Saccharine Reminiscence delves into the story of my first love: a secret, passionate gay relationship. This letter-style essay relives half-forgotten memories after rediscovering a love letter, ten years old, walking the reader through cherry-picked moments of a romance as it bloomed and perished. I explore the fickle nature of memory, musing over unreliable nostalgia as memories are replayed again and again.
This is a creative non-fiction letter-esque essay written for my creative writing course Starting Your Manuscript. It received an A- grade, so while I’m not entirely happy with it’s current form, I suppose it isn’t too terrible. I’m quite nervous about sharing this, but here goes nothing.
I’m working on a post looking at how this piece evolved through workshopping at University, so keep an eye out for that in the future! Also soon to come is the second story I wrote for the same class, Don’t Go Chasing Vampires – an excerpt from Condemned in my Forbidden Trilogy.
Saudade: A deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again.
I moved house recently. Such a strange experience, to pack your entire life into boxes. It’s hard- if not impossible, to pile it all in without pausing, at least now and again, to contemplate why you still cart around that worn and patched little alien from your childhood, the old photo of your grandfather from before you were even born, or the Winnie the pooh duvet that’s less than half the size of your current bed. It’s a tumultuous storm of emotions, picking up one memory after another, and indulging in the nostalgic reverie.
Do you remember the letter you wrote me? It’s been ten long, long years, but I still have it, the envelope slowly yellowing with every rediscovery. I’ve read it again, and again, and again over the years. I don’t know how long I’ll carry it; I cannot imagine a day when the sight of that aging white envelope does not illicit such a burst of emotion; a bitter-sweet kind of nostalgia; a self-torture I cannot seem to resist. Maybe one day, maybe if I’m married, a mother, or dare I say, content in life, I will find that stained little envelope tucked safely away in the back of a draw and no longer feel the urge to pick it up and reminisce over the first girl to love me. You were the first, possibly the only one, to see me, to truly know me, even after all these years. Your letter is the only proof I have now that the memories I ruminate over were ever real at all.
I remember the first time I sat across from you, in the circle of a drama class I regretted enrolling in. It’s funny… the only detail I have left is of your arm-warmers, from hand to elbow, striped in colours I’ve long forgotten. I suspect that’s what happens when you try so desperately to remember, nit-picking at details of little consequence so long, the rest is forgotten. Were they black striped with pink? Or red? Maybe they were white? I repaint the image again and again, as if a colour might stick this time, finally completing a picture that is now too worn and neglected to matter.
I can’t recall the first time we spoke, the first time I heard your voice, or even how we came to be friends… But I can distinctly remember the freckles on your skin, too many dozens to count. I remember the shine in your eyes, a beautiful ocean blue, and the way you looked down when you smiled. Do I really remember the pitch of your laugh, as clear in my mind as the soothing sound of ocean waves? Or has it twisted? Warping as the years ticked on, into something of my own invention?
I question the truth of these fleeting impressions. Could they really have been so idyllic? They say that each time you look back, you aren’t revisiting the past, but the last time you recalled it. How many details might’ve morphed with each and every time I’ve replayed them? I suspect I’ve put my version of you through an editor; discarding the unwanted, and retouching the moments of beauty until what’s left is a saccharine imitation, not really you, but more like a cousin, twice removed from reality. Were you ever real at all?
Most vividly, I remember The Cambridge House. We shared the backseat of your grandparents’ car on a journey that seemed to stretch; an eternity to arrive in what felt like an Other-Land. I know now, it was only an hours’ drive to a small town near Hamilton, but the suspension of reality lingers on my memories, leaving us in a bubble, the world at a distance. I watched the hills passing, rising and falling like the swells of a stormy ocean solidified in green, stretching on, and on. We barely spoke, sharing glances and coy smiles, your family oblivious to our hands reaching just a little too far across the centre seat to be casual. Our fingers brushed in the purest kind of contact, but it was electrically daring in our young innocence. It makes me smile, wondering if your family could really have been so clueless to the relationship we knew they wouldn’t approve of.
