The Last Letter

Personal Essay by The Pilgrim

To my dear friend,

I have been thinking, why do people not have ceremonies to celebrate the end of relationships? Like an ‘un-wedding’ to acknowledge the time spent with a person. To commemorate the lessons learnt. To offer one’s community a space to observe the shift of how they used to relate to the individuals in a partnership. A ceremony of transition.

I remember my parents talking about a divorce party when I was thirteen. It didn’t happen but I imagine it would have taken the form of a festive summer braai that saw the acknowledgement of important life events shared with our family friends. With thanks of seeing them through almost two decades of growth and family-building. Instead, my parents have slowly drifted out of contact with that community and with each other but can be seen politely reminiscing at an After Tears or 60th birthday event. 

Next month will mark the first anniversary of our separation. It will also mark the four-year anniversary of our meeting and subsequent partnership. To mark our transition into friendship, I thought it best to revert to a cornerstone of our relationship: A letter. A letter to say thank-you and to say goodbye. While this is not the ceremony we deserve, perhaps it can be some sort of communal commemoration of our time together. 

*

Our first correspondence was in the form of a note written on cigarette rolling paper. I left it under your windshield-wiper and asked you to be gentle with my heart. A declaration of reciprocated romance.

The next note was from you. You gifted me a glorious mixtape and a delicate collage-poem. In this poem, you daydreamed aloud of adventuring into the wilderness together and making a home – a bold statement but not unusual of your passionate gestures of the time.

And then, about three months in, I gifted you a letter to take into the desert. As I wrote you some musings about letter-writing and travelogues I knew I was in love with you. I named it “a peck on the neck of correspondence”, but really it was a giant leap outward into the abyss, with great trust that we could find flight together. 

I wrote that I craved your hands: Your gentle lived wise hands. Your string strumming, curry stained, neck caressing hands. Your goosebump conjuring hands. I now think back fondly with appreciation of seeing those hands through many seasons. 

When you returned from your journey, we spent two days on my bed. You picked at the guitar, I made us a magenta-coloured breakfast and we watched beautiful films. 

*

The following months were dry of letter-writing. Instead, we spent much time on the road and on the phone. It was during these summer months that we perhaps should have separated. The dark clouds arrived and have yet to disperse. Stronger than my impulse to lay down boundaries was my appetite to overcome my commitment-phobia. Who was to know that the wound ran so deep that we were to remain in a partnership for three years after that?

A year into our partnership, I wrote you a second letter. The words marked the recognition of our time together. They also marked the start of the season of grief. A great proclamation that, for both of these reasons, I was there for you. 

I wrote:

My daydreams of your presence are golden and smell of lavender. I picture a historical version of you – how I remember you to be, reliving some butterfly-summoning memories. But I also imagine an imagines version of you, and where you are now. How you talk to strangers and what the weather is like inside your head.

You once wrote about our love-making in a way that I cannot match. To paraphrase, I have been moved by how I have been transformed; how we have deconditioned my tender pathologies, learnt to wear my histories and my potentials, and break across boundaries of solitude. So fragile and robust all at once. To use this thought-process, and add to it: That my preconceptions that this needs to be formed in isolation from each other has only pained me. But the thought of fusing so closely and completely together after which we may mutate into a possible paralyzing co-dependence, have been even more frightening.

To name our  season of communion and coexistence – our dance of intimacy and independence – has been one of the bravest things I have set out to achieve in my recent life. And the past few weeks have felt like a testament toward this ambition. 

Self-love and our partnership are not mutually exclusive. That it asks for strength to bear witness to each other at this time of growth and change.

And loss.

I crave to comfort you in this moment, my heart swells and my throat aches at the thought. I have no words that will remedy, except for a certain: I am here.

*

Our next years were defined by death. Death of a loved one. Death of our self-images. Death on a global scale. Death of social-systems as we had known it. And of course, death of our romance which finally resulted in the death of our partnership.

During this time we exchanged few letters. Just before my birthday, I started to write you a letter:

The last time I penned you a letter, a winter season was upon us. I remember writing it to celebrate the year-mark of our meeting. I recall my attempt to offer ornate words and an affirmative sentiment but fucking hell! I could not capture the weather inside my head. My heart aches recalling that time. Bearing witness to your anguish has been one of the most painful experiences of my life. While the world seems a bit greener now, the cold is still on our skin (and perhaps will be there for eternity, forever part of what we carry with us). 

Now we stand with a new season on the horizon. The potential of transformation and the germination of symbolic seedlings feels near and now. I am not sure that I write with the same longing nor supposed exuberance. But I write as a woman who has learned to laugh again. A woman who has started talking from the gut. A woman with five sweet grey hairs. And I write with earth securely beneath me, unblinking.

I was going to propose that we separate. But I don’t think that I was as strong as I declared in this letter. A few days after this you gave me a beautiful birthday card. It was because of those words that I remained open. A willingness to let you in. 

Following this exchange the only thing we wrote to each other were shopping lists and notes: “I’ve gone to the forest to get some fresh air. I will be back for dinner”. Fascinating how homemaking and proximity can be a destroyer of romance. How I would exchange this time for more letters sent from far corners of the globe. 

