UEA Broad - a tiny patch of semi-wild on the city fringe.
I used to come here to weep, a long time ago, in my adolescence when I thought a blazing row was a broken heart…when I thought a beautiful boy was my key to the future. That only turned out to be true because in a roundabout way that boy led me to the man, different in every possible way, who would be my future, a large segment of it at any rate.
By the time the boy left me, my heart had already left him for the man. I'd already been with Clive for a year, though we were both still pretending it was just a fantasy, nothing serious, that when it came to it, we'd call a halt.
That was 35 years ago.
When I came to weep in those days, pouring my pain into the urban wilderness, I remember it mostly being winter: the Broad frozen solid and whip-cracking to the slip-sliding landings of the swans and the geese.
Today it is not winter.
And today I am not weeping. I am sure that everyone thinks I should be. They think this because a couple of days ago I stood in a chapel, filled with rock and blues and classical music and, yes, even a little blast of country, saying my final farewell to the man I had loved so long.
Only it is nothing of the sort. A final farewell, I mean. I know I will continue to talk to him, and if he has nothing meaningful to add the conversation, I will fill in the blanks. That in itself would not be so unusual.
Today I am not weeping, because this is a very familiar place. I walk here all the time, many times a year, every year. I have watched the space mature, watched wildlife move in and nature take over. It used to be such a 'maintained' space; it's all the better for being freer.
Aren't we all?
Today it is not winter. The sun is shining, a light breeze ripples the water. A pair of coot and a single grebe are all I can see through my tree-gap, but song-birds chitter in the branches of those trees, unseen. My toes are yellow-dusted where I've kicked through the buttercups and the dandelions. This is no longer a place for tears. It's a place for peace, for reflection maybe, but for smiles and quiet joy in what is, still or newly, despite what no longer is.
So there is that near-sacrilegious question: wherefore should I weep? Perhaps more accurately why do I weep? Because I have wept, do weep and will again. Tears are sparked by things, deeds, words. Often they're triggered, I think, because I know subconsciously it is what is expected of me. That "poor you" look, that "I can't imagine how you feel" comment, all of it well-meant, and well-received, but still…
The shocking news is that I am not a "poor me". I am bereaved, but not bereft. Heart-hurt but not heart-broken. I have lost, but not everything. My heart is whole and I am very rich in love. I am the woman (or maybe just one of the women) this remarkable man chose to trust and love and forgive and keep safe and cherish and allow to fly free on nothing more than a promise that I would always come home. I am the woman who responded to that in empathy and love and sought not to change him either. His last valentine said that I had given so much and asked for nothing in return. What more could I have asked? I already had all he could give. I am the woman he chose to teach and to learn from. I was part of his life for almost exactly half of it, and he has been there for all of my adulthood thus far.
I am rich because of everything he taught me and all of the laughter we shared, because of the life he didn't 'let me live', but rather 'encouraged me to grab and go'. When I first said I was fed up waiting for him to agree to travel with me and that I was going to Nepal, he said "about time too". When I wondered idly if I would have been a flower child, had I been born sooner, he said "what do you mean 'would you?'" When I said I was half-quitting my job and doing a masters' degree, look in his eyes was whatever for? but what he said was "Ok", when I decided to quit the job completely, he averred "you don't need my advice, you're capable of deciding what you want and then getting on with it". He reminded me that I would regret giving up or not trying, much more than I could ever regret failing.
I am rich because of all the history he'd started to explore and has left for me to investigate further, for the opportunities to find out the things he wanted to know, and maybe, just maybe, do something with that knowledge.
I am rich because I stayed in Norfolk, and I love this place, and I stayed because of him.
I am rich because he expanded my musical horizons in unlikely directions – even if I do still sometimes mistake Jerusalem for Jupiter. He reinforced a half-formed love of country, introduced me to the blues, helped me explore the evolution of rock. As a drummer, he'd never be a dancer, and with only a limited sense of rhythm I'll never be a good one, but one of his biggest gifts was the confidence he gave me to walk out onto an empty floor and just go with the flow. I love to dance. Badly. And he said "I love to watch you enjoying yourself, enjoying the music."
People tell me he will live on in my memories and they will sustain me. Yes, and no. He will live on in more than memories, because he is part of who I am and I choose not to dwell in the past. I will bathe there and welcome its balm, but I will also be what he would expect me to be, open to the future, open to a beautiful spring day where the flowers bloom and the sky is blue and the sun shines and the breeze ripples on the water.
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