When the music slowed, we stepped into each others arms. He held me like a man confident on his dancing feet. I swayed with him in a rhythm I seemed to know by instinct, a rhythm I could feel rising from my feet and rolling up through my body. I remember not the song or any words we spoke, only the weight of him as we moved closer and closer until we were breathing in time, together.”
Those are the opening lines of a love story I am writing. Thirty two years ago, I met Rich. We had one night together; the next morning he drove seven hours home to Pennsylvania.
A year later he returned.
My mind has been hijacked by memories of Rich as I write a Sister Writes piece about a vivid event from my past; one that runs through my head like a home movie, rich in sensory detail. I thought I was ready to transpose this script onto the page, but the writing has been difficult. And slow. I feel as if I am excavating into the deepest crevices of my heart; it hurts.
I am reminded of Julia Cameron saying in The Artists’ Way: “Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.”
Is there still healing needed after thirty two years? I wasn’t prepared for the grief. I have been sitting with sadness these last few days. Like fragments of sharp-edged glass, images pierce my memory.
There was such unexpected delight in discovering that we loved each other. I was giddy with the joy of it. But there were obstacles. We lived in different countries; he was eight years older, had lost his wife tragically before he was thirty and then rebounded into another relationship that had soured.
I was unwavering in my naive belief that the only thing that mattered was the love. It wasn’t enough. When it ended, he assured me it wasn’t my fault. But I only partially believed him. Digging deep this last week has uncovered the remorse I had buried along with our love story. I have been so hard on myself.
Writing the story, has allowed me to rescue the pieces of my heart that I had tossed away, just like his love letters, which I mailed back to him when I was in the throes of grief, all those years ago. I am putting myself back together and when I am finished I will be the stronger for it.
A poem landed in my inbox the other day- Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert. He writes:
“Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. It’s the same when love comes to an end,…people say they
knew it was a mistake,…the stars burning so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you
they would never last…I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his
To experience love is to triumph, no matter how short the time, or how heartbreaking the ending.
Writing is a healthy way to take action when you feel desperate to “do” something. I confess that I have spent some time searching for Rich online. I told myself that I needed to see if he was “okay”. I didn’t find him and that’s a good thing. This is not about Rich; it is about me. I am the one who needs to heal and forgive myself so that I can celebrate the love without fear.
Writing validates the experience. It also lends a little bit of distance that eases the pain. I can go back as an observer, free to stay as long as I need in order to gather the details for my story, but able to pull away when it’s time. I can be gentle with myself now. I have learned a few things about self-care in the intervening years.
Another poet I admire, Susan Andrews Grace, in her book, Philosopher at the Skin Edge of Being,
talks about Daoism’s central tenet, “wu wei.” She says this means, “non-action, doing the right and natural thing without controlling.” A writer tells her story without judgment, allowing her characters to present themselves as they are, flawed, but deserving of our attention. She lets the action unfold in its natural rhythm, much like the dance that began my relationship with Rich.
One of the benefits of growing older, is recognizing the fluidity of life. At twenty-five, I thought in terms of all or nothing. It didn’t seem possible or even right to say that you loved someone when they had rejected you. But love doesn’t disappear; of that I am more certain than ever. And the only way to have more love in your life is to go forward, with your scarred but mended heart, open and willing to try again.
Here is the writing prompt from Lauren Kirshner, that took me down this road:
“Make a master list of ten moving images from your life, starting at about age five. Think of the list as a series of vivid scenes. Choose events that generate crisp, visual memories. The most productive, in terms of writing, will be those you have a passion to talk about and ones in which there are emotional stakes.”
- Go over your list and * the top two
- Free write for ten to fifteen minutes about each
- Let the writing sit for a couple of days and then go back and rewrite the pieces, layering them with lots of visual images, similes, metaphors; the aim is to paint vivid pictures with your words so that the reader will see a moving image in their mind
- The details are what matter- not the grandness of the topic. Sit with your memories and pull out the interesting tidbits that you had forgotten about
Til next time, keep writing.