Chrysanthemum

I love you. I am in love with you. You have a beautiful, kind face, and in every photo you radiate kindness. Your eyes shine with life and playfulness. Each smile suppresses a laugh. Your eyebrows manage to express a childlike wonder at everything. Life has not worn you down. You still believe in the world. As I do.

I love you. And I realise how stupid or naive, or childlike this can sound. I love you, and I’ve never met you. How can that be possible? You have beautiful eyes, a huge, heart warming smile. That photo of you in the big, old patterned jumper, sitting on that deserted beach, staring through the bonfire at the sea. Any man would fall in love with you.

And yet it’s not how you look that I find so adorable. I am old and wise enough to know that appearances can mislead. It’s not how you look, it’s what you’ve written. Somehow it’s left me in your spell. You have pulled me in. Snared me. I cannot escape.

I hope this doesn’t sound disingenuous. Yes, I like the look of you. You are lovely. But I’m not trying to flatter you. You are too intelligent to be taken in with empty words. (And I realise, even as I write these sentences, that you could consider them as part of my overall plan of flattery.) But honestly, I love your face, but I am in love with you because of your words. I fell in love with your words. And maybe your words have made me love your face more.

Thank you, thank you for writing back. When I didn’t hear from you last night I assumed you’d realised it was a mistake, that asking for my email address was a bad idea. But now I realise you were writing your life story. It must have taken most of the night.

It wasn’t any of the facts of your life that I fell in love with, although I love all the facts now. That your name is Japanese. That your parents are retired academics, and very eccentric and middle class. I love you not because you did well at school, or went to a prestigious university, or have had a successful career in advertising. There is something else. Something woven in there. An invisible thread.

I love that you gave up your career for your daughter. I love that you work freelance, but you’ve lost interest in the whole nasty business. There is so much that is fascinating and wonderful about who you are, but this is not why I have fallen in love with you.  Maybe its in the images you create, or the rhythm of your prose. Perhaps you’ve lured me with subliminal messages you’ve smuggled into your paragraphs. (You’d know all about that).

I’ve read and reread what you’ve written.  And even though I don’t believe this, I find it hard to accept that you are real. How could someone as beautiful, funny and clever find me interesting? And this isn’t false modesty: I am very unsure. I would go so far as to want to ask you – did you realise what you were doing? Are you aware of the power of your words?

I am washed up. I feel the best years of my life are over. ‘Washed up’ is a great expression. Washed up on the beach. Washed up and ready to be put in the cupboard. A dead whale. A coffee mug. I love that as you end one career you are immediately ready with your next project. And so exciting it sounds. But I’m a whale, or a mug, or just a random old crock, and I’m sitting alone on humanity’s beach, and from far away I see you, this lovely woman, walking the high tide, a beachcomber, I watch her collect driftwood, assemble a small fire, light it. She sits and looks through the smoke at the sea. I see the sun on her face. I want to talk to her, get to know her, but I wonder, should I begin to feel hope again. Can I risk falling in love?

Love. I was washed up, and now I might fall back in. Love is the sea. You are the beachcomber, and the beach, and the sea. You are the world surrounding me. The world you have transformed with your slate blue, oceanic eyes.

At least being washed up means being dry, and being able to think. I could spend the rest of my life just sitting, watching life. But If I am thrown back in, I wonder if I can survive the currents. Will I sink so deeply that I can’t get out?

I need to ask you this: did you write to me in such a way that you knew I’d be smitten? I counted the number of times the word ‘love’ appeared in what you’d written. Sixteen. (I have to add the ‘work’ appeared as many times.) Were you deliberately plugging into my unconscious? Because, if you were, you succeeded. Perhaps you did this consciously, or unconsciously. Does it matter? I have to accept that you are genuine. That you are who you say are. If you’re not, then maybe I’m opening up myself to a disgruntled, psychopathic adman (I discount a woman would do this) using a very feminine Japanese name to try out some crazy deception. (Well, Piers, or Marcus or Hector. Well done. It worked. I have fallen in love with the woman you’ve created. Perhaps you’ve done this for your novel or your screenplay or whatever it is you are writing in your spare time to get out of that monstrous industry.)

Now I’ve put that to one side, and I don’t really think that anyone with the amount of sophistication to create this incredible woman (more flattery) would waste their talents on fooling someone they don’t know. But then isn’t this why intelligent hackers create viruses?  To cause havoc in an unsuspecting and unknown victim?

Unless, of course, you are someone I know pretending to be you. Who would do that? It makes no sense. I have to believe in you. You are real. I am in love.

Sorry. Ignore all this. You must be real. I feel very vulnerable. I need to be certain I am not being fooled, or being led into some sort of trap.

