I have a theory – I doubt it’s new but still, it’s mine – that there’s some kind of boundary separating this world from another. I don’t think anyone can see it but I’m sure it’s there, like a one-way mirror, impenetrable usually to our earthly gaze but there nonetheless. Or some kind of ethereal muslin that lies like an invisible mesh somewhere above our heads, permeable only by spirits or mystics or people in an altered state. I haven’t thought this through. And yet, I’m sure it’s true.
When Paul died, it was like the gauze between those worlds was shredded to pieces. At times I felt like we were both in limbo somewhere in between, neither of us able to settle into our respective worlds. I was aware of his presence, heard his voice, felt his touch, saw signs of him in herons and robins, in rainbows and clouds. At the same time as feeling that I was drowning in the violent waters of grief, I felt buoyed up by the certain knowledge then that it is life and not the afterlife that is a mirage. At times there was such peace in those early days, like all the extraneous crud of life had been stripped away until what remained was pure love. In those early weeks, it was the ordinary, everyday world that looked strange. The people going around their ordinary, everyday business seemed bizarrely deluded in their apparent misconception that life is solid and knowable, in their belief that everything can be understood by science and reason. I was on another planet or on another plane, in a different realm, sitting on my wall of in-between, unable to join the land of the living for fear of losing him. I saw signs everywhere I went, the path beneath my feet littered with feathers, heart-shapes appearing in clouds and pebbles and frying pans. I journeyed with a spiritual treasure map, collecting clues in fragments of phrases found on scraps of paper or song lyrics, in the titles of books or in the interpretation of runes. Life was one long found poem and though I was lost, paradoxically, I knew that I was found too. Am I losing you? I haven’t thought this through.
I thought of signs and of that permeable layer again this week though as I sat on a different wall of in-between. I have been stranded for a while in the land of relationship limbo, not sure whether to stay or leave, hovering somewhere between single and still in cahoots with the man I have been loving for the last year. We had pressed pause on the story of our love and I’ve been zooming in on the issues, rewinding through the freeze frames, searching for clues, wondering which way to go. I followed the signs into this relationship but it’s not been an easy journey and we have come to a crossroads. I didn’t know what to do. So I did what I have become skilled in. I sat with uncertainty, in between, and felt it deep in my bones. I wrote. I walked. I swam. I talked. I breathed deep and searched for peace. I read my own words and they echoed back to me, reminding me of the things that I’ve learned and lost and gained and found and somehow I worked my way back onto my own path, trusting in my own feelings, walking alone again on solid ground.
On Thursday, Paul’s birthday, I walked alone to his bench. I’d forgotten it as I did last year. Last year I woke in my new boyfriend’s arms and the realisation that it was Paul’s birthday threw me into a tailspin. The clashing of those two worlds, the old and the new, was too violent and I crashed headlong into a pit of depression and anxiety. Looking back, I wasn’t ready for a new relationship. It was too much for me. But, having learned how precious love was, I didn’t want to let it go. And, as my therapist said, the only way to get over my fear of loving again was, simply, to love. And so I did, step by tentative step, tiptoeing into an unknowable future.
Anyway, where was I? I’m losing myself. Paul’s birthday. I forgot. But the night before, I dreamed of him again for the first time in many months. And the next day, in one of my writing groups, I picked the title ‘Dance in the City’ from a random scrap of paper and I found myself writing about my memories of him for the first time in many, many months. And then his ex-partner reminded me on Facebook and so I set aside what I was doing and walked to his bench. As I paused by the pond in the park I looked up and saw a heron sitting, regal, in a bush and I smiled to myself, though I brushed it off. The gap between the worlds has closed these days and I live with the living, coloured once more by their scepticism. I took out my phone to take a photo and as I did, the heron swooped from his perch and flew right at me, looping in an arc over my head and returning to his place amongst the purple blooms (Note to self. Must learn plant names). I walked on and as I walked, white feathers drifted from the sky, falling at my feet, littering the pond and I remembered how I used to believe in this stuff but I couldn’t quite stretch my mind to embrace it, to reach him, though I saw the rob rob robin, bob, bob, bobbing alongside me.
Yet, in spite of it all, there was this feeling, that something, someone, is still holding me. ‘Are you here?’ I asked as I sat on his bench between the strong arms that remind of his. ‘I’m always here,’ he replied. And I rested a while on his bench and knew that if I just keep walking, the way will always become clear, that there’s a voice inside that does know what to do. The paths twist and turn and I keep choosing the scenic route, the road less travelled. For now, my boyfriend and I will walk on different paths, still in view but on different sides of the pond. I’m ok with that. I’ve had worse. So much worse. We’re still alive and can stay connected and maybe our paths will converge again. And, if they do, that’s fine too. For now, I need some time off from love to simply love myself. As I read the signs, I know that I must stay aligned to my own true north.