When I thought of her, the first memories to come were always agonisingly sentimental. Walking by the seaside in February, refusing to go home even though it was so cold that it made our fingers numb, or laying on our stomachs on the floor of my student flat, sharing a jug of sangria with two straws. In my favourite recollection we’re listening to something melancholy, she’s falling asleep with her head on my shoulder, and she tells me she’s never felt so comfortable with someone. I agree, admiring how the last few rays of the December sun shine through her window and bathe us in amber light. I’m blissfully unaware of what is yet to come. For as long as I could remember, winter evenings had made me indescribably sad, something about how finite they felt. But this evening had given the impression that it would last forever, and until the point of our separation, I felt as though it was ongoing.
This was the reason I found it so hard to talk about what happened between us when March rolled around. After what she put me through, I knew that I could have painted a truly terrible picture of her without having to sensationalise our relationship, that I could have summarised in one instance the reason I could no longer stand to exist in synchrony with her… but I didn’t. I suppose a part of me thought that if I kept it to myself, I could still pretend that it hadn’t happened- that she was still the same person I held close on the promenade and traded secrets with over red wine, the same person who told me no one had ever made her feel the way I did- but my efforts were fruitless, because when I finally came to the conclusion that someone can still hurt you when you love them as much as I loved her, I came to that conclusion on my own.
Of course, those memories were always destined to fade into nightmares. When the winter sun eventually set on that evening I was plunged into darkness, a starless sky on a cold, unforgiving night. Her face, once warm and consoling, morphed into something new. Her presence overbearing, her gaze desperate. Her body in my arms ceased to be a comfort. She twisted and writhed and grabbed handfuls of my clothes, told me I was the only one who could help her. I took the burden on as my own like it was an orphaned child, held it close and took care of it best I could with my lack of experience and resource. But the orphan was so starving that nothing I offered could satiate it. I gave everything and still it cried, ripped out fistfuls of my hair and clung to my side like I was a lifeline. I gave until I was wasting away. It grew until I suffocated under its weight, and I knew I could no longer take care of it on my own.
The separation was not clean. The orphan took chunks of my skin with it as I passed it back to her, but I was too numb to feel it. She didn’t know how to care for it, she told me, the responsibility would be too much for her to bare. I was the one who had nurtured it, I was the only one used to its weight. She told me that she would die if I left them alone together- the orphan would kill her, and it would be my fault. I knew this to be true, but by then it didn’t matter much to me whether either of us survived. I would’ve let the orphan slaughter us both just to put an end to my suffering. And so, to the sound of their combined tears and pleas, I left. That was the last I heard of the girl and the orphan.
Over the years, I’ve fabricated varying endings to our story. Sometimes I imagine them getting on well together, sharing a plate of food. She would be happy, having learned to care for something bigger than herself. Other times I envisage that it has consumed her violently, torn her limb from limb, devoured her like Kronos. Above all else, however, I suspect that the orphan sleeps on a bed of the bones of temporary parents less fortunate than myself, sustaining itself with their flesh.
I would go on to foster orphans identical to the one we shared, but I knew that she would never discover what it was like to be a mother. We would both continue on these parallel paths. Never learning.