Maike & Paul
Can you tell me about the original photograph, where and when was it taken?
"My name is Maike. The original photograph was taken on some steps down from the prom in Penzance. I don't quite remember when it was taken, but I think it was just after I had moved to England, so it would have been about May 2012. Paul and I just had a habit of going down the sea most evenings. For him, the novelty of living by the sea hadn't worn off, and for me, I was still in that tourist stage of 'Oh My God I'm living by the sea'."
Could you tell me more about the day that it was taken?
"It was just a normal evening, he had been at work, and I wasn't working at the time, so I was always hanging around for five o'clock, waiting for him to get home. It was still really exciting to know that we were together and just that I had moved over here. We just went for a walk like we did most evenings."
So you'd only recently moved to Penzance?
"I moved because of Paul. We had met online and then physically met three times, but we had been communicating for a long time, maybe 6 months, and we felt like we knew each other really well and that the only way really was that we wanted to be together, like, properly together! So that's why I moved. I came here with two big suitcases and a big rucksack on the train, I took the eurostar from Cologne to Brussels, then to London and he met me in London and we travelled down here together, and that I was it, and I lived here, which was bizarre and good. It was a big adventure, and I think the big adventure was obviously a different country and a new relationship, and for Paul it was just being in a relationship, because he had only had one girlfriend before and for him it was all very exciting, and seeing how it would work out, actually living with someone, because he hadn't lived with her. Yeah, it was new ground for both of us to walk on."
It sounds like a quite a significant move, did it feel like the right thing to do?
"Yeah, I think it was the only logical option for us, either keep on communicating via skype, or email or text, but that just didn't feel right, because we wanted the physical presence as well. Sharing the everyday stuff, which was really nice, because he was so good at that, there's not a single day that I can remember when he didn't ask 'How was your day?', and you know when you sometimes brush over something like 'Yeah, oh, have you fed the dog?', and he say, 'Yeah, but how was your day?'. He'd always ask."
Can you tell me more about what's in the photograph?
"It's me and Paul, sitting on the steps together, and taking a selfie, and I chose that picture because we both look so stupidly happy in it, and we really were. For me, it just expresses so much, it was by the sea and he was sitting behind me and hugging me, and he looks so happy in it was well, which I think adds to the beauty of the picture really."
So was that a particularly special place for you?
"Yeah, just being by the sea, a bit wind swept, and love swept."
Is that a place you return to now?
"Yes, when I'm here. In my head I go back to it all the time. Even when I'm in Manchester, my head is down here quite often, much more than I thought it would be, because, I thought the future would be in Manchester, but now, I find myself thinking back a lot to down here. This is where we spent the longest time together."
Could you tell me about what Paul was like as a person? Who was he to you?
"He was very funny, and I think it was the sense of humour that brought us very close quite quickly, because that really connects you I think. He wasn't very at peace with the world. He was really unhappy in a lot of ways, but in our little world, in our relationship, and also with a few friends that he had, that is where he felt comfortable. I think he needed a comfort zone. He's extremely sarcastic, and smart. I'm always struggling when I'm talking about him in past and present tense. He's just really, well almost too clever for his own good I think, and that expressed itself in his sarcasm, it was his way of dealing with it."
"He was very gentle, and very sensitive towards people, although he always said he was such a misanthrope and that he didn't like people much, and maybe he didn't, but the ones that he did like, he really got. Right now, I wish I could know that he knew that, and I don't. These are the sorts of questions that I can't ask."
"I think people from the outside, to acquaintances or people that don't know him that well he was just a grumpy northerner, but he was a lot more than that, and he played on that as well. He enjoyed it, he enjoyed playing that person."
"That's one thing that loss does, you really don't care about others, it's a very selfish process. Selfish in the self-centred process, you listen a lot more to what you need."
What was it like when I asked you to find a photograph?
"I did look through a few, but it was quite instinctively that one straight away, because it was so normal, it wasn't a special day. I could have gotten out a wedding picture or a picture from when we were travelling somewhere, but it was an ordinary evening, it was maybe a Wednesday, or a Monday, it was just a normal night, yet we still look stupidly happy."
I think that says a lot about the relationship that you had, that you could be each others daily solace, comfort and happiness, that's such a gift.
"We were really quite content I think, in our little world, and maybe sometimes it was a bit reclusive almost, well no, that's a bit hard, but maybe we isolated ourselves a bit, maybe too much, but then why not? If there's enough there. We took a lot of comfort in routine stuff as well, like we always bought the paper on Saturdays and did the crossword in the magazine on Sunday mornings. I've tried keeping it up now that he's gone and I'm just really not very good at it, and I'm thinking, he let me do that all the time, he just let me have the answers and I'm realising that now, it's those little things.
I'm a bit mad and I'm also laughing because that is how he loved people, it's not with big gestures or anything, because we never did that kind of stuff, it was always the little things."
What was it like returning to that place to re-take the picture?
