Saturday, 30 September 2017

Dating After Loss

Not something I ever imagined I'd ever be writing, not on a topic I particularly expected to experience, and not with any answers, either - just experiences with added reflection, for this one.

I genuinely didn't expect to date someone who was terminally ill. I certainly didn't expect to fall in love with him. I just met an incredibly kind, charismatic and complex man, who was essentially walking down a what most perceive as a dark tunnel. He was picking up every small spark of light he could find - the reflection of moonlight on broken glass, to the light from a raging fire of things he left to burn. We came across each other, sniffing at our ankles like curious young pups. We spoke, we kissed, we sparked, we caught fire. It was as simple and as complex as that. After two months of endless texts, cheery "look on the bright side" hospital visits, poetry exchanges and frank, honest conversations, I decided he was my favourite person. He told me he was my boyfriend, now. I laughed and said "alright then."

Still, I never really considered myself as someone who was going to lose their partner. Sometimes, I said it out loud to other people in conversations: "Well, my boyfriend has terminal cancer..." and it didn't feel real on so many levels. First off - he didn't just feel like a boyfriend. He was a whirlwind of a character who caught a gust of wind into my life, and left just as quickly as he arrived, without warning. His whole presence felt so transient - I would study his face so carefully as he lay next to me, trying to memorise every groove and wrinkle, every mole and every scar, and hopelessly trying to count all the twinkles in his eyes. I would listen so intently to everything he said, question it and soak it in, I tried to squeeze as much of "him" out as I could, so I could know him, know him, know him. I knew one day I would be looking back - whether in a week's time, or a year, or 10 years time - wishing I would be able to be back there, looking, paying attention. I lived that part of my life with him - through the eyes of my future, heartbroken self. "Life should be lived to the point of tears." For me, this was very much the truth.

It wasn't a normal romance in any way - usually, I would only allow such foolish, romantic behaviour after I had seriously weighed a relationship - whether it was worth the investment, whether it was going somewhere. This wasn't going anywhere, I knew that. But where it was, now, that was the most beautiful moment I had ever encountered. His face. His hands. He was stationary, but he was moving fast away from me, we were like two galaxies crashing in the night - there would be fatalities. This would be messy. But I wouldn't take my eyes off it.

So, I lost him. Physically first, but in time I found my feet and learned to find him in spirit, in memory, in fondness, in bees, in other peoples' faces and mannerisms, soon enough I saw him everywhere. Like he was haunting me - just as he'd planned to! The weighted, pulsating load of grief began to morph into something that sat differently in my heart. I felt it move and shift and change every single day - I was determined to pay attention. I believe that it's a pretty spectacular thing to be a human being, and to experience it (albeit briefly) from the inside out is quite a gift - and I intend to live my life entirely, I intend to be attentive and awed - even at the darkness, when it comes. I want to live as though I knew I were living for the first, last and only time.

I was very aware that I would date after he had passed away, though he liked to playfully tease that I would never marry, as no one would compare to him. I would shoot him a disapproving look, a small part of me swallowing the thought that this might very well be the case - he was, in a word, incomparable. "People are right for people at different times of their lives" I reassured myself - someone who is right for me now, won't be in 10 years. Even this wonderful man - had we met 10 years earlier, we probably wouldn't have exchanged two words. Though I do believe he would have been one of the rare few who wouldn't be fazed by the prospect of learning to love a woman dealing with loss.

6 weeks deep, I still didn't feel as though I was part of the "people who had lost their partners" club. I saw people moving on, my world remained frozen and still. I joined a "widowed" forum momentarily, to look for some connection and understanding and find some solace, but instead I felt like I was trying to compare my (relatively brief but very meaningful) relationship to someone else's 10 year marriage and kids cut short by a terrible car accident. I didn't feel I had earned the right to grieve alongside them. I thought of all the women who are in love with men who die, who are the "other woman." Even though that was not my circumstance, sometimes I felt more connected to those people (in my head, I called them the "Red Widows") because their grief was not usually considered, either. They had to remain silent, pretend their love was smaller than it was, or non-existent. There aren't any forums for Red Widows.

