Firstly Love, Finally Death

I have tried to write this story a couple of times, but the words fail to come together coherently. I couldn’t understand why until now. I had been looking for answers instead of accepting that there aren’t any at this present time. All I can do by writing about his death is to explore my feelings and what I’m going to do about it and with myself. What do I do with such a heavy presence?

In normal circumstances, you would remember the good times. You would dig out the photographs of you together and cry. But, what happens when the person you love lived in another country, and you hadn’t had the chance to be together physically? The death is unresolved because there are essential parts of the relationship that didn’t get to happen.

His name was Stewart. The story of how we met is one of fate, at least that’s what I believe. It was February of 2020, and I had written a short story. I was looking for somewhere to publish. I searched for open submission calls on Twitter, and I came across Thorn Literary Magazine.

I submitted the story, and within the next day, I had an enthusiastic response from a man named Stewart, the Editor In Chief. He told me that they were accepting the story, and it was everything they wanted in a short story. He compared the characters to Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Stewart explained that the story was due to be published in April.

I didn’t hear from him for a while after that. He sent me an email in March, giving me a few updates regarding the story and its impending publication. Soon after that, he began messaging me from the publication’s Instagram account.

I was in the process of clearing my house as I was going to be moving. We talked casually, and it started slow. Once I moved into my new home, our relationship began to progress quicker than either of us expected. I had burgeoning feelings for him for the first few months, but I was cautious because my entire life, I have loved people who don’t love me in return. I could not take any more heartbreak. I’d had enough.

The nature of our relationship wasn’t entirely clear to me until July when he sent me a drawing that he had done of me. That was when I began to suspect there was more to this relationship and that this man might have feelings for me.

Drawing by Stewart Ansel III, 2020

That same month, he had to take a trip to Quebec to clear out things from the farmhouse where he used to live. There was no signal up there, which meant we wouldn’t be able to communicate for the entire week. An already tortuous experience became even crueller as he ended up having to spend two weeks there.

When he could, he biked to the highest point to get a signal so he could contact me. Unfortunately, his phone charger ended up dying. I found this out from a friend of his who was helping him move. He had instructed this friend to email me telling me that he was ok.

I was ecstatic when he returned, and we could finally speak again. I had spent the entire time he was away dreaming about him. Shortly after his return, he first told me he loved me, and I said it right back. While the entire population felt frustrated and depressed due to the pandemic, I was distracted by love.

He opened up to me about his abusive ex and his insecurities that haunted him during our relationship. We wrote each other letters, and I would send mine with a wax seal. Picking up my favourite perfume, I would spray the letter so that he could smell me when it arrived. I have an even more extensive collection of books because of all the ones he sent to me over time.

In November, he told me that he had been to the hospital that morning because he found blood in his urine. He panicked and went straight to urgent care. Stewart said that he would have to stay in for a couple of days at some point to have some routine tests. He told me not to worry as this was just procedure.

After he came out of the hospital, I asked him if the doctor told him what was wrong. He kept avoiding the question and would only tell me that he was fine. I practically hounded him to ask if the doctor had spoken to him like he was supposed to.

In late December, he told me that he had to go away on a job. Stewart was a freelance editor, and this particular job was one he had done a few months prior. This task required him to travel, which meant absolutely no communication. I was upset by this as it was nearing Christmas, and I wondered if he would be back by then.

The latest issue of Thorn Literary Magazine was about to be released, and we had been working on putting it together. However, he seemed to be rushing its release, which hadn’t happened before, not to this degree anyway. He left me to take care of things and gave me strict instructions.

The night before he left, we managed to speak. Everything he said to me seemed so final. I didn’t notice this at the time, but it is clear when I read our correspondence back. He told me that he loved me and asked for my permission to leave. Little did I know that it would be the last time I would ever speak to him.

I spent the next week checking Whatsapp to see if he had returned. I became increasingly depressed by his absence, and I started to fear that he wasn’t coming back to me. Before he left, he told me I would be receiving a letter from him. On the 23rd of December, that fateful letter came through the letterbox.

Stewart had passed away from Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. He had kept his diagnosis from me for the entirety of our relationship. It was in 2018, two years before we met, that he received this terrible news. His hospital visit had not been routine at all. That was where the doctor told him that his cancer had spread. He was dying. The love of my life was exiting this world. Stewart did not want his diagnosis to hang over our relationship, and he didn’t want me to treat him like a sick man.

After reading his letter, my entire heart shattered. I was inconsolable, and I had just lost the only man to have ever loved me. The worst thing is the devastating knowledge that I never got to hold him. We had planned to visit Paris and Tokyo as Stewart had once taught English in schools across Asia. Our favourite quote and one we would say to each other often was from the film Casablanca.

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Stewart was very much a nihilist, but he found meaning in our relationship. We needed one another to survive. After his death, I could not eat or enjoy Christmas. While everyone celebrated, I kept replaying the image of his cold body in my head. Was he in pain? Did he die in his sleep?

In his last letter, Stewart didn’t want me to be sad. He wanted me to be happy because he was finally free. The irony is that his freedom saw my imprisonment. What was I supposed to do now that he was gone?

Stewart had terminated the magazine as he had scheduled an email with further instructions regarding its future. He wanted it to end on a high note. Not wanting all my work at the magazine to go to waste, he penned a letter of recommendation for me.

So, what do I do with myself? It has been almost five months since he died, and I am no wiser about death than before. How do you grieve for someone you have never had the pleasure of touching? There will always be unresolved feelings because our relationship was cut far too short. If I had to guess, I would predict that Stewart would say that everyone’s true destiny is death.

To fear the death of yourself only comes from thinking about what will happen to those you love. How will they cope? Who will take care of them? Stewart stared death straight in the eyes, and he followed him into the dark without fear. What is left is my heartbreak and my questioning about why he had to die.

After his death, I started trying to improve myself philosophically. I am trying to study all the great philosophers, attempting to incorporate their ideas into my life. Philosophy is all I have to keep me from spiralling. It helps me ignore the panging in my chest and the questions knocking on my door.

I still don’t have any answers. No matter how hard I try, I still cannot process Stewart’s death. Every few days, I apply more glue to the walls of my soul. It makes sure they hold for a little longer. I have found myself in a unique situation that you don’t tend to find in an advice column. Can I survive this? I don’t know. Do I want to? No comment.

However, I want to explore the lessons that have come from this. This experience has taught me to take chances because you never know what could happen. Having a relationship online comes with its challenges, but it also comes with greatness. Many people are dubious about online relationships, but we are humans behind a screen. We are not robots masquerading as human beings.

I wouldn’t have thought this before, but I believe that I took things for granted before this experience. Having and losing Stewart in such a short time has taught me that you should never sit around and ponder doing something.

Relationships carry a lot of emotional weight. They terrify us more than anything. Human emotions can be and are extremely powerful, and they allow us to do crazy things. I was too afraid to let myself for Stewart because of my past emotional torment.

Stewart was afraid to love me because of his past relationship, which caused me to feel frightened that he would pull away. Death is complicated, but it’s even more complex when your relationship began online.

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” — Haruki Murakami

Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

The quotes above are things I am trying to remember. Loss does indeed make you realise how valuable the people around you are. Death is a concept that we know from adolescence, indirectly if not directly. We get the dregs of its scent when it’s nearby, but we are hit with an overwhelming stench when it hits too close to home.

Please do not underestimate the time we have on this earth. I implore you to rethink making poor decisions. Live a fulfilling life because the time turner has started, and the sand is quickly falling. Don’t let death destroy your life. Let it graze you ever so gently and set it free.

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