I have a lovely partner, who on this site shall be called Nightingale.
She has been singing in my nights for so long. I used to read about friends, watch movies about what friends could be for one another, trying to learn. Undone by hopeless yearning. Over the past few years, as my family fell beneath the onslaught of illness and anguish, I turned to my friends. Nightingale was one of those who responded.
First lockdown last year, I ran to the edge of my strength for Jay. I found myself voiceless and naked in my bath, trying to call hospitals for them, losing hope. One of my friends (not Nightingale) came and sat next to me on the wet floor, interpreting texts and whispered stutters to make the calls that were now beyond my capacity. It was a horrifying and precious moment, blazed in my mind forever. My own vulnerability and nakedness irrelevant beside the strength of our friendship and our shared fears and hopes for Jay. This friend moves in and out of my life on tides as friends do, sometimes a weekly visitor and companion, sometimes focused elsewhere or drowning in terrible depression. She’s very precious to me.
Poppy regressed terribly as Rose disappeared into a hospital that covid restrictions closed to children. Until then I had taken Poppy into every hell Rose was lost in, every single day I made sure that Poppy saw Rose no matter what. Suddenly not all my determination could scale the walls between them and Poppy falls apart into a frightening, angry mess. I visit another friend, not Nightingale, who holds me, feeds and bathes the child, waits on the phone with me as Poppy rages in the car in the night, savage with grief and unwilling to go home to the too empty house.
The person beneath the landslide cannot coordinate the rescue efforts. Rose slides towards death in the ICU, two friends sit with me and listen to my incoherent pain. They construct lists of needs and allies, menus of options I can choose from. They do the asking on my behalf, the reassuring my fried networks of people that what they are doing is enough, that I am not hurt if they cannot help, they comfort and soothe when I’m lost for words. On days I can’t stop crying to speak they run their lists of things that might help and I only signal yes or no. They are within reach always, on my phone, a message away however far apart we are. I am crushed by the weight of fear and grief. Someone turns up every day to my home and I scrape myself off the floor, out of bed, off the couch. I gasp for breath and do chores, make meals, push Poppy on the swings. In the background these friends orchestrate.
Sick and bedridden with pain and vomiting, friends and family arrive to take me to hospital and Poppy to bed. Friends stay with me by text on my phone as I wait an hour to be triaged and advocate on behalf of a bleeding hemophiliac gentleman and a distressed psychotic man afraid he’s been infected with AIDS. My friends are my lifeline in the bizarre world of the ED, they hold my heart and my sanity. They are Faber in Montag’s ear, the soothing drone, the context, the cautious advice.
Through these nightmares I have been profoundly blessed with a community of friends and family who have brought meals, head rubs, movie nights, mopped floors, listened to me, pushed Poppy on swings, held me as I held up a sky that daily seemed to somehow weigh more.
I tell you this so you can understand that I’m no longer starved for friends, and that among such incredible gems, these faithful and loving people, Nightingale. In such incredible company, her compassion still shone. Enduring her own painful circumstances and challenges, she showed up for me, and let me show up for her. Our lives weaving closer with each kind gesture, each shared painful secret and moment of joy. We grew closer through terrible storms, finding in each other a companion with dark humour, bitter wisdom, and stubborn determination to endure. When little was constant except the frailty of our dreams, we were constant to each other.
Poppy is so deeply loved, but she hasn’t had the carefree childhood I’d hoped for her. Given the losses and confusion for her I had resigned myself to being without a partner for a long time. She adores Rose and I and has had so much to make sense of already, I felt that there was no way I could bring someone new into her world for the next 10 or 15 years. Letting go of Rose as a partner has been a terribly long process, our brief wedding plans last year, their new partner, the last hopes of our romance early this year. There’s bitter pain as we try to birth a new type of relationship to each other, navigate so much with so little. I joined friendship apps. I grieved. I cleared out my house and organised my drawers. I accepted the need for stability and security and I poured myself into my friends, into Poppy, and my work. Old dreams came creeping back like lost cats.
Nightingale was there all along. One night when she hugged me the world shifted beneath me. A different future entirely stood before me like a door I’d never seen before. I stood for a week on a precipice between the familiar road and the new door. Continue as only friends or confess that I could fall in love with her? One path I could see and understand, the other felt like stepping off a cliff into the unknown. Why risk it all? And how could I possibly still believe in love? And yet. What else is friendship but love? I am so loved, and I love already. There’s little room for jaded cynicism in my world, I know how lucky I am despite all the broken dreams. Maybe I would share and she would not feel the same. We’d laugh and shake it off and life would continue as before, infinitely precious.
That’s not how she felt. I’d been firmly shelved as unavailable in her mind back when we first met. Now everything changed. Could fall for each other became are falling for each other. We barely slept the first week, unpacking every fear, every reason to keep the door closed, the losses and fears falling on us like sledgehammers. Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. There’s so many tangles and complications. Love isn’t the same as it was at 16 or even 29. We’re both single parents with responsibility for more hearts than just our own. We both know what it is to hope and lose. And yet, some of the impossibly difficult things have somehow been so easy. Nightingale was already one of Poppy’s safe people. We already know each other well, in some strange ways nothing changes. In others, everything changes, and some of that has been terribly sad and painful, others of it tender and wonderful. We work so hard, but it seems to bear fruit. There’s sweetness in it, not just toil and tears.
Friendship to romance is new to me, I’ve never experienced the sense of security that comes with already knowing the other person, already caring for them – and being cared for by them, so deeply. We find each other’s hands and go through the door, flying and falling. It’s giddy and beautiful and scary and lovely. There’s someone to come home to at the end of the day. I read her to sleep, I sleep in her arms, she shows me sides of herself hidden from the world and lets me hear her sing. We hide from the world on a couch and listen for the rain.
Everything changes and I don’t know what the future looks like anymore. So many dreams suddenly within reach like far off stars that turned out to be fireflies. She’s breathtakingly beautiful, incredibly strong, wounded, tired, and like a tree with deep roots she holds fast in all kinds of weather. Like a nightingale she sings in the dark. Whatever happens next, I’ve been phenomenally lucky to have each of my friends, and for her to invite me into her life the way she has – that will always be a privilege and the most lovely of memories. Unlooked for, fraught, passionate, precious, dazzling. My heart is full of hope and she is my home.