I went on my first date 6 months after it happened. I was nervous - not to see whether this new fellow would like me, or whether I'd like him, but to see how this whole experience was going to go. I'm a pretty robust person, emotionally and psychologically. I know my mind and body well, I know how to take care of myself and heal myself. This usually involves some form of art, music and poetry (oh hey, 365 Project). This, however, was brand new territory - no footprints, no familiar markings, certainly no landmarks for me to recognise. I decided to take the "open road", and be very upfront with my story and background with the men I dated. I figured, if I were to give myself the best chance at being OK if it all goes wrong, at least with this background knowledge they would be gentle, respectful, kind.

Turns out, this isn't always the case. After a month, I had my first ever "ghosting" experience with said new fellow. Ghosting (named aptly) is when one half of a romance decides they are no longer willing to pursue said spark, and choose the "dunk a massive bucket of cold water" on you option, and just cease all contact, ignore any texts, throw phone off cliff, use broom to cover any footprints they may have left in your vicinity. As mildly hilarious and equally soul destroying this option is, having the experience of sudden death recreated for me wasn't pleasant. In fact, especially since I was still fresh in the midst of deep grief, it sanded me down from a nice, robust rock into the most fragile of pebbles and threw me like a skipping stone. I plopped back down into the cold water that I'd worked so hard to swim from, and sank.

As a general rule, I try not to hold grudges against people for how they treat you. I maintain that these people have had equally valid experiences of life which led them to act how they do - the experiences that have made me connected, emotional, alive; are equally valid to those experiences who has made someone else disconnected, impenetrable, hard. I consider myself in a better position. I do not consider myself to be a "better person".

Dating experience number 1 left me needing a few months to recover, which both made me feel a shadow of my former "gung-ho!" self, and rather weak and feeble. On reflection, I think dating so early on after loss made me unconsciously search for someone to load all my displaced love onto - and this poor chap made the mistake of going fast with me - leading my inner romantic to proclaim (with a boombox on her shoulder) that "This is IT! It all makes sense now! He died exactly when he did so that I would meet HIM at this precise moment!"

It makes me cringe writing that, but in the name of honesty, that was my head-space. I needed to make sense of it all, I needed his loss to be worth something bigger, and what could be bigger than true, ever-lasting love?  The guy shot off faster than Roadrunner, and the little pebble left of myself sank lower and lower. What I like to affectionately name a "Grief Avalanche" occurred, buried me, crushed me, and I didn't want to get back up or fight my way out. I stayed in bed for weeks, leaving once for pre-booked work in London, and wondering how on earth people managed to go about their daily lives so easily. That was the wake-up call I needed to recover properly, to not place unreasonable expectations of love on any future romances, and to not assume that people will be understanding and kind with my heart, here.

The second man I dated was a fascinating, talented and kind-eyed Irishman. He had such a gentle nature, a beautiful way with words, a love of poetry, and he promised not to ghost me. He never rushed me to open up, or feel more than I could feel, and subsequently I developed deep feelings of respect and friendship for him. Unfortunately, his past made him see love in a different way than I did, and so we decided to build a friendship instead (which has it's own struggles), but this too was a lesson in love after loss. So much of dating depends on applying the right amounts of pressure in the right quantities - and it's shown me that relationships built on respect, equal effort and fewer expectations are far more likely to thrive - even if it's into a friendship rather than a relationship.

I don't necessarily compare potential suitors to my past love - mainly on the terms that I don't feel our relationship had a potential to fulfil, he was one spectacular person who I shared a loving, caring bond and affection for. Learning to date with "what could be" in mind is probably the thing I struggle with most, for now I would rather like to enjoy "now" again with someone - to just lick the honey from life again, and have someone else enjoy some of the same sweetness with me. I don't want to be saved, or owned, or bombarded, or played, or manipulated cooly into craving someone.

