On love and griefWhen I fall for someone, I fall. I don't do tentative. I do headlong. What's the point otherwise? If one day you wake up and think, yes, yes I love her, there is nothing to be gained by then saying, let me do it a little bit.
There is no point to worrying that you might drown when the water feels good just to be in.
So I was talking to Ally about who she is. She thinks she is a selfish, hard bitch, or can be, and when she makes me laugh with some of her exploits, I almost believe her. Then I think about women I have loved who did not even think themselves selfish and I tell her, get in line. You are going to need to work hard to beat some of these women, I can tell you.
I told her about S. I loved her intensely. She was older and wiser than me and used me the same way she'd use a rag to wipe her brow. She used her experience and smarts to manipulate me because she saw me for what I was (what I still am), a naive, delicate boy who doesn't know how to protect himself because he cannot quite believe that people really can have any bad in them.
So I saw her for a year, more or less, at university. Towards the end of that year, of course I went home for the summer vacation. She had stayed on campus. She had an up and down relationship with her parents, her dad particularly, and she wanted to stay in Brighton for the summer.
She told me she had one of the really nice flats and I should come to visit. Of course I wanted to. I missed her. I remember the twinkle in my mum's eye when I told her about the flat. She's probably shagging the accommodation officer, she said. We laughed.
So I took the coach on the long journey to Brighton. It took about six hours, although it's not all that far as the crow flies from Gloucester. It was unpleasant to sit through a lovely summer day on a bus but of course I was excited about seeing her, and I had a book to read and I have always enjoyed the countryside, so it was fine.
I got there in the evening and of course she had not come to the coach station to meet me but that was nothing strange. And when I got to her flat she was, I don't know, off but that wasn't strange either. She'd blow hot and cold at the best of times.
She said, I could make you something to eat or you can just fuck me. Which was her in a nutshell. I knew which one to choose and we were in bed a few minutes later. I fucked her for hours (I was a young man then) because that was what she wanted, always wanted, just hours of me pumping away. I thought it was great. At 21, I could not imagine anything I wanted to do more.
Even then, I was a man of little imagination.
The next morning, when I woke up, she was already up. I went to kiss her and she said, wait, I have something to tell you. I have a new boyfriend. You can stay if you want or go, whatever.
I cried all the way home.
My mum was surprised to see me but she knew what it was.
Really? she said.
Yes, I said. She fucked the accommodation officer and now he is her boyfriend and I'm not.
I did not feel bitter. I felt like I still loved her. And although I did what I have always done: went out and found a new girlfriend as soon as I could, I didn't stop loving her for the next year or the year after that, or really at all until she had faded from memory. And even now when I recall her, I know that there is the tiniest little candle that burns somewhere in me. Because I will not let love die. Not for her, not for any of the women I have loved, and still do love. How could I? I was not wrong to do it. The reasons for loving them were not extinguished by their cruelty, their neglect, their weakness, their lies, or anything they did. They still exist; they are still real.
But I didn't come to talk about love. I came to talk about grief. Because they are partners, of course. We do not grieve for those we did not love. And grief is somewhat commensurate with love. The women who I once loved and lost caused me grief. The candles that burn for them, once brightly and with time less so until they barely flicker, are memorials to the love I had for them.
But here's the thing. After a while, as love fades, you stop grieving for the loves you lost, and the flickering flames of what you felt grow cooler and hurt less. Of course, some had already burned low because of how things were. S dumped me when I was in the full flush of love for her so it took time to stop grieving because she no longer allowed me to love her. B left our home when any love had long burned down to ashes and I was glad to see her go. (But it remains true that just as with the others, I do not forget that I once cared for her and had reason. I do not diminish my own feelings, belittle my own heart, by pretending that what I once felt had not been real, that she did not, any more or any less than any of us, deserve to be loved while I was capable of it.)
I did not love any of them as much as I loved my first love, my beautiful mum. The candle I have burning for her has a raging light, a fierce strong flame that I feel unstinting and powerful. It has not dimmed one lumen from the day I last saw her to this day. I do not know whether time will lessen the feeling of its burning a little.
There is a difference though and I do not really know what it means. When S finished with me, I wanted the grief to end, to stop thinking about her, to turn down her flame as low as I could, so that it would stop burning me. I knew I would not get back with her, although of course I wanted to because I didn't care that she had hurt me, I never do. I want to be wanted and scarcely care what price there is for it. But I did not want to be in pain. I was, I still am, that delicate boy who shies away from anything hard to handle.
But I do not want my mum's flame to grow fainter. I do not mind the pain. I do not wish to stop grieving for her. I do not want to stop wishing there could be another time I could come into her kitchen, tell her about the travails of her heart, and for her to do what she did, make me tea, grab me into her arms and tell me that whatever women did to me, whatever I did to them, wherever life led me, she loved me.
I wonder though, of course, whether it is just that I do not want her loving me ever to have ended, for it really to be gone. I have never known why any of the women who loved me have loved me, bar those who are my family, and I have never really cared either, so long as they did. I don't really know why Ally does and I don't care, so long as she does. Her flame has overpowered the faint lights of past loves and still I do not really know why. I just know it has. I feel stronger for it and I don't know why that is either. Perhaps it is just the same as the feeling I had when I came home after S dumped me and my mum showed me that there was still love in my life, S be damned (and although I don't remember clearly enough to recall if she did, she might very well have said exactly that -- she could be wicked fierce when her lioness was awakened). Perhaps it is that I have finally found a woman who does not think love is something to be measured and cut, doled out to get what she wants, but like me feels it is a sea you swim in, an ocean you explore, and float or sink in the warm spring sun, float or sink but live and know you are alive.
And perhaps -- it is a tentative thought, not something I have pondered much, but just maybe -- real grief is like real love. Not a sombre, shuffling dying down of what you once felt, but a vivid affirmation of life itself. My mum has died but I am alive still to honour her, and her love has not ceased to sustain me but as it ever did it powers what is good in me, what little is good in me, which I still believe is worthy of loving because she loved it.