Essays on love
Unavoidable love: An apology
I know it’s been a while since we caught up. I hope you’ve been keeping okay, despite everything. Things have changed so much for me recently and I’d really love to get back in touch, if you’re ready. I know I’ve put you through a lot these past few years, but I want things to be different. I need things to be different, because I don’t know where I’d be without you. I have some explaining to do, and I hope that you’ll hear me out.
To my heart, I’m sorry for the late night walks home through poorly-lit roads that flooded you with adrenaline, still hammering you long after we were safely behind locked doors. I’m sorry for the long periods of isolation that caused you to ache, waiting three weeks at a time before you could soar again. I’m sorry for the strain, the undone tasks and unmet targets that woke you up in the night and set you racing. It felt life-threatening, but I can see now that it wasn’t.
To my liver, I’m sorry for the abuse. The poison became a friend, something to help through the nights, it sometimes took a whole bottle of wine to convince myself that I was thriving. A bleary-eyed hangover became my permanent state of being; I’m sorry for ignoring your messages. I can see that while I was trying to live, you were trying to keep me alive. You were looking out for me. I want to start looking out for you, too.
To my eyes, I’m sorry for the long nights and early mornings, for not letting you rest when you so clearly needed it. I’m sorry for cursing your visible veins and dark circles, and trying every remedy apart from the only one that would actually work. I’m sorry for giving you nothing but underground trains, dark clubs and office lights to feast on; I know you need more than that. I promise in the future there will be nature, green open spaces, and all the beautiful things that I know you crave.
To my lungs, I’m sorry for the fumes. The air in that city was visibly unclean, it must have been hard to keep going some days when you were only filled with the things that could harm you. To my feet, I’m sorry for the heels. It made me feel stronger when I was a few inches taller, the blisters and the cramps a small price to pay for a false sense of power. To my skin, I’m sorry for the marks. I’m sorry for absent-mindedly clawing at you in times of stress, and neglecting to nourish you for so long.
To my brain, I can see that you’re hurting. Given everything, I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to break, and I need you to know that I’m listening. From now on I’m going to protect you. You’re all I have.
I hope you can forgive me.
Unconditional love: Sensory memory
Particles of dust falling through sunbeams. I would lie under the dining room table and watch them dance, a spot my mother often found me in once we moved to the house with separate bedrooms and I missed feeling my sister sleeping above me. The first night I slept in this new room of my very own, with the door open and the light on, cowering beneath my big girl bed staring at the slats and willing them to buckle under her weight. I see the tattoos etched onto our arms now, matching, three separate lines joined at three separate points to form a whole.
Alcohol seeping from my skin, my pre-teen body woefully unprepared for the number of vodka and cokes I had covertly retrieved from the kitchen throughout the night. It was a family Halloween party, with all responsible adults too joyfully distracted by their own alcohol intake to take any notice of mine. The morning after, I could smell bleach from the bucket strategically placed by my bed. And something else was different; my chair had moved itself somehow. Usually facing the door, it was rotated 90° to face my bed, with my dad’s latest crime novel balanced on the arm. Inevitably, my underage body had expelled the poison, repeatedly, everywhere. He kept watch all night to ensure I maintained the recovery position.
Fresh bed sheets after three cold nights with only a thin layer of canvas separating us from thousands of young people in wellies, enjoying the music and pretending not to notice the rain. I found my cosiest pair of pyjamas folded at the end of the bed; they enveloped my body, warm and maternal, a stark contrast to the clinging of wet clothes and shoves from strangers. My mum didn’t know why we enjoyed it, but she knew us. She knew we’d need comfort, a quiet house, a home-cooked meal and a hot shower. It felt like being hugged from the inside.
Tea with far too much milk, the teabag having only met with the water for half the amount of time necessary for a satisfying brew. My mum is well aware of her mediocre ability in this area, it isn’t something we hide from her very well, if at all. But nevertheless, she perseveres. Every time there’s something we need to discuss, or we fancy a biscuit, or we’re breathing, we are offered a cup of tea. Sit down, put your feet up, here’s a blanket and a mug of hot milk masquerading as something else.
My dad’s acoustic guitar echoed down the stairs. We were frustrating, never ready on time, always arguing as we struggled to get ourselves in a fit state to leave the house. The plucking of strings, hearing those same few songs that are scored into my memory forever, forces my facial muscles to relax into a smile even now. He filled the room with soft sounds, drowning out the shouting and slamming of doors, offering a haven for anyone who needed to escape the chaos. The revelation that he has three daughters is always met with raised eyebrows from strangers, an assumption that he must be living in his own masculine nightmare, but he never agrees. He just plays along.
Undeniable love: A tour
Good morning everyone, and welcome to your annual sentimental friendship tour of The University of Sheffield. Remember to ask questions as we go along, and keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times. We will be making scheduled stops at every memorable place, offering unnecessary trivia and emotional anecdotes where appropriate. Please note, some of our facts will be biased. Thank you for choosing us for your journey.
We begin here, Endcliffe village, the biggest and most popular student accommodation in the city. Built back in 2008, many of the flats have not been cleaned for thirteen years, and therefore provide new students with an idea of what life was like back in the 2000s through persevering food stains and carpet crumbs. Among these blocks, ironically named after picturesque areas of the Peak District, you will find Howden apartments. Within this block, you will find flat E4. It was here, back in September 2015, that a group of five terrified 19-year-old girls found themselves making awkward conversation for the first time. They laughed at one another’s jokes and rolled their eyes at the same points during endless conversations about everyone’s gap year. They also drank a lot of alcohol and made some awful, terrible decisions. Moving on.