So, for now, my dating-after-loss adventures will continue.
And as the graffiti I read tonight on a bathroom stall somewhere in Liverpool says - "so it begins."

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Rose Pink

The sugar is still fizzing in my bloodstream 
It's 4am 
I'm Rose pink
Slow down girl, slow down girl
Pour some water, take a breath
Cool your hands in the kitchen sink
Sit down girl, sit down girl 

I take off my silver shoes 
Lay them in the light of the moon  
Still catching, still refracting 
the things I no longer need from you

I think about the girl I am laying to rest alongside them
How I wish I could pluck pages
From her book 
Before I close her
Like she was written in invisible ink
I'm fading, I'm fading 

I make arrangements for the funeral 
A trip away, to a man 
who is not her lover
But he has the light
And I have the gasoline
To burn away this sobbing girl 
into a new woman.

The Other Woman
red as a flame 
she burns too
The woman who 
was grilled like a steak
In the burning heat of your hate

In the sweltering grief
The sweet relief you felt
pulling the pearls of innocence 
from around her neck
as she scattered 
across the Living Room floor
clattered and rolled 
into the cracks beneath the door

I let them vanish
My sanity too
from rose pink 
into a crushing velvet blue

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

This Is Not A Love Poem

This is not a poem, so to speak.
This is not a whisper
This is not shriek of a wounded heart
This is just my honesty
Naked, soft and slow
Without any expectation, without a map of where to go.
This isn't going to rhyme.

Love is not chemistry alone.
Love is not the pinning down, the violent orgasm, love is not always suitable.
Love doesn't fit neatly into compatible boxes, remembered birthdays, the promise of time,
Needs kept quiet for fear of being heard
and ignored
and left behind, again.

Love is the declaration of your flaws
And the patience we decide to handle them with.
The aftermath of the party, clearing up the mess we left behind in the living room, that's love.
Love is taking your beliefs, your sneering heart, your book-read judgements
and questioning them,
because this person in front of you is just as real as the experiences that brought you to them.
Perhaps love isn't in the common ground,
or the shared agreements of flowed conversation -
that's just another way of learning to love yourself back home from the empty plains of loss.
Perhaps love is only found in the trying again.
Perhaps love is in you, and love is in me,
and to release the two would be rapture and agony
all at once.

Perhaps the love is in the risk
Perhaps it's trampling the snowdrops
on your way steal a kiss
and land soft into her arms
if only for the moment.

Perhaps tomorrow they won't be here
But my love, perhaps it was worth it.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

I had a sudden urge to summit the forest
to plant my legs deeply 
onto a stump of dead tree
which lets me see 
no more than an extra foot of sky 
than I already can.

I had a sudden urge 
to take that plaque
The one you shaped 
that I've tried to hold back
And hammer it 
abandon it
to that cemetery of trees
And let you be. 
Let the rain begin to stain it
let the rust begin to frame it
let it finally breathe the oxygen 
that you were denied
because keeping it at my bedside
won't stop this from turning to dust

and I think I need to let you go
a little more
because keeping you tucked
up inside my kitchen drawer
after sobbing on the living room floor
doesn't ever really close the door of a heart
or open a window
or let anything in, fresh
and I miss the breeze.

