Extracts from Chapter 1: Look Around You
‘The only answer I can see, [Sol], is that you are pretty well a one-in-a-million bird.’
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
Good morning! I don’t really have anything special to say… you said I should write an email. And I could not help but want to reach across those many thousands of kilometres and touch you, however far and however faint that touch may be. Every day, I hope that you are happy, that you find peace and love and joy in your every single moment. But I am also selfish. When you told me that you stumbled across someone in the stairway and thought of my words, I was happy, as ridiculous as that may be. I wanted you to think of me, I wanted you to know that I was on this crazy planet we call home, and that I shared it with you. I know that nothing can be as it was, and I don’t even want that. You know… since we’ve spent more time “talking”, if anything, I’ve found you to be that much more incredible. So just smile for me, live your life, be happy. Look around you, look at your hand! Look at the moon; look at the sunrise and sunset. Know that no matter what, somewhere in this world, there is someone who thinks you are the cat’s pyjamas. I am off to bed, just as you said yourself, in the moments that I am about to fall asleep. May you have the most amazing day possible. A smile, truly felt, is a gift from the gods.
With love always,
‘Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions.’
August 15th: Somebody asked me: ‘How do you cope? How do you deal with that?’
The truth is, I don’t know. Sometimes it just feels totally meaningless, and I feel like I want to die as well to be with you. But then I remember I don’t believe in that. And I think of you. What you said to me. And I smile. Because you would want me to be happy, to live on, to experience as much as possible in life. So. In your honour this is what I will do.
August 17th: I’ve never had this kind of connection before. With anyone. It’s unique. And perfect. In the most imperfect of ways
August 20th: I finally got around to getting one of the many books you recommended to me – Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.
‘Collision would be sudden death. So he closed his eyes.’
I wish we had closed our eyes and collided: allowed ourselves to collide. If death happened anyway, it may as well have been together. I hope your wings are whiter; stronger; faster. I hope you are flying free.
August 23rd: But you’re still alive. Aren’t you? I have come up with so many complicated scenarios. You’d laugh! I keep imagining you to turn up. At my work, at my door, in a public place. When I was supposed to meet your aunt from Australia, I looked everywhere for your face. Then with your brother, I thought he might sneak you into the house – you’d wake me from my sleep with a kiss… Or when he first hugged me to say hello, he’d whisper in my ear, ‘Sol’s not dead’. He’d go on to tell me how he, and no one else who knew could tell me, that you’d faked your own death so you could get to me early, so you could leave America like you wanted to, so you could live the life you wanted to. With me. And our baby. Oh yes. I thought about getting in touch with sperm donor companies, I’ve had the phone conversation in my head many times.
‘Could you tell me, do you have any sperm from a Mr. Sol from Bellingham?’
‘Why yes, we do.’
‘Great. I’d like to be artificially inseminated with it. I want to have his baby, his one wish in life that never got fulfilled. You see, we fell in love three times in our lives. The first was not possible due to youth and exploring the world, timidity, shyness, and the inability to recognise it; the second due to other relationships, complications and distance; and the third due to death. Death always gets in the way. In the end.’
‘Yes, that will be fine.’
‘I know you have a heavy heart
I could feel it when we kissed’
Lua, Bright Eyes
Extracts from Chapter 4: Wildcat.
You were my dream. And not only that, you offered me my dream. The way of life I could only ever have imagined. I never thought I’d even have a glimpse at it. But you gave it to me. The glimpse, at least. Then it was gone. In one fail swoop.
The dream of an unconventional life. I’ve never shared it with someone so much. Never felt it could be a real possibility. I would have loved every day I could have spent with you. Every hour. Every minute. I long for it. So much. It is beyond words.
This dream, this life, the island, the log cabins, the simplicity, the support, warmth, love. With you. The actual life was but a dream, but to have had you as well, it was beyond comprehension. That you were there, all that time, while I looked.
And now you’re gone.
Not there anymore.
There is not a word in any language to describe my feelings of your loss.
‘What I was looking to find was already mine’
Josephine, Magnolia Electric co. (Jason Molina)
It’s 11:11. What is my wish? Just that we meet again. However absurd that seems. However impossible. If it’s in the next life, I’ll wait with patience, and I can’t wait to share the moments with you.
‘Wildcat’ (Sigur Ros) comes on my headphones. I know I should fast forward it. But how can I? It will make me sad. It will make me miss you and think of you. I shouldn’t. Torture myself. But how can I not? How can I not choose to spend this moment with you.
