It’s time for Writers’ Retreat once more – and there’s only one subject preoccupying me today: love.
It’s due in part to the return into my life of a boy I loved.
I met him when I was 20. I was seeing someone at the time – my first love. And that first love was rocky but lovely. It was filled with immense highs, like the night he told me he loved me and we danced all night long. He told me he loved me over and over – we danced for five solid hours without parting once. I’d been seeing him for eighteen months and this love was a long time in the making. The best moment of it will always be that night in a long-shut club, just the two of us and an endless soundtrack of cheesy love songs, then walking home at dawn through the cold streets as the sun rose.
But it was a far from perfect love, since he chose many times to go away and I couldn’t reconcile that with his professed love. Every time he travelled, it broke my heart to be without him for months on end. Eventually, it would drive us apart as I could no longer see the way we could be together when we were going in such different directions.
The first time he went away was for four months. I thought it was the end of us. I was filled with a sadness that I couldn’t comprehend. He disappeared one May weekend and I wept buckets at the coach station. No internet, no mobile phones, just an address in a faraway place that may or may not take his mail and pass it on.
By July, I’d heard from him a few times, but I was too insecure to think this was forever. It hurt too much.
And that’s when I met M.
He was standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house – his hand bandaged. He was utterly beautiful in a completely different way to my faraway love, who was rugged and funny and sarcastic, sometimes cruel and too sharp. He was cricket to my faraway love’s football. He was soft classical guitar to my faraway love’s rock music. He was gentle and beautiful.
He has the bluest eyes, and his hair was soft and cut fairly long at the time. His mouth is utterly kissable. The softest mouth I ever kissed.
He’d just split up with his first true love, and he was broken-hearted. I was too. We were both smarting with it. We talked a while and I fell in love with the idea of him. He reminded me of Gatsby at his best, noble and valiant, believing in a pure, true, innocent love. When I kissed him, he was soft and sweet in ways that my faraway love had never been. He was a salve on my wounds.
He walked me home through the fields, soft green grass and a misty summer dawn. We lay in the grass for a while, holding hands and looking up at the sky. He was yin to my faraway love’s yang. Soft, hazy, pastel colours. Gentle waters as opposed to raging fires.
The summer faded and my faraway love returned. We stayed the distance another year and a half, through more absences and more heartbreak until it was finally too much for me and I ended it. But I never forgot my summer morning love with his eyes as soft as still waters. I would have pursued it too, but he was smarting from old wounds much more than I was.
I wrote him hundreds of poems, dedicated hundreds of lines to this musical poet who had enchanted me.
Some distant heartache
Echoes here, reverberates,
Spoils future horizons
I called him the boy with the waterfall eyes.
I love that pure love that you can only know when you are too young to know better. Everyone should have a love like that: innocent, gentle, pure and ghost-white. It’s not real, of course. It’s an illusion of how love should be – just as Gatsby’s love for Daisy. It’s the love you know before you realise that people are just people and you love them warts and all. It’s that delicate first love, first blossom that gives way to something more substantial in later years and that some people spend the rest of their life trying to recapture. My faraway love and I, we had that real love, that warts-and-all love – but this love was something ephemeral, something transient, something immaculate. And it stayed that way.
Through the eighteen years that have followed, we have kept in touch. Sometimes more me than him. Sometimes more him than me. We were never in the right time and space together, and probably we never should be. Life has put lots and lots of sea between us – an ocean too far to cross these days – literally as well as metaphorically. Families, responsibilities, distance, life, values, desires…
Funny though that this ghost of love should be so much a part of my present. I realised as I logged in, his name forms part of most of my passwords. How funny that I should still have lit a candle to this boy every time I log in! If you’d asked me who my three great loves had been, his name probably wouldn’t even figure. Yet there’s still an echo yet of that love in my days.
We see each other from time to time. Funny too that he was the one I called for a shoulder when Andy died. Funny that he’s the one I called when my Gramps died. Funny that I was the one he called when his dad died. It’s like we’re reaching out in those dark times to seek something pure, something true and simple. We’d meet up for a few hours, air our woes, confess all, then go months – years even – without seeing each other again.
He’s not for me – no doubt about that. We have nothing in common; he’d frustrate me and I terrify him. I’ve always been the brave one, the intrepid one. I was never scared to get scars, to tread where even fools fear to go. This isn’t good. I have no caution. I don’t know why. He is ever-cautious, ever-watchful, ever-afraid. He likes safe, I wish I liked safe, and I think I do, but when it comes down to it, I rarely play it safe unless it’s in matters beaten into me from childhood. He’s a realist to my eternal optimist.
But still, it’s nice to have a remnant of that remain. He soothes me and brings me tranquillity in ways that few people do. Time has made us both cynical and much more brutal, but there’s still a part of me, Gatsby-like, who wishes that she could beat back against the tides of time and recreate the past, even though she knows she can’t. It’s a love I could never stomach, anyhow.
It’s hard when you realise that this pure love can never last into adulthood – even though you wish it could. It’s transient and fleeting, and doesn’t bless most people. It’s innocent romance – a dream within a dream. I tried a little to cling to it at first, but it was like trying to hold onto a glamour, a tissue of beautiful cobwebs, a veil of deceit.
Now my loves are fixed in reality – which is a shame. I wish I could recreate the magic of those walks back from the cricket club in the pale summer dawns, those nights we lay in the fields looking up at the blue sky appear through mist. I wish I looked into people’s eyes and still saw magic and waterfalls and a purity of heart. You never can reclaim that. If you’re lucky, you have a love that deepens, that becomes more profound in many ways, a love rooted in reality that brings you comfort and solace, warmth and joy. If you’re lucky, it ignites your soul when you look into your partner’s eyes. If you’re lucky, you can trust them beyond trust to know they will always be there.
This boy was never destined to become that, but I hope everyone experiences that love once in their life – where you look into someone’s eyes and want to explore what lies beyond, like children searching for knowledge, something meaningful. You want to explore. It’s that love where you stay up all night talking, where everything that is revealed just makes the other person more magical, where you want to hear everything they ever have to say. It’s not comfortable love, it’s amazing love. It’s a love that isn’t really a grown-up love.
Now, I hold Romeo and Juliet in low esteem. Romeo with all his weeping and wailing who can’t see that being banished is better than being dead. But I forget that’s how that innocent first love can be. And Romeo+Juliet, the Baz Luhrman film, reminds me of that first love. In fact, the young Leonardo Di Caprio has a look of this boy I loved – all floppy fringes and huge, sad eyes – and when he looks at her through the aquarium, I like to think that’s how this boy looked at me once. And so it was.