” Love me but do not own me: Celebrate but don’t possess me;” I see her smiling as she said it; the last words I heard spoken by her face to face. Off on an adventure, never to return, crushed by a lorry in some freak accident, and silenced for eternity: a girl who made being fearless possible in my life: who faced down any challenge but intimacy.
I dared to love her but not to use the word. To thank the stars this girl, who lived for wilderness and open ended questions, had used me as her anchor and her reference point: “Conclusions” she told me, “Are only for the elderly,” and yet she would always return to me: we all have contradictions and perhaps I was hers. She would live in any moment, in any life, as long as she was free to leave it: now she had, and I was left to live in a world no longer magicalised by her interest.
“If you want to understand something, never try to own it:” that was her mantra. She, who loved the wilderness above all things, loved me because I left her free to wander through it, but without her noise and cheery exuberance, the stillness that I dwelt in, the place she called her sanctuary, has now become an emptiness experienced offering no release.
“Oh Charlie” she had told me, “I stood among the elephants, and they just let me, and we watched the sun rising together, species joined with species. Can you imagine such a moment?” and I could, because the image was printed in her eyes, bright with life and joy, but fearful of possession: that was my gift: to love her, but just for who she was and in the moment only. I, a man of no apparent distinction, was made extraordinary by her presence, and won her trust by not seeking to control her.
That face remains with me fifty years later, as all around me life seeks to find my measure, but they will not find me here. I am living in her sunshine, and in those eyes which still smile at me from a treasured photo. Now eighty-seven years old, and long past the time when people take an interest, I sometimes catch the excitement when she returned, and smile to myself, and to the puzzlement of strangers: become a man who nods to himself, and, without warning, when lost in reverie, talks out loud to a girl he loves, as she walks through his memory.