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 As though the once adventurous adult had withdrawn into childhood; but without the innocence and wonder.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.

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