Love After Love
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I know half a dozen people who have recently come out of long-term relationships. One of them recently separated from her partner of eleven years; the guy she’s danced with and confided in since puberty. Another broke up with his girlfriend of seven years just before Christmas; the girl who cared for him when his mother died, moved cities with him when he needed a fresh start, the person he bought a house and a dog with despite the “financial stupidity” because he’d learnt the hard way how fragile life was. And another recently split from her fiancé; her co-pilot in adulthood for almost a decade, her sounding board and spider catcher, and – admittedly – the only one who remembered to pay the utility bill each month.
There’s this strange lull you sink into when you separate from the person you’ve been with for a significant period of time. It can be hard to remember the “before”, and it feels unnatural for a while. Like writing with the other hand. But often, more confronting than the discomfort of moving through your day without a companion, is the realisation that, actually, you preferred being in a relationship. It can be scary to admit, both to yourself and others, that, actually, you enjoyed being co-dependent. And now you’re sitting alone with your thoughts, without the person you’d usually ping pong them back and forth with, and it dawns on you that maybe you’re not one of those people who “enjoys their own company.”
Maybe you’ll never be the kind of person who likes going to the movies alone, and maybe it’s kind of nice to have someone else decide what to cook for dinner. No you don’t know who your Internet provider is or where the master switchbox is for when the fuse blows from plugging in the vacuum cleaner and the hair straighteners at the same time. Maybe you don’t want to be the person who has to stick their hand down the kitchen sink when it clogs (shotgun not), and no you don’t care to know the phone number of the guy that comes to clean the windows because do they really need cleaning? (ISN’T THAT WHAT RAIN IS FOR?), and, fine, you’ve forgotten which day the rubbish bins get collected on your street because that was never your job. Maybe you loved being the person in charge of doing the deep clean on the pantry that nobody asked for, and throwing out all the spice packets that remain unopened and expired six years ago.
But, as Derek Walcott wrote, “The time will come when, with elation you will great yourself arriving at your own door.” Though unsure, I think Walcott’s writing about that metaphorical place a person arrives at where you realise – or perhaps, remember again - that you are, in fact, your home. You are your front door. The person in the mirror is the one who’s loved you all your life – before there was someone to ping pong your worst fears and inclinations back and forth with. Before someone else caught the spiders and decided what to cook for dinner.
If you’re newly single and you feel like you can’t fill yourself up the way someone else once did; if you still feel like you’re writing with the other hand, I hope Walcott’s words serve as a gentle reminder that, one day soon, you will come home to yourself and feel full. You’ll give yourself wine and bread. You will “feast on your life”.