Letter To An Ex Lover


Dear M,

If one day I came back to my house and found a letter under my door from you, I would be extremely surprised. There are two reasons why: the first is because I don’t think you would remember who I am; and the second because I imagine that’s the kind of thing you would only do if you were in love with someone.

And I’m sure that these are the two things that surprise you about this letter. I’m probably no more than the latest memory to you by now, or like when you’re waiting for paint to dry in a new house and there’s still one spot that smells wet after all the rest is done. Sooner or later it will all have blended into one colour. But nonetheless, I wanted to write something to you anyway; or not necessarily to you, but about you. I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, and if you do it might be a long time in the future – and if that happens, then I hope by then you are better than you are now, and able to understand why I might have written this.

It’s been a few months now since the last time we saw each other, and time has been moving strangely with every day that’s passed. Sometimes it’s fast and I don’t notice it because the vista of work, friends and distractions is as active as passion; sometimes, at my desk, at night and through the day, it passes slowly because it’s intertwined with thoughts of you. You slow time down. Despite my strength, I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently. I don’t want to – I vigorously, virulently don’t want to – but control seems to have left me and I’m at the mercy of my thoughts.

I think you might not remember the night we met. I wondered who the hell you were. What I remember is there was a blank screen around me, and you came spinning out of it like a drunk whirlwind, and I found it incredibly funny; hence why we were laughing when we first kissed. I hadn’t the faintest idea who you were, and you certainly couldn’t have known who I was; there was the lost wave of a hand reaching out from the darkness, somewhere in between the flashing lights and sounds, and I came over to ask if I knew who you were. The rest is the sort of thing that ought to be thrown to the dustbin of history. But, still, it was very funny – although you and I could both have been anyone.

I have to confess that I didn’t know your name until the next morning, which is quite something given that we were lying awake in your bed from 7am til 1. It took until I met your housemates later to finally figure it out – I wasn’t exactly about to ask you what your name was after waking up with you. Our meeting was such a clash of drunken idiocy and hilarity that trivialities like names just didn’t need to matter. And, to be honest, I didn’t need to know who you were; I took a thrill out of watching this anonymous girl lie naked next to me and laugh at all the things I found funny, go wherever the conversation wanted to go, and tell me whatever she wanted without particularly seeming to care. Your name was just a useful prefix I could use to describe the phenomenon that was this girl – it was a symbol that was hilariously divorced from the reality. Meeting you felt a lot like I had just found a crystal in a great block of stone; a place where no crystal ought to have been found.

I of course did all those idiotic things that men do: I asked myself all the selfish questions about what you might mean to me, whether we might end in a relationship, whether you would meet my parents, fall in love, and whether this sudden, erratic image of us sitting under a torn canvas dusk sky would ever come true. My mind asked the question about whether you would make me better than I am by loving me, and I was happy to let it ask that question because it was fun. Aged twenty-two, lying in the bed of a beautiful girl I had just met, there was no reason why I should have stopped myself. That at least is what most people would tell themselves, and as I keep realising, I was happy to be most people because the narrative is so tempting.

It was all such a spin of reality that I took it entirely in my stride when you told me you had once tried to kill yourself. You must have looked for a way to mention it, and you found it. The truth is I was so overcome by my own masculinity that this sort of thing seemed to weave itself into the story as ‘the complication’, another root in the founding of this fantastic new thing. You flicked it into the conversation like drips of water, and I treated it just as trivially. ‘I get it,’ I thought, ‘she has depression.’ And then, inevitably: ‘Don’t get involved.’

I want to stop writing now – but I won’t. All I’m thinking about is your hand fitted like a charm on my neck, which is where you put it after I turned away to try and fall asleep again, and failed.

Your housemate in the kitchen gave me a ‘good morning’ I gave back to her, before she dropped her phone on the floor. When she looked up again she threw a sniggerish look at you, but you’d already turned away. You didn’t connect; and that for me is what it was about you.

You know I realised precisely what you were very, very quickly. I could sum it up in a handful of words. You are one of those unfortunate people who was born, started growing up, and didn’t know what to do about it. You’re an abstract noun, a walking overdose, a single deceit of indecent fantasies; you are one of life’s sufferers, who clings desperately to everything they possibly can and receives less and less of the world’s charms with every thing that slips out of their grasp; you’re a dying beauty, but one who only cares about the dying, and forgets about the beauty.

When we were lying in bed I was thinking whatever the hell a twenty-two year old man is supposed to think. You, however, were staring as if your youth was drifting up through the ceiling, and out of reach.

The next three weeks were an ungodly hurricane that visit me like a sudden hammer at all times of day and night. The intensity and vivacity of it were outright terrifying, but it was like a drug that scares you on the way to a high; and if I wanted to top myself, I knew exactly where to find you.

