The Vastness

It was the morning of your leaving. That’s when I knew I was sinking. Lost at sea.

You walked into the chilly gloom – taking my breath with you. I don’t think I ever felt so naked. I closed the door and just stood there – shaking. It was the dam breaking. It was everything. Like a higher power – and me becoming lost in it.

I was washed away. Dissolved. Erased but immediately reborn. But not the same.

And it was you – you who taught me not to fight the tides.

You who said surrender – so I did.

We had our forty four hours. Crammed our fevered love between commitments. Me to mine. You to yours. Dusty old tale.

And then, in fitful blackness, the thumb grimed radio crashed to life – static and flashing numbers. The dream was over. The news was out. You winced in the ugly light as you scurried into your clothes. I was barely out of bed in time to see you off.

Next week? I smiled – trying to sound off-hand.

Travelling, you said – eyes downcast. Sad.

Which was how I felt.

We stood in barely awake silence. “I’ll call,” you promised – but even that was tired.

“I love you, Bret,” I said to your back as you started down the carpeted corridor. You turned and smiled. You held your hand over your heart. Tapped it twice. Beats in time. It said what you never could.

Never did.

They say that words are close to worthless – to a point I agree – yet what that little sentence would have meant to me.

I only ever wanted a single piece of certainty. All manner of chaos could have whirled around that.

Of all the gifts you gave, none were truly mine.

I spent the day trailing luggage. Trying not to spend money. I walked for hours – burning off the energy of abjection, glad for the anonymity of the city. I got to the station in time for the rush. It was like being an ant. The swirl and the smell of it.

Then I saw it. The Runaway Circus flyer pasted to a pole. It made me brake. Feet killing me. Eyes popping. The image was weathered, edges lifting. Someone had run a key across it.

But there it was – your perfect face. Unalive eyes still piercing. Mouth still kissable.

A line from Alana’s review shouted at me. “Get a babysitter. The kids won’t like this one.”

I was choking. So much crushed into a faded rectangle. All of you and I rolled flat. Posterised. The ephemerality of it all was undeniable. We are bright and colourful for a while, until time and fresh attractions condemn us to the layers.

I wanted to tell someone, “I was there that night. I know that guy.” As if that might save us from the inevitable diffusion of memory.

But who would care – let alone believe? I’d be the delusional bag lady of pedestrian tittle tattle. That tired, menopausal harpy. Coming off the high. Going down.

Disoriented, I searched for an out. The grubby electric light of a nearby hole in the offered the quickest escape. I stumbled towards it – perpendicular to the crowd – dodging their urgency – until I slumped into warm cracked vinyl seating and caught sight of myself in the finger-marked glass. I was an exhausted hologram hovering amongst the foot traffic. Diaphanous. All gone but for traces of hunger.

Was that all I was? A thing that wants? A cipher of desire?

Was I so small? And what possible force could so easily render me thus? How had everything been so abruptly and irrevocably changed?

But I already knew the answer to that. It was the vastness. And there is no defence against the vastness.

I had found this out at sea – as a girl on the brink of bleeding. Four weeks between worlds – between innocence and something else.

Four weeks. As long as I’d known you.

I looked away – frightened. The truth too brutal. I exhaled an audible sigh.

The approaching waiter caught my eye. He was my age. Looked like he ran the joint. Smelled of coffee and disappointment. To him, I must have been an obvious case. “You right, love?” he asked, his eyes searching me a little. He looked down at my bags. “Escaping?”

Maybe I knew I could trust him. Either way I was sobbing inside twenty seconds.

Frank had obviously met his share of teary travellers before. The train out of town is a long line of tales. He barely flinched – and I had water, coffee and a sneaky tipple on the table in no time. He lit up a cigarette which I smoked like oxygen.

Then I blurted out a breathless version of you and me. He hmmed and nodded, poured me another drink – which I swallowed whole.

Heartbreak is heartbreak – no matter how you describe it. The specifics simply prove the universality. We like to think we all have a story. In a way we do – but it’s the same one.

Frank ended up waiting on the platform with me. He already knew what loneliness was. I would find out later.

The train was another kind of voyage – a different kind of ocean. The vastness was inside me. And there was only light – and what it shone upon.

In a state near delirium I saw myself fidgeting in the tight, uncomfortable seat like cattle in a cart, rocketing across the night.

