Summer, I mean. But so is the relationship that we have known, and life is never going to be the same again. They tell me I’m clever with words, so I’m using my words now to try to express how I feel about your going. How many different ways are there to say it: separation; break-up; leaving; divorce; ending. Maybe now that you’ve gone I’ll write them out, calligraphy style, just like you used to do. Then I can stick our life together in a scrapbook. At least I’ll have the memories.
Of course, you will say that none of those words is appropriate. It’s merely a matter of life taking its natural course. Some things have to end so that others can begin. You say you’ll go on loving me even now that you’ve gone. And maybe in a way that is true. But I know full well that when you have readjusted, orientated yourself to flying solo, one night across a crowded room some other man is going to catch your eye and sweep your off your feet. I am powerless to prevent that now.
Eighteen years is such a long time. I don’t know how I will carry on without you.
Last night you packed your bags. This morning you carried them downstairs. That’s something else that’s different now. You used to let me do that for you. It’s yet another change that marks the passage of time and the evolution, the entropy of our relationship towards its inevitable conclusion.
So now, I am seated at the table across from where you used to sit, where I looked into your eyes. Eighteen years you sat there. Now all I have to look at is the Beaune Premier Cru which I swirl around my glass. The cut of the crystal catches the sunlight through the wine, making ruby fairies dance across the ceiling. Their swirling chaos celebration of sensuality transports me back across the years.
I remember the day we met, or rather the night. The snow was still piled up on the street corners. Only those that had to, ventured out that night and neither of us had any business being away from the warm places we had just left.. But you were insistent that we were to meet for the first time.
Strangely enough, when faced with the reality of a real confrontation after months of expectation, your confidence left you. You could not speak. Your companions had to make a point introducing you to me. You were so damn shy that I don’t think you had a word to say for yourself all that evening. But it was your eyes that got me. I’ll always remember your eyes. I was smitten. People say there is no such thing as love at first sight. I know different.
Of course, on your side, it took a little longer to develop. But pretty soon you’d moved in with me and I knew deep inside that this relationship would be last a lifetime. Mind you, there were times when I wondered whether we were going to make it. The first few years were tumultuous. So little articulate conversation passed between us, and so much screaming characterised our early relationship. Mostly yours – but I did my share of shouting too. Sometimes you seemed incapable of responding to rational persuasion. We both matured a little as the years rolled by, didn’t we, Sweetheart ?
We’d been together maybe four years when you asked me to marry you. Was it leap year? I can’t remember. But I knew the question would come one day. I was prepared for it. I tried to explain to you that no matter how much I loved you, I could not do as you asked. For I was legally wed to another who would not release me. And that despite this, my heart was yours. I would live with you as long as you would stay with me. I don’t think my answer ever really satisfied you. So perhaps even then, all those years ago, it was the beginning of the end. For, from that point forward, your attention seemed to focus beyond the boundaries of our relationship. I asked you not to change. You told me my request was impossible for you to fulfil. You were urgent to grow. I can’t blame you. I had turned down your invitation to the altar. You needed to make whatever provision for yourself you considered fit.
It can only have been another year or so after that that you determined that an academic future would be yours. You bounded yourself about with the tools and trappings of book learning and I could feel you beginning to slip away from me. I could have fought it, I guess. But this was your route to personal growth and your tutors were so complimentary about your mental prowess and achievements. Who was I to hold back a superior creative power? I guess, looking back, the real surprise is that it has taken you so long to come to your final decision to leave.
How greatly I enjoyed observing the growth and increasing sophistication of your intellect. Does that sound patronising, Sweetheart? It really isn’t meant to. I’ve always had the utmost respect for your cerebral capacity. And that’s without reference to the overwhelming artistic capability that you have displayed throughout the time that I have known you. Where does it come from Sweetheart? I know both your parents very well and neither of them shows anything like your capacity for artistic self-expression.
Your early works, those that you executed soon after coming to live with me, were in some ways the most impressive all. Abstract in the extreme, I never understood what you were getting at in them. But I could tell from the intensity of the way you tackled the canvasses that these were no mere scrawls. Rather they were the work of a true artist whose talents had yet to reach their zenith. You painted life as you saw it then, a unique perspective to which I found it so hard to relate. I don’t know if you remember, but you gave me some of those paintings. I kept them. I always will. They are a part of you I don’t have to relinquish even now.
But as the years rolled by, your attention moved more to structure and form and your work took on a somewhat more integrated character. At last I could begin to relate to some of what you saw, some of what moved you.
It seemed to me that you reached your heights of expression in sculpture. There was so much of you in that final piece you created. I was desperate for you to give it to me. Do you understand why? You see, you had completed it at the beginning of the summer. And though you did not say, indeed, you even denied that you were leaving, I knew that the completion of that piece in some sense marked the end of your apprenticeship. And I knew from that moment you would be leaving. It simply took you a little longer to realise that you were actually going to go.
And now summer really is over and you’ve gone. The leaves are falling copiously outside. We used to shuffle through them hand in hand just for the pleasure of the sensation around our ankles and the crisp crackling that brought joy to our ears. I shall not do that with you any more. Autumn’s nearly over too. So many summers; so many autumns. Winter approaches.
I could have tried to stop your leaving. But what good would that have done? We had reached a congruent ending. And I, of all people, know how important it is for endings to be congruent. So how about we celebrate your departure by an exchange of gifts? Let me have the sculpture, Sweetheart. It marks our parting. This story is my gift in return.
So now here I am alone, opposite your empty chair watching the ruby fairies dance across the ceiling. They swirl and spin joyfully. They dance hand in hand, as if to mark your having come of age.
It isn’t often a daughter leaves for University.
It isn’t often that a father has to say goodbye.
Come back and see me when you can.