With my thoughts.
I was 18 years old when we met. I had travelled from Loughton – a small village in Essex, near East London – to Australia. Already, in just a couple of months, me and my best friend had visited New York, and travelled up the coast from Brisbane to Cairns. We had scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef, dived into the waves in Cape Tribulation, swum to, and walked on, the white sands of Whitehaven beach. The world is so beautiful. But none of this, before, or after I met you, compared to when I knocked on your door – on the door of your little house in Petrie Terrace – and I saw you standing there. You were so handsome. More than handsome. Every part of your face, your body, your clothes, the way you held yourself, the way you interacted with me, it was beauty. Sheer and utter beauty.
Lost in thought. So my dear cherry blossom, you asked a decidedly difficult question today. I felt like I owe you a total and complete answer; for you have been incredibly open with me, even at the risk of hurting my feelings. Truth be told, I would rather that than otherwise.
The reason that I answered the way I did, was simply because it is true. But I added something on paper I didn’t express. It may just be that I am dense when it comes to myself. I *do* think about you incredibly frequent. There is no one in my life I think about more or want to share more with. BUT, I don’t know what it means. Maybe I am incredibly dense. We live so far apart, that the only thing we can be happy with, at least for 6-12 months is the daily missive. I can’t promise anything, I don’t know the future, neither of us do… I am no doubt as confused as you are. But I am choosing to ignore that, and to let the world spin on its own. In this here and now, all I have, and all I can hope for, is your daily presence in my life. Irrespective, that by necessity, must be enough. I don’t subsume my feelings; I don’t even know them. But, I think about you all the time. I want nothing more than for you to be on the other side of a conversation – not entirely true – but I am at base, somewhat content with that. When I wake up, I look for messages from you, and I check several times during the day. And at night, I want to say goodnight and sweet dreams, even though I know you are waking up. I often listen to music into the wee hours, and I always look to see if you have woken up and replied. It’s silly, you have your own life… But I feel this incredible upwelling of feelings when I get a reply. Probably the happiest moments in my life. I’ve told my housemates all about you too… There are no concretes, and I, though it can be described as nothing other than joy, I don’t have words in our, or any other, language to describe its complexity. Maybe it’s new and different from that which precedes it, and I just don’t have any familiarity. I’m honestly not striving to understand right now. It makes me happy, and that is all I could ask for. It’s hard enough in this world to find someone you truly relate to and makes you happy. So you are one of those rare and infrequent gifts. And I will simply cherish what I have, and whatever may come. Does that make sense? I’m not going to put words to it, because it is what it is, and words make no difference.
So I will simply hold it close… And be warmed by us.
I’m probably going to go to sleep soon. It is almost ten a.m. your time. I just wrote you a letter, an actual, on paper letter. I’ll send it to your work tomorrow / today (still only a bit after half past two a.m. my time). There are so *very* many times throughout the day when I want to talk to you. It kind of drives me crazy. I think of something, or I feel something and the person I immediately want to share it with is you, but you’re more than seven thousand kilometres away. Distance and time make it so hard to have that immediacy. And I worry that you think I’m an over emotional idiot, reaching out at the most trivial of things. I suppose there are worse things to be thought of. When will they invent teleportation!? That would make everything so, so much easier. Anyway, you are in my thoughts, always and constantly. But I promise I’m not a stalker! I’m going to let Mazzy Star carry me off into dreamland. No doubt I’ll see you there soon, even though you may not know it. 😉
Good night, or good morning. The sentiment is the same either way…
Sol: My dreams of the future are so much larger than just myself. I am leaning back against a couch with a smile plastered across my face. May you and I always feel this way.
Yesterday I was distraught. I couldn’t eat, could barely move. The sun was blazing and it was so hot, but still I came to my room, and I sobbed. The only thing I could do was take some co-codamol and pass out, like a cloud.
Then you came.
It was the most wonderful dream. Really.
I woke up feeling the complete opposite; smiling, almost giggling, like a little child. I flew to you. In a plane, actually! My dream wasn’t quite as scientifically advanced as yours when we visited Saturn and you bent time and space! And there we were. Together. Staying in a grotty little hostel, holding hands, feet in the beach, sand in our toes. We walked through the streets – we were on our way to somewhere. After realising it was a bit too far, we found a main road and a man indicated to us the way to the bus ticket machine.
