Leaves forming a heart
Image credit: Roman Kraft

To Those I Loved

When asked about love I tell people I have met love four times in my life. Each was very different from the last and every time, I became a different person. As I grew and changed the love I accepted grew and changed with me.

Maxwell was young and pretty, pretty in the way people often are when they are young and incredibly curious… he was so incredibly curious. His eyes a hazel that seemed to change colour with each and every environment he was in, each lighting offering a different shade. No one could really ever explain his eyes to anyone, they were his and yet not like anything I had ever seen before. Maxwell had freckles and short hair and a laugh that echoed in his chest. He matched my curiosity and my joy in ways no one ever had before. He was the embodiment of flower crowns and picking daisies just as they started to sprout. Maxwell liked to run in big fields and teach the horses to jump. Maxwell made sure no one stepped on the snails in the road path and everyone made sure to leave fruit out for the birds because they were just waking up, they were tired, and they needed it. Maxwell was shy, and quiet, but full of hope. You had to know how to approach Maxwell, with open hands and a soft voice, because he shared easily. But once you knew him you never understood how anyone wouldn’t take the time. Maxwell was worth the patience required to get to know him. Maxwell would read poetry out loud across the dinner table, not caring who was or wasn’t listening, he read it aloud for him as much for anyone else. Maxwell would run barefoot across the sand without looking down once, trusting the sand to not hold anything that would harm him. He only cut his foot twice and he only had one scar from it but he never let that stop him. No glass or bottle caps or weaver fish would stop Maxwell from enjoying the foam of the sea waves. Maxwell taught me to paint with flowers. He would outstretch his hands, delicate and soft, young hands on a young man, covered in dried acrylic, and he would pick up each flower individually, holding it to the light.  

“You’ve got to trust the flowers, my love. I know it is early, I know they have only just bloomed but they know what they are doing, they’ve been here before, they were made for this. You have to trust them, just like you trust me.”

Maxwell played music from a low-quality speaker across the garden whenever friends came over to drink homemade lemonade that was far too bitter to really be enjoyable, but we all drank it anyway. My mother loved Maxwell, she thought he was everything I needed him to be. She still asks after him, even now, after all the years have passed and never once have I been able to give her a decent answer. She still always asks about him. Maxwell used to leave bluebells on my doorstep and in my windowsills. I was too young to appreciate them at the time, but when I see them now I think of him. The blues and purples of Maxwell were always my favourite, the yellows and the whites brought out the smiles of others, but for us, the blues and the purples were something to remember, something that I held onto even after Maxwell left. Maxwell disappeared almost as quickly as he arrived, and I wasn’t ready for his departure, I hadn’t gotten to know him completely yet, I wasn’t ready to let him go. But I trusted in whatever would come next, because Maxwell had shown me that trusting the universe brought good things. Maxwell had shown me that trusting the process had brought me to him, and even if it had also taken him away from me now, I had to believe there was something else good in store.

Luca came quickly, unprepared and still filled with the joy of Maxwell. Each step felt right, like Luca could do no wrong. Luca brought sound back to my life, music and conversations, where he was happy to do the talking. I’ve always hated the quiet but with Luca there was never a quiet moment. Luca had a bright smile and sun-tanned skin. He was rugged like the sea cliffs and his eyes as blue as the water. He spoke with an accent even though he had no reason to, he just loved the way it made him sound. Luca was strong, handsome and bright. He wore a plaid shirt with all the buttons undone, always. Each thing that he did, he did it with confidence, he did it with knowledge, as if each movement he made could not be questioned, each choice he made was perfectly thought out. Luca was everything the younger versions of myself had hoped he would be. He was exactly the person I had hoped to find. He was brave and he was insistent, strong and determined, and nothing kept Luca down. He talked with such adamance, he took control of any room he was in and left everyone captivated and in awe of him most of the time. All of my friends loved Luca, they told me so again and again. Luca had something for everyone, he charmed the old, he made the young smile, Luca was enchanting. He had a smile that spread from ear to ear, when he laughed, he laughed from the depth of his stomach and no one saw anything he did not want them to see. Luca was a perfectly sculptured illusion in the shape of a man. Luca was warm and comforting at first, something that soaked up the sunlight like it belonged in it. Something in the beginning made it feel like it was born to last. But even the things more easily enjoyed can twist. Luca became hot and humid and it seemed to outstay his welcome. What once seemed charming now seemed repetitive and drawn out. How many times can you laugh at the same joke before it becomes just words? How many times can you smile at the same compliment before it becomes so rehearsed? The evenings drew out forever and let the tiredness seep in. People rarely talk about how the warmth can start to drown you, how something you once loved so passionately can change, how badly you can want Luca to end. You watch the skies, counting the moments between the hour and the sun setting, watching them become closer and closer together, waiting for the nights to shorten, the temperature to drop and Luca to leave the doorstep again. I waited like that. Starting to resent every sunrise, starting to hope for the cold winds. He was Luca and I was done with the warm hands and the insistence that the season of summer, with its warmth and its light, was all that mattered. That he was all that mattered. So, I waited for Luca to end. And when Luca ended and I was alone, I didn’t feel sad, everything just felt quiet. I did not hate the quiet like I used to. It no longer felt lonely. It just simply existed.

