulness class, the other day I found myself staring at my neighbour's hands, instead of focusing my attention on my own feet. I'm not interested in him and the idea of being physically intimate with another man is horrifying at the moment. And yet I just want to be close to maleness. On Saturday night it escalated to new heights. I went to a cabaret night that my friend was involved in. There was a man on stage doing a comedy juggling act in which he and his partner stripped down to their underpants. His physique was similar to yours and I found myself looking for him at the interval, as if I might seriously go up to him and say, "hi. I liked your act. Your belly reminds me of my deceased partner's. Can I hug you?" Sad times indeed. 

So, I reactivated my Tinder account again, updated my profile making it clear that I am not ready for a relationship, that I just want male company. And, so far, it's been great. I've connected with an ex-vicar/writer who is up for platonic debates about existential matters and a seemingly nice man who's happy to be friends. He's offered me his ear and his shoulder, he's up for dog walks and, get this, he even likes playing Scrabble. Which is where the trouble starts.

Surely, nothing could be safer, tamer than a game of online Scrabble with a man and yet I'd barely opened up the app, placed a few tiles, exchanged a few words of competitive banter and I was crying. I felt like I was cheating on you. Scrabble was our game. How can I contemplate playing Scrabble with someone new? We courted each other over Scrabble boards, with Scrabble banter. And yet, I find myself feeling happy, in amongst the tears. Because I love playing Scrabble and Scrabble isn't just our game, it's my game too. I played it every Friday night with my Grandma for years. I can't abandon all the parts of myself that remind me of you, can I?

Which books are yours?
Which tapes and dreams belong to you and which are mine?
Our lives are tangled like the branches of a vine that intertwine

So many habits that we'll have to break

And yesterday's we'll have to take apart

I sat on my own at the cabaret. Being out was tough enough. A few people that I knew asked me if I'd like to sit with them but I declined. I couldn't cope with speaking to people. It was the anniversary of my mother's death and I was feeling bleak. I was in my grief bubble, sitting inside a snow globe, watching the world through a distorted lens. I smiled occasionally at jokes, found some enjoyment in staring at the stage. It was ok. Until the end, when they removed a curtain from the back portion of the room and I saw the maroon, velour bench where we had last sat together, the week before you died. I could have, should have maybe, turned away, but I couldn't do that. I went and sat down on that bench and suddenly you were there, sitting next to me, just on the other side of unbreakable glass. And I couldn't move. It was like I'd wandered into the wrong show and I'd been hypnotised by Derren Brown, my behind glued to the seat. And the panic started rising because suddenly I was all at sea again and I didn't know how I could get myself home. And I was crying again, not wracking sobs, not conscious tears, but the kind of tears that fall unbidden, seeping, like blood from open wounds. 

'One day there'll be a song or something in the air again
To catch me by surprise and you'll be there again
A moment in what might have been'

Eventually I pulled myself from my seat and fell towards the door. I saw a friend of yours, didn't stop to talk, just hugged him, tears streaming and walked out. Then the sobs started and I managed to phone a friend and I was saying those words again: 'I just can't believe he's gone.' And then, again, 'I feel like I'll never be able to go out without crying.' What am I supposed to do with myself when I can't even go out for an evening without crying? Maybe I'll be ready for dating when I stop crying, I thought. Will I ever stop crying?

'Where do you start? Do you allow yourself a little time to cry?
Or do you close your eyes and kiss it all goodbye? I guess you try'

The next night was the Scrabble night, with the banter and the tears and the guilt and the niceness and the confusion. Am I ready, even, for playing Scrabble with a man? I was thinking about it and wondering how it is possible to even start to try to move forward as I made my way to bed. I turned on the radio just long enough to set the alarm. This song was playing, nostalgic, plaintive. I sat on the edge of the bed and listened to the end, waited to find out who the artist was, Googled it and listened again. It seemed like it was for me. It encapsulated my weekend and my feelings. 

'And though I don't know where and don't know when
I'll find myself in love again
I promise there will always be a little place no one will see

A tiny part within my heart, that stays in love with you'

I move forward and turn back, each forward movement a wrench away from the past. But you are with me every step of the way and I know you wouldn't begrudge me a game of Scrabble in my heartache. As for the tiny place in my heart, it's pretty huge and there for everyone to see. And anyone who wants to love future me is going to have to understand that. It's probably the best prophylactic there is. 

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