On The Couch

On a recent visit to my therapist, we went through an exercise aimed at helping me find closure. I read a letter I wrote to the man I love, and tried to process it while listening to alternate drumbeats through the headphones. At the same time, the therapist, standing behind my chair, gently tapped on my right and left shoulders alternately. The session, as she explained, was aimed at taking the experience from the feeling side of my brain to the analytical side. I understood that this might limit my emotional reactions, and bring me back to the realm of logic. I am always in for that, but I am not sure whether it worked for me on that day.

I wrote the letter some ten days ago, on the same evening I had my previous therapy session. Writing it was heart-rending, I cried over the text several times and became exhausted by the memories it evoked. Reading was less intense, marginally. I could read some sections without emotions, so I am quite curious whether the alternate activation of my brain hemispheres did actually have some effect.

At the end of the exercise the therapist asked me to visualize the man, to make him progressively smaller. I jumped the cue on this and immediately visualized him very small and held him in my palm even before she asked me to do just that. Her aim was to make him gradually smaller, reducing his power over me. I am not sure whether that strategy worked for what ails me, where the man is concerned. As I saw him in my mind’s eye, small and vulnerable, my feelings for him changed, but not in the way the therapist expected. I felt tenderness towards the little creature he became, as if I held a tiny animal, a bird, a hamster or even a mouse. I wanted to hold him gently in my palm, and perhaps keep him safe, and care for him. I never had the urge to crush him or obliterate his existence.

When she finally asked me to do whatever I wanted with the miniature man, I turned him into a bird and let him fly away. Then, on her request, I imagined walking away from him and from the situation of my prolonged grief. I walked away towards a sunset on Shela beach in Lamu. The wet sand was glimmering under the sunlight, and I could see the green of the mangroves, and the metallic blue of the lagoon. I was at peace, but a tiny bit of my heart still wished that the little bird I set free would alight on my shoulder again.

The only power the man has over me is his love. And the love I carry for him has no remedy, at least not on the therapist’s couch.

The Need For Closure

I have been silent on the blog, and it is less from lack of things to say and more from having too much weighing on my heart.

Just as the clouds lifted over my working life, a huge sadness cast its shadow on my family in early July. My only sister is seriously ill and has to receive long and exhausting rounds of treatment. My family was devastated by this news and for a while the diagnosis, the denial, the acceptance, the fear and the hope obliterated all other thoughts of minor problems like a bit of heartache.

The passage of time, however, does some weird things. We are still weighted down by this monumental sadness, and the inevitability of my sister’s suffering for the next year. We accept the course that the treatment will take, and the damage that it will do to her body before it will hopefully makes her well again. But we cannot walk this road with her, so we stand by, cajoling, encouraging and praying, while she alone carries the physical pain. We try our best to boost her spirit, which often falters, and this understandable given how much she was opposed to this type of treatment.

For months, I prayed daily for her strength, and thought only briefly, and only second, of what I now thought of as the insignificant problem of my broken heart. I suffered some guilt that it took my sister’s illness to relegate it to 2nd place in my mind. But the memory of the man I love was never completely absent. Even when I went home to South Africa I spoke about him with my friend, and stalked some of his public profiles, but I thought I was done with the deep grief.

Until another chance meeting that cruelly happened on the first day I went back to work. I was awaiting my turn at the protocol office, to hand in my application for work permit renewal, when I heard a voice, a familiar one. And there he was receiving passports from the reception counter, and regaling the office clerk with stories of his daughter, the singer, who will be his retirement plan. This was a familiar story for me, because I heard it before, and I could not help wonder why he related it so loudly to reach my ears. I was sitting down, my eyes helplessly going back and forth from his tall back and partial profile, to my visibly trembling hand. He finished his story, walked past my chair to a desk across the hall to say hi to some other protocol clerk, then came back to face me. Hi, he said and walked away. I think I replied or nodded back, I do not recall.

The next day, I cried my heart out on my therapist’s couch. I think what hurt most was the knowledge that he was still with me, after all this time. I tried to leave him be, almost a year ago, but he never left my heart. He knows what those chance meetings do to me. I told him that I am torn apart even if I glimpse him briefly. The sight of him brings back every moment and every emotion I experienced with him. It awakens the sleeping heartache, and revives the pain I thought I successfully buried.

After a week of unreasonable pain, interspersed with worry over my sister and headache at the workplace, I felt sick of this whole story. I was ready to pack up and leave Kenya at the earliest opportunity. Then I made myself stop. There are things that cannot be changed and can only be carried. I thought initially that my helpless longing for this man was one of them, but now I think I was wrong. My sister’s illness is one thing I cannot change. My insufferable workmates are another thing I cannot change. I am fine with carrying these, in the hope that a resolution, a healing, will happen sooner or later. My sister will get better, my workmates will improve, I will learn to tolerate and manage them better, or they will no longer be my problem.

This grief, however, needs closure. And the way that I left, and the fact that I allowed him to keep silent and passive are not helping my closure. I need a sincere talk. I need everything to be spelled out in the open. Last year I felt that I said everything that I could, and interpreted his silence for rejection. As long as we did not meet, I could convince myself that it was so. But the connection feels alive again – at least for me- whenever we meet by chance. This last time was worst, because I shared the same space with him for some time, and watched his behaviour. And after ruminating over the circumstances for days I have a strong suspicion that he was trying to catch my attention with his chatter and final detour to the clerk in the middle of the hall, which brought him, as he made his way out, on a head-on-collision course with me, sitting where I was and unable to leave my position in line.

