• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 09
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Three out of four

It was the sea that blinded me, not you. I must say that first. Otherwise this photo will fill you with disgust, and perhaps fear for me, though you know I am fine. How can I make you understand what you were, how it was with us? The way this image sums us up perfectly, yet you were not violent, did not bind me or blind me. You were saving me, though you didn’t know from what.

The elements owned me, always. As a child I would make bookmarks, boats, anything I could fathom out of paper, all emblazoned with one of those mystical symbols: yellow flame, green hunk of moss, blue wave, lilac swirl of air. There was a purity to them, a simplicity.

In church I would sit in the backroom where they did the children’s liturgy and instead of listening to tales of Peter and Paul I would gaze into the candle flame, amazed by its shape-shifting, its elusiveness. I would savour and swallow the smell of the wax, feel it set my heart racing like a rabbit’s. I would go home and run my hands through the clumps of moss that choked our flowerbed, feeling shivers down my spine as I imagined lying in it, falling asleep, waking frozen and anchored to the ground, pulled down into the depths of the earth.

And who doesn’t love air? Smokers, I thought as a teen. I hated having to squeeze as far from them as I could on the bus, dodging them at shop entrances. At parties I could sit in a fug for only minutes before I had to escape outside to gasp lungfuls of freshness. It felt like a gift. But at the end of the day I am a Cancer, a water sign. I would annoy my parents by staring at a running tap for hours, before a worn hand would bear down and turn it off. I learned to be more respectful to the planet. But then … I met the sea.


Three out of four

I don’t mean the sea at Formby Point or Southport, though that sea is passable. I mean the Med, and not the pretty Med at Cannes, but the wild, rough Med of Perpignan. I tried to stay away, focus on my studies; that was what I was there to do. Learn French and Catalan.

But the sea came, and you. You taught me more interesting languages – those of self-expression, dance, art and mathematics and freedom. You tried to save me from the sea, from its pull. You nearly did.

Now, twenty years later you are trying to work out what we were and did and had. Here is my letter, here is a photo. Yes, it’s me and you, yes, it’s staged, for your artsy friend Antoine’s portfolio. But the message is far from staged.

You were fire, waxy and changeable. You were earth, damp and anchoring. You were air, God, you were air to my lungs.

But you were not water.