Amongst the snores and groans of strangers and the rhythmic rattle of the rail, I snatched half formed dreams of relief between fully conscious nightmares.

The miles ticked by – me going one way, you the other. Soon we would be separate shorelines. Or perhaps we really just stood still and the universe expanded between us.

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Love letter # 172

In the autumn of your ardour I am already starving. The tide has turned. Inexorable momentum.

And today – your scalpel tongue. Almost vivisecting. Leaving a bruise.

Things are different now. The space between us has changed. Light has become the memory of light.

And we cannot change each other back.

We’re here now. What next?

Love letter # 123

When it ends, as I know now that it must, I will not fight. Not because I have no strength but because love is not a victory – no matter how great the ache of its loss.

Saddened though I am by the dimming of the light, no amount of protest will prevent the coming of the darkness. The steady process has begun. You are slowly, inexorably withdrawing – your touch a little cooler each day. Your kisses less … just less.

I am only saying this because I do not wish to linger in the grey-lit half world of the drawn out breakdown. Nor do I wish it on you. Not for us the awful, second guessing diplomacy and metering out of affection. Not for you the eggshells. Not for me the frantic wondering.

Let the night fall now – before memory fills up with regret – before daybreak dawns bitter and afraid.

I do not know why love has left you – I only know that it has. And that is all I need to know.

Love letter # 162

What did I do before you? I don’t know. What on earth was I filling my time with? Just stuff, it seems. Distractions. Noise. I thought I was so smart, so cool, so together. It was all vanity. Not worthless entirely – but nothing like now.

I knew, on the night we kissed, exactly what I had been missing. When I loved you I was transformed. An empty space filled, like light on the walls of a once black cell. Your touch illuminated me – made the whole world glow.

You helped me remake everything – turn sound into song, days into joy. The temple of my hubris fell down and in its place the beautiful humility of surrender, the sheer and tender wonder of blessed mortality.

What I have found by your side is as ancient and fleeting as the earth itself. It is the eternal two count of death and renewal, creation and extinction. It is both the letting go and the receiving, the gift and the giving.

Now that I have breathed it in, felt it under my skin, there is no going back. The windows have been opened, the doors taken off of their hinges – and this house can never be closed off again.

Love letter # 153

When you say that I keep secrets, you are right, I do – but the silence that I hide behind is the awful sound of shattering. I feel that if I were to cry that I would never stop – and you might drown beside me in that mammoth sea. Even the creakiest craft is better than that.

So much remains to show you – so many things to say – but there are things I cannot whisper, things you cannot see. Ugly things. Stupid things. Storms I can’t control.

So yes, I have chosen to obscure and exclude. Parry and prevent. Veil and veer around. Partly because I fear your appraisal. Mostly because I dread the tides.

I don’t want you to see because then I won’t have to look. Your knowing would be the end of my denial – and that is what keeps me afloat. I know this is a tinder castle, ready for the fire; but these slender, matchstick walls are the difference between what we have left and what we will surely lose.

Knowledge isn’t always power – and the truth is often a bully. There is a price for everything it seems – so I pay a toll in shadows to keep the light alive.

You can force it out of me if you wish. Most likely I will yield. The question is: are you prepared to wager what you have for what you think you might receive? Perhaps the value of a secret is in its keeping – not its revealing.

Love letter # 299

Why do I still think of you? How come, after all this time, you still break into my thoughts – even my dreams?

I have just spent an hour imagining a scene with you and me – a scene in which your voice was drenched in honey tenderness. Thinking of it, a bloom of warmth spread out from my chest. Hairs stood on end. Little antennas – still attuned to you.

Were you, by any chance, thinking of me? Do you ever?

I know it doesn’t matter. It’s over now. I accept that. But I’d like you to know that whatever you’re thinking, I’m thinking this: that life was more beautiful beside you. That part of my heart still beats out the song of your name. Not in hope – but in thanks.

Perhaps I think of you to remind myself of stars. Of possibility. All I really know now is that I’m awash with sweetness writing this. Even if there is a kind of sorrow lurking behind these words – it is the sadness that stems from the presence of beauty. It is cleansing. Uplifting.

You will think I’m mad and obsessive – that’s fine. These things may well be true. But what I am not is hardened and bitter. However dark it sometimes seems, I still have your torch to help me light the way.

Whatever happens – I promise not to shine it in your eyes.