Letter to the unrecognisable ex

After seeing you again the other day, I am now compelled.

The sadness of the occasion, the shock of you. The way you screwed up your face, like an irritated child, and the bitterness that hardened your eyes and smelt like poison. At times, like hatred.

Who is this imposter? I wondered. Where did the one I loved, and who seemed to love me, go? And where does all this nastiness and conspiratorial mania come from?

I am not sure who you are now. Who you ever were. Certainly, you do not appear to be the bright, funny, incredibly smart and playful person I shared a life with. I understand that you have had your share of disappointments, that I may well be one of them, but that cannot explain what I encountered the other day. None of us are virgins in the convoluted game of suffering, and many of us have responded to our wounds by taking a cautionary step back from the minefield of relationship. But not like you have, old flame.

So much of what I heard saddened me. It sounded not only like retreat, or the donning of armour, but like rancour. Loathing. Of self and of others. Maybe even me and what I represent to you now. It felt like a cut gone septic. The fever having driven you mad. And in place of the beauty that once radiated: persecution, entitlement, the squeal of a hard identity, and the ego-centric mantra of continuous complaint. As though the once adventurous adult had withdrawn into childhood; but without the innocence and wonder. Or is that the child simply gave up on the idea of pretending, and now, exhausted, thumbs its nose, sitting defiant in a pool of its own piss, hoping the stench will drive all the bad people away? (Mother especially.)

I say all this because I cannot believe that you believe the bilious ideology you spouted at me – and I ask myself, what tide of regret has washed you onto this jagged rock? My darling, I’ll say it bluntly – you seemed more object of pity than rebel intellect. More fundamentalist than fearless.

So, I apologise. If there was something about me, or the way our love dissolved, or the manner of our formal separation that either triggered or still contributes to your current state, I am deeply sorry. If I acted in folly or blindness, or was petty and small, I take responsibility. None of us is above reproach.

Yet my sense is that you will regard this letter, and my writing of it, as yet another attempt to control you, or to take away what you seem to think is yours by some kind of right. Yet, I persist because the very act of this missive is my Quixotic attempt to show, by action as much as much in words, that we can react to our various disappointments in a different way. That we can accept the brute fact of aging. Make peace with our smallness. Regard, with a measure of grace, the inevitabilities of human failing. Their cruelties. Lies. Manipulations. The cold wall of their unloving and the ringing heel of their judgement.

I picture you in your bunker, nestled in the dust of pre-apocalyptic zealotry, feeding off You Tube videos…and I know with a jarring certainty that this is not the one I loved. And here, my challenge: how not to let the gap between affectionate memory and evidence obscure the truth, and thereby lure me into the manifold fantasies that take joy and hope and risk and intimacy and bake them into a crust of fear and regret and mean-spirited isolation.

You see, even if your tear this letter up, spit it back out at me as conspiracy and vitriol, I will still be thankful. That I knew you when you shone. And that your newly adopted darkness has served to warn me.

And so, stranger, this may well be the most powerful of all the many insights you have offered me. I will carry it forward, in honour of the one you used to be and the one you may one day find a way to become.

Love letter # 790

You could easily overlook it. So nearly something you’d miss. The two of them. Next to each other on the tram. Looking at photos on a phone. Him so full of swagger. So afraid of how she makes him feel. Her laughter like promise. The way she looks at him. The light that pierces everything.

They have forever. Spring is flowering for them. Now they are as gods – golden before the fall. Weightless on the outskirts of gravity.

It wasn’t so long ago, was it? Not that far away? Arcadia. We two in our momentary pomp. In deliriously suspended disbelief. The satin swoon of youth. The euphoria of finding…and being found.

They got off in the city. Vanished into the anonymous whirl. Their joy trailing invisible tendrils of a lovely miasma. Floating, as once did we. Breathe in now, my love. Breathe it in. Breathe it in. Breathe it in.

Love letter # 439

This evening, conjured by the angled sun, called up by the softening folds of seasonal air, you were with me once more. Present in my charged senses. Or rather, I was back there – then – decades evaporated – on the trundling red train, moving up the hill to your teenage welcome.

Perhaps I should have known. The freshly scented spring. The first few weeks after equinox. Sky not yet bleached by summer. And the light. Crisp still, yet turning by shades to honey. The splendid colour of you. Of remembering.

For you arrived like the flowers, like bird chorus and bee thrum, and love was grown from bare limbs. Sweetness woken from its frosted sleep. It was the Eden of everything. All the fruit anew. No thought for shame, nor serpents.

And then…spring, summer, autumn…we did not make into winter; and you found warmth with another. I very nearly froze. Yet eventually thawed. Went back to the garden. Found other blooms. Grew older. Kept only pictures of you. Faded, crinkled, sitting in a shoebox. The butterfly pinned. Dry.

Except now. Emerged. Alive in the scent of the gold toned evening. The full swoon in flow. As though I could smell your hair. See the little freckles on your cheekbone. Feel the cool euphoria of your skin. We walked. Talked as always. Laughed. And your beaming eye shot a fire right through me, so that now my blissed out tears are opal. Tonight, for an hour, perhaps more, I will love you again as though loving had just been invented.

What flowers you have tended with your touch. What seasons you have brought to bear. What thanks I give for these patient seeds, nestled in muscle and time, that they might bring such bounty to my door.

Love letter # 426

Here’s the thing: you’re beautiful. Maybe you know this already. Perhaps it is of no consequence; and I am merely one in a line. The cut/copy admirer with hungry eyes. Take a number.

Then again, it might not be like that at all. My eyes may see you differently. Because your beauty is not a figure or a swing of limbs. Nor the fall of velvet hair or the promise of supple mouth. Nor even the electricity of hands. I cannot say what it is, for I do not know. I only know that I notice; and noticing, am transfixed.

I realise this missive will seem like more of the same. I apologise if this is so. For I do not appear before you as a beggar. I am not starving. I will not die if you decline. It is not your favour I seek. Neither is it the skin and thrill of your assent. Yet still I am drawn, as though the beauty I sense in you were calling out to me. Testing me. Examining my motives. Wondering if I might just be…

Love letter # 819

Today will always be the day. Corner turned. Stranger looming into view. Eyes in a crowd. Ignition. Nothing ever the same.

What is it – this abrupt transition? Not just the blood in a rush, or the validating gaze of desire. Nor even the magnetic recognition and the promise it contains. Perhaps it is a kind of birth, a world beyond chrysalis. The self reconfigured by the presence of the other. A cell divided, then reunited as someone different.

You appeared and, by an almost instant magic, I vanished – and then returned, at your side, anew. For the brightness had drawn a shadow on the ground; and the shadow had come to life.

Love letter # 423

I do not claim to know. Rather, I hope. I interpret what I believe to be the signs, yet I cannot know if I misread, or if my misty eyes are blind. However, in the light of such uncertainty, I ask myself this: how will it be if, years from now, I am still wracked with wondering? Which is the greater risk – knowledge or regret? ‘No’ may be a torment. ‘If only’ might be worse. And so, across the space between your heart and mine…this, the leap of declaration. For now I am pilgrim. Ready to arrive.

Love letter # 484

You fan the flames that I cannot explain. You ignite stars that make nights into days. But I love your sadness most of all. That heavenly breaking, temptation to fall. The clunking of doors and the creaking of boards. Dust on the mirror and drafts in the hall. Like rain in the summer, such unlikely jewels. This polish is scratched up, yet so beautiful. Shall we dance in the hush between siren and song, or make like we’re flawless…so shiny and dull?

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