*

Last year, I wrote you a final letter. You did not receive it. Perhaps until now.

Jan 2021

Most majestic friend,

Apple of my eye,

Artichoke of my heart.

Fuck. I am really blown away by the experiences we have shared during our time together. Mountaintop heights. Oceanic Depths. The widest corners of the universe. And the nooks and crannies of a cramped room during a global pandemic. What an education.

While I am not sure what the horizon holds for us and what paths that are beckoning us beyond, I am filled with much thanks for your company over the past nearly three years. Particularly the beautiful moments in the banal. The meals shared, the stories read, and the embraces in our bed. Of course, I am so grateful to have shared and bared witness to you during this major chapter – moving to a new city and realizing a post-grad is no small feat. But I am most thankful for your company during the darkness of the past year. To have harnessed each other’s strength during the hard lockdown; to have laughed and loved at a time that has indeed been shrouded by a shadow of grief, it has been life giving. Again, gratitude.

You have just returned from the wilderness yonder and you have returned much taller. Much broader. Much broader in your voice. And broader in your smile. In the quality of your smile. And I feel space between us. Not distance but space. Space to breath, to move and to grow even fuller into our individual selves. The space has allowed for me to see the whole of you more clearly. While this is not completely unfamiliar, it unfortunately has happened only in brief moments amongst the whirlwinds of the past two years. If our time together is to continue, I do hope for that space to be nurtured and honed. Oh, how I would so love to see you thrive and flyyy… In time this is inevitable. I hope that in some way I get to be there to bask in your light and your joy. Even if it’s from a distance…

*

Feb 2021

And now, my dear friend, on the eve of our separation, I sit with these words again. A fascinating forecast of what has transpired. Or perhaps, finally the boldness to surface.

In the past month, between then and now, I was gifted with your affections; with your friendship; with your creativity. Between then and now, you gave life to a garden; made music; wrote a thesis. Between then and now, it felt like falling in love again. 

And now I am gently trying to surrender to the surreality of our separation. To welcome it warmly into my home, and to ask it if it would like a cup of tea? Perhaps a ginger biscuit?

But it’s hard. It’s hard to be soft. Hard to be omniscient. All I know is that I need to mourn, to wail, to break. Until eventually I am able to look up again and finally say

Thank-you and goodbye.

*

March 2021

I wonder if we would still know each other once we become completely untethered. I wonder if you feel relief or loss out there in the wilderness? I am surprised at my solace. 

I am surprised by my grief.

*

May 2021

I want to take this time to say thank-you:

Thank-you for the mixtapes.

Thank-you for the gifts of flowers and music.

Thank-you for your gentle hands.

Thank-you for kindling love in me.

Thank-you for so many laughs.

Thank-you for writing a beautiful song about me.

Thank-you for taking me to your father’s favourite beach.

Thank-you for evoking adventure in me.

Thank-you for silly puns and Autumn walks.

Thank-you for helping move through my fear of commitment.

Thank-you for helping me quit smoking.

Thank-you for teaching me about death.

Thank-you for naked wilderness escapades.

Thank-you for the kisses and orgasms.

Thank-you for the good food.

Thank-you for teaching me to be more conscious of my effect on the natural world.

Thank-you for being a wonderful nature-buddy.

Thank-you for introducing me to your lovely community.

Thank-you for all the thought-provoking conversations.

Thank-you for all the delightful conversations too.

Thank-you for telling me stories about your grandmother. And your father.

Thank-you for showing me that it’s possible to fall in love with someone more than once.

Thank-you for some magical cuddles.

Thank-you for your support.

Thank-you for showing me that my personhood is more important than my career.

Thank-you for all the cups of tea.

Thank-you for your friendship.

And I want to also take this moment to wish you well on your way:

I hope you find solace.

I hope you find satisfaction with that which surrounds you.

I hope you play more music and write more songs.

I hope you travel with joy and confidence.

I hope you travel like this with your friends and future partners.

I hope you build a sustainable self-love practice.

I hope you get to perform on stage again, many times more.

I hope you get to make more art more often.

I hope that you wake well.

I hope that you stop feeling aches in your body.

I hope you generate a boldness in your body and in your heart.

I hope you forgive yourself.

I hope that you let yourself love others with abundance and confidence.

I hope that we can be friends again one day.

*

May 2021

Beloved friend and beloved no longer,

I wish for your health and happiness only.

Perhaps we would have found that in our past relationship. We certainly needed to end our partnership. I now acknowledge that you were asking to separate for years. Perhaps this all would have been more pleasant. But perhaps we would not be friends. Maybe we will never be friends. Maybe we will?

I am now attempting to let you go. To lean into the ache and heartbreak. To the great abyss of nothing that will be our relationship. Except a memory. The thought makes me sick.

I still wish for your broadness. But more so, I wish for my own broadness. My own strength and joy and community that can reflect my inner world outwardly.

I wish that we could share in this together.

May you find what you are searching for.

Thank-you and goodbye. 

*

And now, full circle, I write greetings again. As a person transformed from our love. As a person with deep conviction of our relating, from our platonic positions. 

Thank you for your time and thank you for those that joined us on this journey. To those who bared witness and those that sat with these words.

With much appreciation,

The Pilgrim