Looking at the map it was amazing. We were in a place where we could get a bus to practically anywhere. But it wasn’t normal. We were above, or beneath, or in the world. We could cross over time: the past, the present, the future. And in just a short, very special bus ride, we were on a Caribbean island: the sea sparkling, the sand warm. There was no need to sleep, the sun never set, the time just went on, as if we weren’t alive. Maybe this was heaven, the afterlife, or maybe just the true life once death of this one has occurred.
You kept looking at your watch at one point. You were laying under a palm tree, dappled in sunlight, I was laying on top of you, my head resting on my hands on your chest, my elbows to the sides, looking at your face, in awe. In awe of you, you wonderful human being. Or ghost, or spirit, or dream. I said let’s play a game, not to change each other or anything, but just … because. You agreed and I said don’t wear your watch. Let’s be animals and eat and drink and sleep – not that we actually needed sleep – when we feel we should. You took off your watch and put it down. And smiled at me. Knowingly. I felt like the dream was a glimpse into the future. The place was the same as my recurring dreams about the beach, wave, falling back into the dune, and being inside the fabric of the universe. We were in it together. Exploring. Visit me again soon my love. I can’t even convey in any language the unexpected strength I feel today from the dream. From seeing you. Thank you.
This type of sadness is the one that makes your lips heavy. Like weights they drag down your cheeks, your nose, your chin. Your neck can’t fight, neither can your head, as everything starts to sag. You should be here. By my side. I’m going to watch a film about the circus, with a soundtrack and a Q&A with two members of Sigur Ros. Wouldn’t you have loved this? I wish you would be in the seat next to mine when I walk into the room. Just like I wish you to be there at the airport when I land in Seattle. Or on Waldron, having lived in a log cabin for a year and six months.
‘Don’t look down
Just cross the bridge
And when you get there
You’ll be glad you did
There’s another life in the other side
It’s your double life
On the other side
It’s your second life
On the other side’
Double Life, Conor Oberst
How can I ever be bored? When I can just look at the sky. Watch the sunset. Watch the sunrise.
Look at the moon. Look at my hand.
I miss you too much. Life fades into the background.
I sometimes feel like you have been reduced to these words I write. Your existence somewhat meaningless… just symbols.
Hello. He loved you. He was working towards a life spent with you. He was making a thousand cranes for you. Unfortunately, I do not have any of his stuff. His family came and took all of his things. His mum will know about the cranes for sure. He talked about the letters but I think they are on his phone.
My condolences. I wish he were here everyday.
Extracts from Chapter 16: Fū
As soon as we arrived it felt homely – much like Canada so far: I felt at home. We talked about going for a hike, and I said let’s do it! I had been walking all day for a few days in a row now. In Whistler and Blackcomb, I walked straight for six hours up the mountain and back in thick snow. I was feeling fit: energised. So he grabbed a backpack, some trail mix, and a few other things, and we went in. This time I took my camera, nothing else. I had my ‘survival’ kit with me in Japan, and here when I was trekking. It was heavy. It consisted of:
A multi tool
An emergency aluminium blanket
Water purification tablets
A fire starter
Two backpacking meals
An emergency 500ml water pouch
An emergency blanket
I had been watching many documentaries about how people lived in the wilderness and were self-sufficient, and I had become a little obsessed with learning how to do these ‘survival’ things. There was this one documentary about a couple who were the last people to live in this remote part of Alaska, which had become a recognised national park. The conditions were so harsh. With only a few months where winter didn’t reign, they had to make sure they foraged and trapped at certain times in the seasons in order to survive through the year. They took the filming crew into the forest to check the traps including the ones for fish – where they made a whole in the freezing lake and then lifted the traps. The weather changed so quickly and so dramatically while they were showing the crew, that even with a specially built storm hut ideally located, they had to satellite for rescue. People who had settled in these parts were real survivalists. To have travelled there, to have learnt the ways of the environment, the landscape, the nature… It was incredibly commendable and brave. Some peoples, some cultures, wouldn’t have had a choice: no doubt they didn’t live to an old age, this wasn’t a place for the living – nature fought back and wanted to have this land for her own.
The walk was amazing. I had nothing, I didn’t know where we were or where were going, but I didn’t mind. I trusted him. I trusted his eyes. His eyes which seemed to be engaging with me more and more as time went on, the more we spoke. His eyes, which started to soften when they looked at me. Isn’t this what I had wanted? To come here, to meet him, to show him me, and to show him the idea I had of ‘us’? But here, as I started to feel these mutual feelings arise, I started to panic. His gaze could be intense, just like his conversation, just like his silence. There was something so uplifting about it, but yet I felt scared. Scared of getting close to him in case he distanced himself from me: in case he died – the worst of all distances between two people.