Coming up on your left, you will find the Student’s Union, which was voted the best in the UK for ten consecutive years. In 2020, Loughborough stole the title, probably because theirs contains a shop that doesn’t require undertaking a small personal loan in order to buy a packet of biscuits. The SU holds many events, including ROAR on a Wednesday night featuring a guest appearance from ‘Roary’, some poor first-year dressed in a tiger suit taking pictures with drunk people as they enter the club. It was here you’d find our five young girls most weeks from 2015–2018, dancing badly under the flashing lights and accompanying one another to the toilet periodically. They’ve all vomited in there at one point or another, and I think that’s beautiful.
We find ourselves now on Harcourt Road, an area that many second and third-year students choose to live due to its close proximity to a pub, a library, and another pub. It was here, at number 112, that our girls spent the final two years of their degree, hosting pre drinks in the kitchen and eating innumerable take-aways in the living room. They’d get ready together, go out together and come home together, cry together, laugh together, eat, drink and be merry together. This house saw them build five separate, strong relationships, all different but all equal, the likes of which it had never seen before, or since. A pentagon of female excellence. 112 Harcourt Road: where the walls are mouldy, the basement is haunted and there are rats in the attic. It is glorious.
And now we come to our final destination of the tour- The Nottingham House, ‘Notty House’, is a pub famous for its incredible pies and uncomfortable chairs. If you look in the window now, you will see our five girls crowded around a table. They casually catch up; there’s a lot that doesn’t need to be said. I miss you, I love you, I still need you. They already know. So they eat a pie instead. While we’re here you should try the steak and ale; it’s life-changing.
Unshaken love: A beautifully difficult year
The heat is sticky, the type that catches in your throat like honey with every inhale. Overwhelming, torturous, seductive heat. The soundtrack to this afternoon has been assertively commandeered by one of the more pretentious members of our group; after much deliberation, we sit and sweat to the dulcet tones of some club mix or another. I catch your eye across the pool; someone should really put a stop to this.
I start to move to an upright position, my towel leaving a tiger print on the underside of my body as I lazily drag myself away in pursuit of hydration. If it wasn’t for the awful music, a stranger walking into the apartment would never know there were eight of us silently lounging out on the balcony; the relentless sunbathing has long since replaced all conversing with conserving energy and melanin. I hear footsteps behind me as I step onto the cool tiles of the kitchen, another soldier retreating from the fight for bronzed skin.
I feel the strength of your hand on my arm as you twist my body around to face you and I taste the salt from your lips and smell the chlorine from your skin and the world explodes behind my eyes. You hold my hand on the plane journey home, keeping our interlocked fingers hidden from prying eyes until we disembark. And now, wherever we go, we fight. In stairwells and kitchens and bedrooms and under club lights and behind smoking area barriers. The world beyond your outline disappears; although I know it is still there, it’s impossible to care about something that I can no longer see. There is only you.
It’s not easy. We’re a few years too young to understand the significance of what we’ve been given so we destroy it, over and over again, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. But we still can’t seem to untie ourselves; whatever this thing is, it is resilient. It just. Won’t. Die.
The 4th of December, 2017. Our battle ends today. Confined to my bedroom, I hear you ascend the stairs of this house that we share with six others, each step measured and calm, just like you. The sound unleashes a pang of dread and delight on the pit of my stomach that’s become so familiar to me over the past year. We’ve dangled on this precipice for so long, my arms are tired, they’re ready to let go. With a tentative knock, you enter my room.
Your gaze seems softer, your eyes are more blue than I’ve ever seen them. Your hands feel warmer, your touch more gentle than I’ve ever felt. We’ll commemorate this date for years to come, the day we chose each other, accepted there’s no escaping this, realised we didn’t want to. We found sunshine in one another, and it’s time to stop wrestling with the dark.
Unending love: Grandpa
2001: I am five years old. I am adorable. Me and my two sisters are playing in the garden, pretending to paint the old decking with our little pink paint brushes. I accidentally drop mine through the cracks, and we all crowd around with sticks and twigs to try and fish it out. I panic as I see my mum coming up the garden towards us; I am convinced that she saw the whole thing and I’m about to receive a royal telling off. She says something about Grandpa, but I don’t really understand. Where has he gone?
We go to Gran and Grandpa’s house, there’s a big white bed in their living room that I can’t remember seeing before. It’s empty. I stand in the kitchen and look up at my lovely Gran, she’s facing the window with her hand held to her face. We’ve been here for ten minutes and she hasn’t offered us a treat yet. My dad wraps her in his arms; this must be something big. Everyone is acting so strangely.
We’re being picked up from school by Nan today, she’s taking us over to her house because there’s no one at ours. They left this morning dressed in black, with tissues in their pockets, after they hugged us for a really long time. Wherever they’ve gone, we weren’t allowed to go because Beth is only 3 and sometimes she screams for no reason, and whatever they’re doing there they don’t want us to see anyway. I wonder what it could be; they normally take us everywhere.
2021: Watching a home video of my third birthday, I see my Grandpa sitting out in the garden with my eldest cousin, avoiding the crowd and chatting amicably. I feel jealous when I see how old all my cousins were while he was still here, they were afforded at least ten more years of him than I was. But although I barely knew him, I can still see him. He’s in my dad’s face, in his dry sense of humour and elected unsociability. I know that indescribable sparkle my dad has was passed down from him. He’s in my Gran’s voice, when she tells us the story of how they sat next to one another in school and he mocked her for having square handwriting. I can see him, sitting in his favourite chair, handing me a biscuit. He’s been gone for twenty years, but he’s still here.