I remind myself
that doors can always be reopened, if only slightly
and old tree stumps can be revisited, and quite rightly
and conversations can always ensue at 6am
after dreaming of you
But I need to lay you down
a little more, now
while the future remains so unsure
and, while my heart remains unsecured
Laying you to rest 
in my head
in my chest
is like taking apart a garden
and picking each flower 
to be pressed
between the sheets of my favourite books
between the pages of the story 
of Us

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A Girl Sits Atop A Train

I can feel the words stirring in the back of my mouth.
My throat not yet a desert. The thirst doesn't consume me, yet.
I stand, neck thrown back, eyes peeled open, at scores of book stores
down an insignificant street.
I consider how I have travelled here, how I had hopped
across the tops of trains
without sitting in their worn out seats, without
making eye contact with the other passengers beneath me
staring out of their dusty windows
at the sunrise, perhaps, at nothing more than earth
blurring by in a whirr of time, something to reflect on, later, later
a changing view, nothing new
to me.
I think about the desolate landscapes inbetween the regions of kindness
that Naomi Shihab Nye described
She, too, on that rumbling train. I watched her
with my periscope shaped like a book, a poem
Laying flat against the rooftop of that train. I watched her.

The train approaches the insignificant town. The tracks begin to crumble away,
and so it slows. A voice echos up.
"Exit here for the experience of a lifetime!"
I swallow.
My toes curl inside my cheap, clean shoes.
I have read so little. I have felt so little, and so much
The windows I was supposed to look through on my ticketed seat,
I merely glanced at.
Distracted by my own reflection, distracted
By thoughts of a destination
Before I eventually made my way upon that roof
Charming a hapless guard with a poem,
or a kiss.

The bookshelves swallow me whole with their density,
the desert dust stings my eyes, but I cannot close them.
the words begin to crawl out of the pages,
like thousands of insects desperately scattering
in no particular direction
in my direction
I know I have to consider things seriously.
Re-read the books, as many as I can, before the next train departs
to a chapter of my life that I don't think I'm ready for.
I wonder,
Will I make my way back into the open air of that moving train
Back to the wind rushing past my ears, whistling a tune, a wordless poem
When all the books are read.
Or will I take my seat with the others
The more knowledgeable, perhaps
For a lifetime spent looking through the dusty windows?

A girl sits atop a train.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Getting Out Of Bed (on days like these)

Getting out of bed (on days like these)
My heart says
Offer your wrists
Upturned and open
Your blood is just ink,
When you don't think
you're coping.
My mind says
Be stoic.
Stand still on your own.
You can bypass the pain
If you just turn
into stone.
My body says
I'm fragile,
Just, please stay in bed
These soft sheets can't hurt you
or your achy head
The sky says
"Come join me"
It begs me to leave
To soak in some blueness
& bear witness the breeze
The birds say
There's music,
just loosen your ears
Come, join in the choir
We've been waiting
for years
The heat says
Spring's here now
There's no need to fear
This coldness will leave you
eventually, dear
I turn to the window
I turn down my head
I turn down this pen
and I get out of bed.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017


I don't recognise this place but I'm told it's where you live, now.
Your friends fill the room with their black suits and black shoes,
rolling a quiet applause across the floor.
I stay by the door.
I don't like it here - it doesn't feel like you, or your Living Room
with it's blankets thrown and music strewn.
A beautiful piano plays out of tune.
The people with their heads down, they rush by and by,
so I call out your name to the thundering sky.
You do not reply.
"He's unavailable."
"You just missed him."
"He was here just before..."
I turn round, and see your coat disappear out the door.
My hopeful heart crumples and falls to the floor.

It's been nearly a year, now, that we haven't quite met.
My calls ring, unanswered, you can't take them just yet.
I start to wonder if it's something I said...
Did I write far too softly, were my rhymes not quite right?
Did I hold too much heaviness for your arms through the night?
I'm sorry
I tried my best.
I dream of this meeting, and what I would say -
to cocoon back in your body, to ask you to stay.
Just, please, don't go away

Unavailable. That word. The sting of the bee.
This "love", meant for others,
just never quite me

I wake into greyness, and look to the Spring
His chest softly falling, his lips poised to sing
I rise and tread softly over his floor
searching for shelter, but instead
a trap door
with old faded lettering,
and parts of it torn, and fingerprints still visible
of past lovers, adjourned