I’ve thought a lot about finding the house I can only half-remember; reliving that brief step outside of our lives… But despite the town’s size, the way is lost to me. I can recall a glimpse of a statue in town; I think it might’ve been a horse. I couldn’t tell you why that’s what’s stayed with me, but I wish I could trade it for a road map into the country, to the door of that two-story house. All I have now is the ever-fading memory of open fields, the electric fence that short-circuited my brain as we took carrots to the horses nearby, and the shock of realising we’d sat down in the middle of a paddock in the company of a bull.
I’m not sure what I would do if I ever found it. Maybe I want to test the reality against the vision in my mind. I think the house was beautiful. Old, but renovated, with large windows, gazing over a wooded valley. I remember listening to your little sister as I sat on the bed that was supposed to be hers, as she argued how unfair it was, that I’d taken her place, forcing her into a room with your mother. My stomach twisted with guilt, feeling unwanted, an intruder. I don’t remember what words you used, but I can half-recall the way you held my hand as you reassured me, easing away my anxiety. It’s like re-watching an old movie, damaged, glitching from one image to another, the sound muted. You know what’s happening, but you can’t quote the dialogue. I wish I could know the truth behind this moment, to know how you calmed anxieties that have persisted all these years.
There were two beds in the room, though one went mostly ignored. Behind the shelter of a closed door, we explored each other, tangled as we shared everything, right down to the air we breathed. We stripped away not just our clothes, but every barrier. I remember you confessing how shy you were about kissing, your insecurities about whether you were good at it or not. So we kissed, again and again, and again, until you weren’t embarrassed anymore. I have never felt as free as I did laying next to you, basking in the purest kind of honesty I’ve ever known. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about, nothing we were too shy to mention. Maybe it was young naivete, too young to want to hide our insecurities from the world, but I’ve never met another soul to whom I wouldn’t hesitate to spill every drop of myself. It was new, exciting, and secretive, but never awkward – or perhaps that’s the just the haze again; clumsiness forgotten, erased, leaving me with only the joy of you. In my mind, I can see the gentle curves of your pale skin as we lay exposed to each other, the small peaks of your breasts, bare and beautiful… I am almost certain the image is nothing more than wishful thinking, painting you into a phantom memory, revisited so many times that I can no longer distinguish fact from fiction. How much has been invented in the wake of reminiscent longing?
I truthfully don’t know how far things went with you in the shelter of that Cambridge bedroom. Have I imagined the depth of our connection, overwriting truth with wistful imagining? I’m too scared to ask you for the truth. I imagine asking, only for you to tell me you have forgotten us entirely. Could I have meant so little? I would rather lay awake and play my memories over, even if I’m eventually left with nothing but a fantasy of my own creation. The only evidence I have that this isn’t the case already is the carefully folded letter in a yellowing envelope, the only proof I have that such a connection can exist at all. Perhaps this makes me a coward, too afraid to face the truth for fear it would wash away my ability to believe I could have this again, one day.
My memories of the trip are bright, full of open skies; I can only assume it was summer… The thought alone fills my ears with the song of cicadas, a chorus so loud it drowns out the silence. I’m not sure if there were cicadas or not, if we visited Cambridge in the summer heat or if it’s my imagination repainting a faded image, but I do remember the trees at least. Tall and thin and at first, spread wide, clustering closer and closer as we delved deeper into the valley behind the house. It went on and on, hundreds of tree trunks becoming one in their entwined canopy, the way each of my memories, individual moments in time, become an interlaced web of emotions, casting misplaced shadows over each one in a forest of nostalgia.