When the leaves started to fall, the crispness of the autumn breeze was a breath of fresh air, I had not felt since Maxwell. Since that first touch of spring. She had hair like the leaves, a dark orange that swept you into the day even with the grey skies threatening to loom over our heads. She wore long coats and shades of white and grey, the scent of cinnamon and the shoes just a bit too muddy to wear back indoors. So, we stood on doorsteps, until the coffees went cold and the grey afternoon skies turned into the black of night. Hazel laughed like it kept her young. Hazel shared a scarf with me the first day we met, wrapping it around her neck and then mine, to protect me from the shift in cold I had been waiting but was not ready for. Hazel was welcoming in a way that was off-putting to most. People liked to admire Hazel from a distance but barely tried to get to know her. Not that Hazel minded, she never let it show on her face or in her smile. Hazel was always quick to remind others of what the world had to offer, of the joy even in the long evenings and cold breeze. Hazel had a way to get everything done in a day and still find time for movies. She wasn’t big on flowers but she loved trees, fascinated by the nature of the evergreen and always pointing out the beauty in the stripped branches of the ones that left their leaves go in preparation for the cold.

“Have you ever seen a skeleton look so beautiful?” She would ask, more than once.

“How do you see something so sad and call it beautiful?” I would ask, hoping she would shed some light on what she saw in me.

“Simple,” she replied with a smile, “you accept it for what it is, just a part of life.”

She had a way of presenting even the darkest of days as if they held magic in them, because she would see the magic in everything, especially the dark. She loved romantic comedies and sad films, because she was a sad girl with a big smile who just wanted so desperately to find love. She wanted to be the girl in the movies, but she never wanted a prince charming, she preferred her love with softer features. I didn’t expect love when I met Hazel, but I found it in her. I found love with her. I found love over coffee tables and park benches, I found it in the rain, I found it in our first kiss, as deeply and as truly as I found it in our last. When Hazel and I had to go our separate ways as the leaves completely fell from the trees, leaving bare, uncovered frames and peeling bark, I too felt exposed. But not lost. The love of Hazel kept me warm long after she left. I thought of her often in the weeks that followed our goodbye, all the things we would have done if she could have stayed. All the places she took me that remind me of her, not in the way Luca left marks under my skin that I can’t scratch out, but in the way that I can see a weeping willow and smile because I know Hazel is out there, somewhere. She is probably drinking peppermint tea through a straw and telling someone that she can’t wait for the first cold day, so she can wear a big coat and a brown scarf. I hope she think of me just as often as I think of her. I miss Hazel but I believe that I will see her again, and the hope I could keeps me as warm as her scarf I still keep under my bed, in the hopes she would call and ask if she left it here, and I could hear her voice again.

Winter scared me when she arrived, she was a love I had forgotten, left at the doorstep of each other season. I kicked her off my boots and tucked her in my pockets, I pushed her into empty drawers and let her wait there for everyone else to leave until she was allowed to come out. She is the most important love, the one I always forgot to love, the one who stays not only when the flowers die and the cold comes in, not only for the storms and the cold but also the firelight, the warmth and the light in the darkness. She was a love I hadn’t known when I met Maxwell, a love I sacrificed over and over when I was with Luca, a love that Hazel tried to remind me of in our time together, but I was so focused on her that this one last love never stood a chance. Winter stood at my doorstep, hands in her pockets, my pockets, waiting to be let in. A love by no other name but my own. I had learned and I had loved people that broke me, I had loved people that in one hand showed you sunlight and in the other dragged you into darkness. I had loved people in ways that had nearly killed me. I had loved people, who, no matter how hard I tried, I could never love the way they needed to be loved and deserved to be loved. Yet I loved them all in their turn. Yet Winter, she stood aside again and again and let me run myself in circles trying to shape myself to whatever love needed me and wanted me to be. She was patient, never expecting me to love her back, because she knew I wasn’t sure how. She knew if I acknowledged how much I neglected her, I would have to face the facts. She knew she scared me. It is so easy to pour love into other people, until you are an empty vessel. But to love yourself is a much harder task. Filling your own cup before anyone else’s is something we have to learn each day and I am still trying. But Winter is patient with me, she always has been. She knows that only I can choose to love her, to nurture her. I can only love myself if I let myself. So, Winter stands in the doorway, and after all this time, after all the loves that I put before her, she asks me again, if this time, maybe today, I could let her inside, even if just for an hour. Just a film. Just a cup of coffee. Just that one brief moment before I go about my day loving everything but her. She asks again and I let her in. Day by day. Some days she stays longer, some days not. And hopefully one day, she will know that she can just walk in the doors and be welcomed here, in this place, in my place, in my life. I hope that I can learn each day that Winter is just as important as every other season I give my time to, and that maybe, even if no one else sees the beauty in her darkness, I owe it to her to try. I owe it to her, to myself, to Winter, to the darkness that I keep tucked inside me to remember that love isn’t reserved for others. It isn’t something we bring out on Tuesday afternoons for lunch dates with our friends, not reserved for nights spend with lovers or for those who have earned it. Winter stands to remind me that I deserve my own love, as much all the others, if not more.