Image by Alex Avalos, via Unsplash
This is the place you go to bury or burn the person you love.
You are in a cinema with friends, or a boyfriend, or your family. No-one is ill, no-one is cross, and you have enough money to waste on a cinema ticket and popcorn and fizzy drinks. When you look back over your life you won’t think of this occasion; you might not even remember it. You’re laughing; relaxed; not thinking about work or bills or your body or anything in particular. And it was this moment, and hundreds of other moments like it, when you feel what it is to be happy. Nothing spectacular. So subtle you barely notice it. But that’s happiness for you. It comes and goes in snatches of time so fleeting and soft, like an expensive perfume on a rich woman who is passing you by.
The world doesn’t care about the death of the person you love. For you, it is all consuming, unfathomable, horrific. Harrowing. Like a terrible nightmare you hope to wake up from soon, except you don’t, and you can’t. There’s no respite from it. And the cheek of it is, nothing changes. Your world has stopped, but the world has carried on spinning; your colleagues are still at work, gossiping about each other; the girl you fancy in the coffee shop is still warming up cappuccinos, the sun still shines, and the worst of all is that you survive. You put your clothes on in the morning. You eat. Maybe not at first, but then you do. You eat. You drink. After the shock of it all and the goodbyes that you don’t want to end, the tears and the funeral and everything that you have to endure – you go back to work. Maybe you can’t stand it anymore and you leave that specific job, but you, in some way, go back to work. You get yourself dressed and you smile at strangers and you function like a normal human being. When you get a moment to yourself the façade drops and you can’t pretend anymore, and the tears and the sheer rage of knowing that you will never see the person you love again breaks you into pieces all over again. And the evening turns into night, turns into morning. And you get up, get dressed, and go to work. And so it goes on for a long time, the periods you can go without breaking apart getting longer and longer. Until you accept the gnawing pain because it is part of you now, it is who you are, and the memories that felt like they slashed you alive become precious, treasured things that are more valuable to you than gold Memory is all you have left, memories and pain; and you cherish those feelings more than you probably did the person you loved when they were alive. These feelings you carry with you like burns or scars; invisible to anyone but yourself.
You are talking with a friend, either at a bar after work, or at lunch, or on the phone. There is something about the two of you that is the same; be it your demographic, your sense of humour, your taste in clothes or men or books. There is always a quality of sameness, of having something in common with the friends you choose, even if the similarity isn’t immediately apparent. You laugh together; that is one of the most important functions of a friendship. You ‘get’ one another. When lovers leave you, or bosses walk over you, you make each other laugh and by inhabiting each other’s company you know somehow that it will be alright. Sometimes, the friendships that you value the most do not last. Things change; and you drift apart. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the having of friendship at all; friendships are the most precious part of life; like diamonds, or snow.
Bed is the place where you really live. Here your bodily functions take place, where you bleed and pass wind, where you come, where you experience your darkest sexual fantasies and your wildest nightmares. You will cry late at night here with your deepest aches, and sometimes you’ll call someone that loves you to help you through it, but usually you will cry it out here alone in the place that is all yours. Bed will comfort you and cuddle you and keep you warm. When you are worn out and no company at all, when you are drunk and need to pass out, when you are ill, when you are upset, your bed is there waiting for you, waiting without judgement. Bed cradles you in its warm embrace while you are sleeping and will let you go in the morning without feeling abandoned or neglected. And when you are resting, dreaming, you are practising every night what it is to die. There is no place like bed.
Time goes on and on and on. When you suffer the experience of losing the person you love to Death, time does the cruellest trick of appearing to simultaneously stop and to go on forever and ever. But really, as time goes on at its normal pace you learn something. You learn that the physical being of the person you loved is irrevocably gone. You eventually accept that. But there is something that cannot ever, ever be taken from you. And that is the love that you shared. You can grow old, you can think of a hundred or a thousand moments you would have liked to have shared with your mother, your lover, your sister, whoever it is that you grieve for, and all of that has indeed been taken from you. But the love never dies. You get to keep that, always. Always.
T.S.J. Harling has a first class BA in English Literature from the University of Liverpool and an MA in Critical and Creative Writing from the University of Sussex. Literary influences include Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters, Shirley Jackson and Elizabeth Wurtzel. Publications include X R A Y, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Dear Damsels, and Queen Mob’s Tea House, among others. T.S.J. Harling is researching Dracula as part of a Creative Writing PhD at the University of London.