The link to your website, your memories, just the whole concept of you, it hangs together so beautifully. You have to be real. You are real.

I want you to be real, so much. I want you to be the person you are. The person I have constructed from the photos and the facts and the words and the images the words create, the rhythms of your prose, the little asides and the wit.

In many ways, it’s me who has made you up. You have given me ingredients and I have put them together. All my longing and hope and desire. So it’s not that someone else has created you. I have.

How much of the world is really out there and how much is our own invention?

I love you.

Who am I?

Who are you?

What is ‘love’?

I have to stop this introspective nonsense or I will drive you away. I should just tell you my story, give you my facts, or you’ll read all this and think I sit here ruminating over every word, every possibility. No, it’s not like that at all. I just want to know, before I leap back in, that I will won’t be hurt.

But I can’t expect you to answer that. If you are genuine, then you don’t know either. And I realise that you are probably asking the same questions about me. Perhaps my own fears of being unlovable are yours too. You could, of course, be wondering whether I am all I say I am, or all you think I am. But I’m ready to risk everything.  Life is all risk. I just have to hold my breath and jump. And I think I already have, long before I started writing this. It’s already to late. I am falling, I have fallen, I am deeply in love. It’s ridiculous. It’s wonderful. It’s true.

I’ve said your name over and over again.

Kiku, chrysanthemum. Golden flower.

I fall through a sky filled with petals into the warm blue ocean of your eyes.

What has made me fall? How has this happened?  What is it about you, or your life, or your words that has made me fall?

The description of your time in Norway, and then later, the years you spent in Orkney, it was all so powerfully romantic. Bleak, and yes, sometimes harrowing, all so Wagnerian. But nevertheless, romantic.

Like Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’. There I am, standing alone, above a landscape, looking out. Everything is below and beyond is so alluring and yet there is almost nothing to be seen. A few grey peaks push through the swirl of fog. The figure must be looking north, into the thrilling but indeterminate future, as I do now.  The figure has to create the landscape from those few hints. It is you, it is the future.

Orkney sounds beautiful, if austere. (How you kept going in that huge, isolated old house on the island, I don’t know). That house, and the loneliness, and the cold. The life you led, almost ideal, yet in reality utterly miserable, but nevertheless as you described it, you drew me north, into some sort of dream, a Norse saga. I saw the sunlight on shallow seas, felt my eyes dancing over the waves. You have taken me through the narrow lanes of Stromness, I have walked with you across the heath to the stones of Brodgar. And even further north, you showed me.the cherry tree orchards on the slopes of the Hardangerfjord.

And I am drawn north by those pale, slate blue Nordic eyes. A sense of destiny, or fate, or longing. There is something here that is beyond my understanding. It’s impossible to consider in any depth. And I daren’t mention this to anyone. I hear the words ‘projection’ or ‘transference’ and even ‘mid life crisis’ or more likely ‘pathetic’ and just ‘sad’. But they (the voices in my head) can say what they like. Friends would be envious, if I told them. I can’t. Not yet.

Kiku, golden flower. No invented woman would be given that name without some sort of back story. Your mother wandered across Japan when she was a teenager, only fifteen years after the end of the second world war, after Hiroshima, Nagasaki. A sort of Zen pilgrimage. She was the original dharma bum.  While those beat poets and novelists were making money from their books, she was doing what they were preaching. Looking for some alternative way to live, and perhaps, I wonder, some sort of forgiveness.  You describe her adventures in just a few sentences, drop in the names of a few of the places she stayed, and somehow I’m there, with her, before you were born, sitting in a silence of a stone garden in Kyoto, just as you sit on the beach on a small island in the Hebrides, so far away. So far away.

Do you know the essays of Hazlitt? There’s one I particularly love. ‘Why Distant Objects Please’. Distant objects please, he says, because ‘we clothe them with the indistinct and airy colours of fancy’.  Things distant in place and in time. ‘We drink the air before us, and borrow a more refined existence from objects that hover on the brink of nothing.’  This can be a pleasant experience, and I’m sure it’s one reason we love climbing mountains and panoramic views. But it can also deceive, of course. The quiet hamlet nestling in the hills is more likely to be a deserted collection of holiday homes of city bankers.

But, nevertheless, distance is alluring. But your words are right here in front of me, and they conjure up a person I can’t stop thinking about. The world seems so different today.

I see a different sky. And after what you wrote about your love of the stars, everything scintillates. I see constellations of dew in the morning grass, last night there were glowworms in the old cemetery at the bottom of the lane, now the sun sparkles on the northern oceans. This wonder, this love, it’s what you’ve given me. Life is beginning again.

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