It is the middle of August, and it feels as if the warmth of summer has left us, though we never really had a summer, here in England, this year. Already the air is ripe with the smell of harvest: the spiky, purple thistle flowers have morphed into white milk pods, their silky seeds floating into the sky with the slightest hint of wind, the sloping green hills are slowly giving way to the purple bloom of heather, and the blackberry flowers have popped into green and red buds. Soon, they will turn black, and be ready for picking, their berries succulent and sweet.
I walk the rocky path past the white cows who lounge amongst the green grass that feeds them. They are a rare sight, these albino creatures. Sometimes they feed in the valley, near the gurgling creek at the bottom of the path, but today they linger by the stone wall at the top. I remember seeing them on my walk the day after my husband died. I stared at them for hours, that day, and they stared back at me, as if within their brown eyes lurked a kind of knowing, a willingness to share my sorrows. I have loved them ever since.
I call them ghost cows, because they are white, and seem ethereal, and around them there is a mist of another realm. Their presence brings me comfort, and I search for them, whenever I walk these hills.
I am settling into this life without him. I have slowed my life down to a crawl. I am working only three days a week, and I am home on most of the other ones, where I am learning to sit with, rather than run from, this loss. I have let go of the noise and distractions that kept me from the reality of his death, and the truth of his absence. I am learning to sit with the knowledge that I am alone.
They say that we continue a relationship with our beloveds, even after their deaths, and that our relationship with them deepens, though they are no longer at our sides, and I have found this to be true. My time with my husband was so fleeting that we barely had the chance to grow into one another’s lives. I am jealous of those who knew him for years, for decades, for his entire life. I only got a tiny glimpse of him before he was taken from me, and sometimes I feel that glimpse fading with the winds.
Recently I have been asking him and myself if our relationship was as real and as rich and as deep as I claim. I have always been prone to fantasy. When I was a child, I had, not one, but five, imaginary friends. They lived in my garage and carried distinct personalities and names. When I was old enough to go to school, my sister told me I was too big for them, so I coordinated an elaborate funeral, and buried them in the woods near our house. My fantasy world seemed so much better than the real world I inhabited, then. And, through the years, my imagination has served me well, and been a source of solace, an aid to help me cope.
So I wonder, was our love just a dream? Have I idealised the depth of our love for one another, made it sentimental and sweet, robbed it of its truth? Did he love me as much as I like to think? Would we have still been together ten years from now, had I not lost him to this tragic death? Or would he drift away, like the others, finding my mood swings and eccentricities too much for him to bear?
Our romance will be forever preserved, in the threads of my memory, through the filter of my perception. What if it was not as I remember? How can I sift through these filters to find the truth?
I know this—my love for him was real—as real as anything I have ever known or felt, and perhaps will ever know again. And those who knew him say I made him happy, and that he seemed brighter, and calmer, in the last few years of his life, the life we shared, and that our love made him a better and more peaceful man. I want to hold on to this. I want to weave their assurances into my thread of memory, and I want to believe that, had he lived, we would have grown old together, resting in the comfort of each other’s arms.
I stand at the fence and talk to the ghost cows. I look into their deep, knowing eyes. Walkers pass me on the path, and give me a wide berth. Perhaps they think me a bit mad. Perhaps they want to leave me to it. I’ve given up the desire to please others, or to care what people think. Life is short, and in a minute, it is finished, and as long as I am able, I want to drink it in.
I’ll carry my husband with me, down this path, where the ghost cows live. I’ll talk to them, and to him, until the need to do so has vanished. I’ll hold on to the memory of our love, and trust in its truth. It is this thread of memory to which I’ll cling, this thread that gives me strength, and succour, and, some days, a sliver of hope.