We walked up the step incline, along the top, to the waterfall. We got close to the water, it was loud and everything seemed very easy between us: natural. We found our place next to each other after swapping sides, and we talked about which elements we were most akin to; we temporarily rested upon me, the earth, and him, the air. Then we talked about feeling like a failure for not doing all those things we wanted to do, for not being all these things we wanted to be. I spoke about finding joy in thinking about them, in exploring them: there is no need to master anything, let alone everything. The joy is in the doing. He told me later that this conversation and the thoughts surrounding it had sat well with him. That made me happy. I wanted him to find some peace.
Back at the cabins, he mentioned I could stay. I decided to. I was 7602 kilometers (4723 miles or 4104 nautical miles) from him the rest of the time, and I wanted to utilise the opportunity we had to spend time together now. We drove to the shop and I wanted to buy him some food. I could tell he was worried about money, worried about eating, even. I would recognise that look and the actions that come from that situation anywhere. I’ve been there. I’ve desperately been there, where I didn’t know how I would eat towards the end of the month. I had already picked up on this through our messages when we were discussing me coming over and us meeting up. He hadn’t told me then that he was volunteering, but somewhere in his weird reluctance to meet, I thought he might be feeling ashamed or embarrassed about not being able to do things with me, things that cost money. I wanted to tell him then that I didn’t care to do things that cost money, that I’d be happy to just sit and talk, or walk with him. But in the end, I didn’t need to tell him, I showed him.
You turned to face me and I knew you wanted to ask something that was different, something that we hadn’t quite entered into yet. You wanted to kiss me. Just like I wanted to kiss you. To feel that connection, that attraction, realised. I got nervous. Your eyes, so beautiful, so soft, so intense. I asked you what you wanted to say, I panicked. I couldn’t just leave you the space to get the confidence: to ask. I feel saudade about that. What would have been if I had just kept quiet; just allowed the moment to transpire; to allow you to lead it. I said something about your water bottle over on the table opposite – it was from Mt Seymour, where you had been working just a few months ago – and the moment was lost. I killed it.
Your sweet, sleepy eyes were closing as the hours went on. It became early morning quickly. I asked you if I should turn the light out, you said no. I watched as your face and body softened – I liked how you seemed calm and somewhat contented in my company. I wanted nothing more than for you to feel free, calm and somewhat loved – or even just appreciated – by me. As your breathing slowed down and your eyes remained closed, I reached over and turned off the music and the light.
Neither of us slept well. The sense of tension between our minds, between our bodies, good and bad, lingered long. My thoughts raced, and generally settled on the word ‘regret’. I reached out my hand slowly and my body was shaking. It meant so much to me. You, this, whatever was happening, meant so much to me. I was scared of pushing you away, of being too intense; scared you would reject me and I would feel foolish. But I had to do it, I had to see. My hand found yours after what seemed like an eternity of reaching forward in the dark bed under the covers, and I let it rest gently on you. Your other hand went on top of mine and the sense of relief was staggering. A sudden high that you felt the same. Then, you took my hand off of yours and left it on the cold bottom sheet of the bed, alone. You said that you were scared of being with someone… then, that you didn’t know what you were trying to say…
I woke up feeling safe and warm. I was smiling, even though I was absolutely shattered from such little sleep. I checked the time on my phone, hoping also to see a message from you – I already needed some kind of reassurance, it seemed, or maybe I simple just missed you.
I rolled over to the side of the bed you’d been sleeping on. It was cold. When you had been here, and we had been lying there with our noses touching and our bodies against one another, it had been so warm. I made a joke to you that you were getting really warm. You had laughed and said, ‘oh yeah?’ ‘I didn’t mean it like that’, I joked. We both smiled. I liked the peace we shared, all that time we were together from the initial hug at the ferry terminal, till the moment you straddled me on the bed with your coat and rucksack on and we kissed a few times with closed lips goodbye.