I’ve managed to stop reconstructing the order of events and the way in which they happened now, I’m glad to say. But not for a minute does that mean they are gone from my memory. I remember in painful, outstanding detail things like what you were wearing outside that pub, the kick of your mind darting about in the kitchen, the precise way you looked at me when you invited me through your door, and all the normal sort of things that haunt a mind that’s been detached from its obsession. It’s all big and it’s all small, but, Goddamn it, M, it’s all you!

The walking back to yours in the early hours, my reading you a story in my room, the story we made up about the man in Brazil, the delight of a blue winter sky, your putting your hand on mine when I didn’t expect it, and the glances I had to make when I caught your face from a distance and was alarmed at how stunning it looked. All these are the normal things I try to keep out until the energy runs out and all I can do is indulge completely in their poison.

And then there was the meeting your parents, with whom I fell instantly in love, and the books we haphazardly exchanged, and the fact I was in your family home and peering like a stranger into the world that you really inhabit, and into which I do not fit. That visit was a dip in the abstract. I realised then I was somewhere beyond the rabbit hole.

At some God-forbidden railway station the day before New Year’s Eve, I called one of my loveliest friends and told them I was worried I was about to fall in love with something very, very bad. I’d realised it by then; all the necessary signs had been seen and the panic had risen adequately enough. It was one of those moments where the creeping feeling had ceased to creep and had instead grasped your heart, and you’d just realised the blood had stopped circulating.

It frustrates me that, again and again, I find myself terrified of the person I might be falling in love with. I’m like a bowling pin that always falls down the same gutter, always attracting sirens like you: and it frustrates me that I realised it so early and yet still allowed it to happen. It was in the way you didn’t take a real interest in me, how you never asked what my family was like or endeavoured to meet my friends, never asked any of the searching questions I was so inclined to ask you. Of course you knew how to ask questions like what I want to do in the future, the sort that create a bridge beyond a superficial kind of understanding that you then failed to cross. It was in the way you’d fly to me from the other side of the street, your eyes intensely on fire and your whole body showering itself on my delight, all your attention thrown catastrophically at one thing, and then in the next moment thrown in entirely the other direction. That is why men become obsessed with you: because you concentrate on them as if they are the only thing in the world you could possibly ever want, then in a split second you’re gone, throwing your love at someone else. You incite jealousy and you know it.

‘Complicated’ is something you believe yourself to be rather than what you are. In reality you are devastatingly simple. You are a weather vane that is spinning so hard it will come off its hinges. I, however, am the weather vane that always points North, no matter which way the wind is blowing.

How misogynistic of me to detail the pains of your femininity this way. But I’m writing it out because my heart can’t keep beating at half power; and you of all people ought to know what it feels like to be half alive.

It’s all over now anyway. The silent might of time has seen to that. And as much as I might wish something different had happened, the universe has played us out, and we’re both in different places now.

And you start to know it’s over when suddenly there is only the empty street before you, full of people, but empty of the one person who matters. That’s what heartbreak feels like: like all the lovely things of the world have broken away from their rightful places and focussed themselves on one person. Even the most gorgeous friendship seems to ebb slowly next to the flood that you seemed to bring. The weeks after it ended were hell.

And what really bothered me was how you feared the future, your terror of getting old and dying. It’s a fear I share, you know, not that you ever heard me say it. The difference is that I know the way out.

I have this vision, sometimes, when I’m falling asleep: I can imagine your face, handsome and impassive, peering out of some future crowd and seeing me, and, just for a brief second, you think – ‘Did I make a mistake?’ Then the mind gives way and the all the memories of what we did cascade like a river through you, and in an instant you think: ‘No.’

And that’s as it is. I can imagine your future, and I want no part in it.

Go back to the city, find a boyfriend; throw yourself through all sorts of orgastic delights, every manner of sexual experience under the sun; make men and women seethe with passion for your sex; get a career, have children, resent the comfortable life you’ve given them; stare at the same moon every night and wonder if you ever saw it differently; go to the seaside and start to feel the cocoon suffocate. Because it will start to suffocate. You can already feel it, brushing on the outermost edges of your skin; you’ve already felt the panic, the depressive slam; you’ve already tried to kill yourself.

And the real tragedy here is that no one ever taught you, nor anyone else, how to love.

Real love is when you have love to give yourself. Once you have that – once you’ve silenced the little spot of panic – once the depressive slam has been cleaned from the heavy parts of your head – then you can become what you really are. Until that happens the cocoon you find yourself in will continue to strangle you, and you can’t rely on it to stop.

I’ve deleted all your texts because they keep asking me to remember. Your books are gone, and good riddance. The only thing left is to strip off the wallpaper of memory; I want nothing but an empty room there, at the end of one story and ready for the next to begin.

It might seem that experiences like you happen for a reason, but they don’t. It’s all in the gorgeous swirl, the beating and parting of past and future, swimming like danger all over the world; and no matter how much it seems to push forwards, it always comes back; all of it, always, forever, leading back to you.

I’m sorry I wrote this. I love you.



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