I find myself endlessly reminded of you. Even the soy milk in my tea, long gone cold, reminds me of you, and I can see your outstretched hand, offering me my first taste. We shared so many firsts, and no matter how hard I try, I know so much has already been forgotten. I want to cling to what little I have left of you. I’ve doubted time and again if what we were was really as intimate as I remember… All I need to do is revisit the words you wrote me, and I know. I was as much your reason for waking each and every morning as you were mine. I doubt I will ever be so exposed again in my life. I’ve never encountered another soul to transcend every boundary, someone who could brush away all hesitation, uncertainty forgotten. Only with you could I speak as freely as I breathed, be so unapologetically ourselves.
I remember testing the constraints of the universe with you. We sat with each other, hand in hand, whispering prayers to the Earth Mother in a misguided exploration of witchcraft. Do you remember our curious fascination with dream-walking? The concept of crossing the astral plane to connect on an entirely different level. If we could have bound our souls to one another, we would have.
The sun is setting now. An entire day has come and gone as I’ve sat here, thinking only of you.. I confess… It is not the first time hours have passed me by as I’ve indulged in reliving what we once had. When I return to bed tonight, my kitchen will still be piled with dishes; the blankets on my bed a tangled mess; my wardrobe strewn across the floor. How am I supposed to keep these things in order, when the very act of keeping my eyes open is more effort than I have energy? I wish I could sink into this saccharine reminiscence and never have to worry about surfacing again.
Never mind the anguish that taints every drop of bliss you gave me. To this day, I am haunted by the nightmare-image of you in the kitchen of that beautiful Cambridge House… Starved. Everything that you were, wasted away, into a frail imitation of your beauty, curled on the floor, clutching at a body that was little more than bones. I woke from the nightmare in tears. I doubt you remember my desperation to know that you were ok, to check that you still shone with life.
You were fine. It wasn’t you that had withered. It was us. I suppose my subconscious knew before I did, that the distance between us was a chasm that only grew wider with every passing day. Can you remember the day you told me your family was moving? I can’t. I left that memory on a shelf, until it decayed into dust, I was content to be rid of. But I can’t stop reliving the day the ocean between us became too much. It’s a darkness I can’t escape, as hard as I’ve tried.
Everything else from that day – perhaps even that week, or month, has been swallowed into a void; replaced with the unending agony. I spent an eternity just trying to hold the pieces of myself together, clutching at my chest as if that would keep it from breaking. That was the day I shattered, and no amount of memory-dust could bury the heartache that wets my cheeks even as I write to you. There aren’t words that can convey the pain as my throat constricts, my chest tightens, my heart aches. On loop, I see myself, severed from your light, on my floor in the dark… desperate to breath; wondering if I’d ever be able to do so freely again.
Do you know this pain? I can’t help but wonder if you ever felt it for me, or if the love that we shared simply washed away with the tide as it came and went, each day flooding you with new joys, until I was little more than a fleeting memory.
Ten long years have already flitted by. Maybe in another ten, I will be able to think of you without this reminiscent sorrow. Maybe I won’t find days spent in the past so appealing… But I know it doesn’t matter how many years pass, I will never stop wondering how things could have been. If thousands of miles hadn’t been forced between us, how many years could we have had? I wonder if the question has ever plagued you, if you think about the time that was stolen from us.
But our lives never stopped. As stuck as I’ve felt, as long as I’ve yearned for what was lost, the years have put more between us than an ocean ever could. There is so much joy in your life now. There was a time when neither of us thought that could be possible, without the other. But your life kept going without me. You have a daughter now. I’m so happy to see glimpses of your smile, the glee painted across your photos – even if it aches, just a little. Your life moved on, and your reasons for waking have never seemed to abandon you. I wonder if any of them have filled you quite as completely as you once filled me? I long for an embrace like yours, like what we once shared, so much more than mere skin on skin. Maybe one day I will again bask in the bliss of truly knowing another.
Somehow, it’s gotten late. I expect, when I put down this letter, and return to my bed, I will not be able to put you down with it; the cycle starting anew. Before I sleep tonight, your letter shall be returned to the safety of its envelope. Perhaps, I will find it a home in my files, and it might stay there another few years… How long will I keep it? How many more letters can I add to this worn envelope?