As I woke up slowly, the room quiet and still dark – although some light was peering through the curtains from Vancouver outside – I thought about you leaving. It was so early. Did you really have to go back? I wondered if you had run away in some sense. I had come a long way. From London. You weren’t to know, but you were a big reason I had come. Of course, I had come to visit Sol, my darling Sol. But something big seemed to be happening with us. I liked that feeling – even though it may be proving that it was incredibly one-sided on my part! I just wanted to check. To see. To be around you again. Properly this time. For a good length of time. Wasn’t it wonderful? Walking and talking on the beach; cooking together; listening to music; playing music together – me on your de-tuned guitar, you on your mandolin; walking out at night and looking at the stars, laughing as we leaned back so far to see the whole of the marvellous night sky and the stars, that we almost fell over. Then there was breakfast in the cafe, a naughty break in our giving up coffee, and then you came to Vancouver and we went to see Marissa Nadler and Ghost. We seemed mostly in tune. When I went to get some water, I actually left the auditorium because Ghost has got two women up on stage – the sisters of sins. The whole thing seemed incredible sexist, and I was, to say the least, unimpressed. Up until then, I had found the whole spectacle very amusing! I had a big ‘is this really real’ smile on my face. But that quickly dispersed when the lead singer said these two women were coming out into the crowd and then he made a gesture to their chest and between their legs and asked the crowd not to touch them there. Something about it was so… crass. I didn’t want to stay.
It didn’t take you long to come out after me. You asked me if I wanted to leave. I nodded – we didn’t really need to have that conversation, but the words verified it. We went to have poutine. It was really cute. You wanted to take me to your favourite poutine place in Vancouver. When we walked in you went to the window where you order, and I sat on a little bench near the wall. You came over with the box and two forks. We sat and shared it, talking and laughing.
So many times words have saved me. Saved me from what, you might ask? So many things. Sadness, myself: all too often myself. I worry a lot that the words aren’t right, that they are self involved, or sentimental, that they’ll be criticised. I only worry this when I think of others reading them. When I am writing them, just like when I am writing music, I think only of expressing something I am feeling.
Extracts from Chapter 17: The Cabin
I woke in a state of fright. It was dark. Black. No light, nothing. I couldn’t see a single thing except the faintest of light coming from the skylight in the ceiling above, but even that was just a paler shade of black. It’s rare to experience that darkness. Here I was on a small island off the west coast of America. The island, with a population of about 60, and no electricity, naturally had no street lights or, in most of the cabins, any artificial lights. We had the light from the wood fire in the cabin.
The cabin was amazing, built by the now passed on relatives of Sol. I felt like I could almost see him running around as a boy. Each part of the land held his memories, his spirit. Earlier, we had visited his grave for the second time. Some weeds had started to grow, and the plant his father and step mother had planted had started to wilt. We pulled up the weeds, deadheading the plants to encourage further growth next year. There were five pine trees at the head of his grave. We managed to remove most of them, as agreed by his parents. I hated to cut down the trees, but there were many on that island, and they were too close together, and too close to the grave. I kept some wood to make something from…
I didn’t know why I had woken up in such a panic. Then I started thinking about what could happen on this island… I had flashbacks from all those horror film I had watched! I started thinking, we didn’t lock the door, did we? Also, if one of the locals, or someone in a boat, decided to come into the cabin they could easily kill us – or worse! I was frustrated for the first time on this particular trip, that even though I had bought my ‘survival kit’ with me, I had left it in the front room. The cabin was split by partitions, they didn’t quite got to the top of the room, and I could hear Sol’s mum and brother breathing. My kit, with the multi-tool my dad had given me, was were his brother was. I had taken my flashlight and it was beside me. But I hadn’t thought about take the multi-tool: the knife. I hadn’t had any bad feelings here. I didn’t feel any fear.
I could still them both breathing, which kept me calm. I almost wanted to laugh at the extreme fear – my body seemed to be playing with me! And not in a very fun way! It must have been a good few minutes that I had been awake and thinking all these thoughts. Then I heard a really loud moan. It was Sol’s brother, I recognised his timbre. I felt alarmed, but not too much, at this point, I didn’t think he was too much distress, perhaps it was just a nightmare? Then, he screamed.
Every alarm, both instinctual and thought out, went off in my body and mind. What could I possible do, if someone was in the cabin, if someone was there… what could I actually do to prevent them from doing… well, anything they wanted. It was then that I heard the footsteps. The footsteps were soft, and then I heard the door close. I say close, because the footsteps lead from the middle of the room to the door. Someone was leaving, not entering. It must be Sol’s brother. But, no. I could still hear him breathing.
Extracts from Chapter 21: The Songs
Across The Sea
I Could Have Came Across the Sea
But I waited, too long
It would have been easy for me
But I waited, too long
We shared a thousand words a day
It’s hard when that goes away
We shared a thousand words a day
Can’t stand that that’s gone
© 2017 Laurie McNamee – All Rights Reserved
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