Even if I was wrong and delusional, there are a number of danger signs I cannot ignore. I am starting to seriously consider leaving my beloved sunny Kenya, a place where I have a simple life, and where my child is enjoying a happy school-life for the cold embrace of a European city I once fled and could not tolerate as a young woman. I cry every time I read the post I wrote in May. And when my therapist asked me to write a letter to him, as a form of closure she explained, I wrote for two hours and cried my eyes out for the rest of the night. The memories and emotions are real and fresh to me even after all this time, and their sincerity deserves a final recognition, and a fitting funeral. I will buy the flowers and the coffin, and bury the dead. I think I will be fine then.

I had decided that this is the only way, even before the therapist asked me to write the letter that will never reach the man I still love. I am, however willing to wait. I no longer act impulsively every time my grief stops my breath. I have made myself forget, or pretend to forget, his number so I am not tempted to text or call. I will breathe and wait. If I manage to finish my marathon, if I manage to go the physical distance to the end, I will seriously consider going over the metaphorical distance, to the end of this story as well. Among all the things I find myself forced to endure, this one I do not think I need to carry forever. Just one hour of honesty will be enough. I will either find the love that I lost, or bury its remains.

Your Final Gift

Love is not measured in minutes or days. If I added up all the moments I spent with you they will be one or two days at most. Yet I grieve your absence from my life, like a widow who mourns the passing of a husband she loved all her life. Because in that brief time, you were that to me, the love of my life. I let you into my world and shared with you everything I know and love. You sat at a table with my closest family. I saved you a portion of every treat I enjoyed. I broke with you bread and chocolate. I bought you dates as sweet and soft as kisses, and juicy baby tomatoes bursting with sunshine and flavour. I introduced you to my favourite books and authors, and to my stories and memories. You shared some parts of yourself too, but I left nothing out, I was an open book. I told how I felt, and I even wrote you a love letter.

You sampled and tasted. You took the gifts, but rejected the underlying emotions. Apart from the times your eyes or words betrayed you, you gave very little, only some impersonal or discarded pieces of your chaotic universe. You liked to see me, but did not want to see my pain. You wanted me to look at you, but not look into you. You disliked me reaching into your soul. You liked to feel adored, yet you left the love letter unread, because reading is getting involved in the emotions of another. It did not suit you that I was expressive, that I spoke my heart, and fully acknowledged and accepted what I felt. You labelled me weird, where I was merely honest. I went through my own phase of denial, but unlike you, I eventually realized that love is a wholesale preposition. You cannot cherry-pick the joyful parts and discard the sorrows. I could not pick out for you the parts that you wanted, so I decided to keep everything that remained to myself. Now I am free to be honest and emotional. I can weep with the memory, and laugh alone at a joke or an anecdote that I am sure you would have enjoyed.

I left you because you rejected the most elemental part of me – that I loved truly and deeply. You did not understand that it was the one thing beyond my will or control. You could have asked for anything else. I would have plucked the stars out of the sky for you, but you went and asked me to deny or ignore the one truth I cannot change.

I left you but you did not leave me. I still see your empty seat at the table. My joy in the simple sights, sounds and tastes is now forever diminished. They were only perfect when shared with you. A small piece of sorrow remains for me at the heart of every joyful moment, each time I taste a perfectly brewed double cappuccino, and every time I read a brilliantly crafted phrase, or an engrossing and touching story. I will never stop looking for you to complete those experiences, even in moments we never shared. I look for you to walk beside me when I am taking a solitary walk on the beach. Alone in my bed, I turn to you on the pillow next to mine, to read you a passage I found interesting. And I see you looking at me over your reading glasses, and your eyes tell me that you are truly with me, listening to me, and seeing me with your soul, not just your eyes.

The last day we met I left empty-handed. You did not give me anything that deserved to be kept. I only have the memories I lived, and the visions I fantasize. The most lasting of your parting gifts has proven to be the grief I feel, the sadness that keeps assailing me and eventually flows out of my eyes. And since it is the last gift, I am reluctant to part with it. It is the only piece of you that is truly mine, and the final proof that you, and what I felt for you, were real.

A Month After

I have a little journal where I scribble every day. I count the days that have passed since I last saw you. It has been 31 days now, and a little less since I last texted you.

The intention of walking away from you has been waxing and waning from the moment I met you, but even a month ago when I saw you before you traveled on your latest mission it was still a half formed thought. It did not take shape fully until your birthday in mid-February. It has been a fight since then. Each day I struggle with the urge to text you. Every morning I wake up to your memory and every night I sleep with emptiness of grieving over you.

Last night I could not sleep. I managed to nod off long after midnight. I still cry a lot. I have you inside me, beneath my ribs, in the tiny space that separates my lungs from my bones. You let me know you are there by the stab of pain that stops my breath in broad daylight. Like the stitch I get while running. I am forced to stop everything and tread slowly until the pain passes. You also have a habit of grabbing my throat, choking me into a tearful halt. I struggle to swallow the grief that comes with memory.

Yet, I do not have any shared memories with you. It is just that part of me that you took with you when you left. It is horrible to love someone this much. My whole existence has turned into a shadow. I watch and take in the shimmering wet pearls of newly wet grass after the rain, the birds chirping around me, the bright blue or dark metallic sky viewed through the lacy leaves of African trees. I observe pairs of geese waddling around a green pool or gliding onto its silent waters. I see all these things, yet the color has drained out of everything for me. I see beauty with my eyes but not with my heart. My heart is forever lost wandering around with you, wherever you are.