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  • Writer's pictureErin Brown

PROSE | Love, Or What St Augustine Taught Me

Love is a temporary madness.

It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides.

And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.

Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.

St Augustine

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Inside my head, you make more sense.

My imagination once crafted anew a thousand beautiful, perfect circumstances each day to bring you here to me. No more. I am tired now: the lady of my own Shalott. I am half sick of shadows.

In truth, who you are, where you are, what you are – I have none of these things at my disposal with which to console myself in these dark hours, when all hope of finding you seems worse than lost. It seems futile; and Futility is a crueller mistress than humanity would give her credit for. Her remarks are incisive, her awareness keener than the tip of a well sharpened blade. At least of me. She knows me well enough to appear at only the most opportune and vulnerable of moments, knowing how easily I crumble, once hidden, into silent tears when my resolve to stay true to this unmappable course is challenged.

But I forget myself. And I forget that you know me not to forget me. How can you erase that which you do not have in your grasp to remember?

It is a black grace, you see.

By day, I take consolation that as we are as yet unknown to each other, you cannot forget me. I cannot be put from your mind, nor shut out from your heart, like the cold from a glowing winter hearth. An empty power I have over you, wherever you are. A pretty reflection upon the surface of waters too painful to break, for fear of what I would find in their depths.

By night, however, I confess, words escape me.

Such words cannot exist, I am sure. If a human heart could not bear this gravitas, how could a mere sound adequately contain all that it is to be so incomplete.

You are a phantom. A ghostly pain without remedy to remind me daily that we are separated by space and time and circumstance. How I can impart to you, describe to you what it is to be without you here beside me in a way that could leave you in no doubt of my heart, I do not know. All I know is this grief that I cannot assuage; how it lingers when I reach to my side and find nothing but the cold, indifferent air to greet my fingertips in darkness. The world is a crowd, my heart. Full of all else. The good and the bad, the just and the unjust, the indifferent and the kind. There is a charlatan and a libertine for every street corner, a suitor for every doorstep.

Humanity ripples inexorably away from me in every direction as though I were some great stone tossed with indifference into the waters of my life.

But you, my love. You are nowhere to be found.

My heart closes with a tired yet angry resolution, like a battered waterlily starved of the sun, when I think of how there is every other kind of human under heaven surrounding me in this great press of life. Asking of me, expecting of me, judging me, wanting or dispensing with me.

There is every kind of man but you.

I am left behind to wave as those around me seem to get either all that they desire or all that they deserve; the happiness the world asks me feel when you are not here is impossible. All else, even who I am in the idle moments of the day when I find myself in solitude and disengaged from all duties, responsibilities and the expectations of others; it all feels like a lie. Because I am not God. I am not made of endless grace. I run low, like a river about to run dry.

How uneasy is the expression of the peace I show. I cannot withstand the barrage of questions that attend your absence without wishing to disappear from the human face of the world, in order that I might escape their gossiping tongues and good intentions alike. So I lie. I lie with my face. I lie with my half smile, and absent wave. I lie with everything I am.

And you. Could you love a liar?

Could you forgive my pretence and dishonesty, and all else that I have done in the name of surviving in the world without you? I wonder. Life is but a long road, I’m told; where you would be upon it, I did not know. How I would come upon you or if I would come upon you at all soon became details lost in my determination to get to you. Whatever highway robbery I have committed in the name of this hope, that I might one day stand before you, shake the mud from my boots and the cold from my bones, be brave, and tell you the once beautiful contents of the newly hollow place under my ribs, I struggle to believe that I would not commit again.

Truly, these are the thoughts of a buried heart.

Bruised, and desperate for counsel given in a single tender word spoken in the hushed and perfect dark, by the one voice it would recognise though it had never been heard before.

I know you.

I know when I walk under the Moon, her light falls on us both. Her brother the Sun warms your skin as much as he does mine. Our paths are lit by the same great stars, love, and in that sometimes I am relieved, that we have some kind of commonality between us, though we know nothing else.

You must know: I do not want to be in love.

To be in love is merely to be immersed beneath it’s waters, like some sunken but still carefree vessel that cares not about seeing the sky again, so pretty are it’s new and rosy surrounds.

No. I wish to love. And be loved.

To bear the brackish winds of a fierce devotion to another heart; to love even when I fear it will shatter me. To face the calm sea with thankfulness, and the tempest with hope, knowing that it can conquer all in it’s path, though the victory may not always appear to be so in the eyes of all.

This is what it is to love: to be it’s warrior, dressed in everyman’s clothes, going to war for that which we hold closest to our heart, regardless of the battlefield.

To love is to fight and be fought for. To love is to have a reason for it all.

I lay here, wondering where you are. Wondering if you are. If you sleep or are awake and thinking of me as I am, you. Are you afraid of why lies before you, or behind? Are you tired, or joyful, or anxious or in pain? Can you see the sky from where you are? Sun or moon, stars or rain…what harsh or tender touch graces your skin where you stand? And if I close my eyes, speak the darkest whispers of my heart, will you hear me?

I wonder.

What if you should?

For I cannot pretend that I am good: I am not. If you see me, look not upon me in search of virtue or strength or grace. Whether I have them or not, I scarce can tell; the examination required of my soul to find them never fails to throw a glaring spotlight upon the place where you ought to be, and it is a rare day that I find myself able to look fully into so broad, so empty a landscape, in search of something other than your face.

The salt of my tears burns me every night in the absence of this knowledge. My heart is a tapestry of scars no human eye can see, one stitch for every moment of frailty. For every moment I wake up and wish you were here to tell me that tomorrow is a new day; to leave it’s worries and cares till then.

You cannot forget me.

The relief mingles so well with the lie, you see. A heady breath rushes into my lungs every time I remember this one thing about you, about us. But deep within, I know what it is that I am feeling. I am, I think, getting a glimpse of what it must be to drown.

But it is my armour, my only armour. So I pull it on, with hope, even if without faith.

You cannot forget me. And I cannot forget you.

Herein lies the battle, my heart. As long as there is something worth fighting, or living, or dying for, there will be war.

You are my war, and God but tonight I would give my kingdom for a sword.

© Erin Brown 2010-2014

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