"It was nice. I was a bit nervous because I thought 'I have to be sad, I have to be sadder than this'. It's that constant feeling guilty for something not good enough, not grieving well enough or moving on well enough, all that stuff, those expectations that you have of yourself. I was thinking that I should be sad, but I wasn't sad. When you asked me about taking that picture with my eyes closed, it was as if the inside of my eye lids was a film, there were all these images, Penzance together with Paul, spending Mazey Day together, walking along Sennen beach, taking a trip to Falmouth together, Cornwall is just so connected with the relationship. So it wasn't difficult taking the picture, and it didn't feel artificial either, it didn't feel posed, it was obviously a pose, but it felt natural."
"This time it's different, because it feels more like I'm visiting him almost, which is weird. It's like there's a presence here, and I think it's the memories actually that are feeling present."
Being back here in Cornwall, that in itself is evoking a lot of memories, maybe in a similar way to looking through photographs. Has that been important to you in the last few weeks and months?
"Yeah. Photos and coming back to Cornwall, this is the second time I've been back since he's gone. The first time was to scatter his ashes off a cliff, not far from here, and that was difficult, because it was the first time I'd been back, and his remains were sitting there in this plastic container, just the most bizarre thing, so I cried a lot that time. This time it's different, because it feels more like I'm visiting him almost, which is weird. It's like there's a presence here, and I think it's the memories actually that are feeling present."
How does it feel to revisit those memories?
"It's nice. I think it'll become a comforting thing rather than a sad thing, but then sometimes the sadness just comes doesn't it. It's very much like the waves that are there, you watch them and they're fine, and then one will come and just hit you and soak you, and that's the one that hurts."
I wanted to ask about Eric the dog. Has he been important for you?
"He's my lifeline. At times a bit melodramatic, but he really is. He's my company now, because there are days when I'm not at work. There was a day when my mum called me in the evening and I answered the phone and she said, 'Oh, did I wake you?', and I said 'No', and she said my voice sounded all croaky and funny and I said that I just hadn't spoken to anyone today, so I've taken up speaking to the dog now. Maybe I'll become one of these strange ladies that speaks to their pets, but I don't care. That's one thing that loss does, you really don't care about others, it's a very selfish process. Selfish in the self-centred process, you listen a lot more to what you need, and if I need to speak to the dog, then I'll just do it! I don't do it out in public that much."
I bet he's a good listener though?
"He's a very good listener. The best thing is when you stroke him, and when you stop stroking him, he'll just nuzzle you and demand more, and that's really nice, it's very human in a way, so, he knows, he knows."
Maybe he's not as good at helping with the crosswords though?
"No! He really isn't. A friend of mine, who I met up with yesterday, he's a musician. He played a little song on the day that we scattered Paul's ashes, and it's just a tiny little piece of music, but it's lovely and he called it 'Love Comes In Long Bones'. Paul was very tall, and he did have long bones, but Eric also has these long bones and I said to Ollie that I seem to have a thing for these creatures and he said, 'Well, love comes in long bones to you', so that's what he called the song, which I thought was really sweet, but I haven't listened to the song since because it makes me cry, so much."
That's a beautiful thing to have, and a very nice gesture from your friend.
"Yeah. We're going to plant a tree in memory of Paul up in Oldham, where he was from. On the tree, you don't have a plaque, but a leaf made out of porcelain that they put on there, and you can choose a name or some words, to go on the leaf. I thought really long and hard about what I wanted to put on there, but I'm going to put 'Love Comes In Long Bones', because for me, it does."
I wanted to ask about the glasses. In the picture, you've got the glasses on your head, can you tell me about them?
"They were Paul's glasses, they were his everyday glasses, he had to wear them when he was walking around. For me, they're reading glasses, but they were one of the things that I first fell in love with, because I like geeky glasses and on his profile picture on the Guardian Soulmates, where we first met, he has these on and I thought 'I like this guy, he looks like Jarvis Cocker'. So they were his trademark, and he did this thing where he chewed on the end of them, and he was a bit cocky with that, he was playing around with that a bit, and I loved that. So one of the things that I did was get these frames made up into my glasses so that it's something that I'll have with me every day. It's a little thing, but it's the chew marks, his glasses and I know that he looked at the world through those, and I wonder what he saw. I wear them at work everyday, they are my little thing."
"They were one of the things that I first fell in love with, because I like geeky glasses and on his profile picture on the Guardian Soulmates, where we first met, he has these on and I thought 'I like this guy, he looks like Jarvis Cocker'"
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
"I just wonder, what's it like for other people, as you're going through the process of processing it all? There's a distinct before and after, I don't know whether you feel the same, or if you had that, but there's this cut off point, and you think 'Is this where the world should stop?', and it doesn't. This is where everything changed in your world, but the world just keeps on spinning and spinning."
"there's this cut off point, and you think 'Is this where the world should stop?', and it doesn't. This is where everything changed in your world, but the world just keeps on spinning and spinning."
"So it happened on the 27th of December, 2016, and 27 was always my favourite number. At school, I was really bad at numbers, but I could do the 3's and the 9's, so 27 was always a good number. My birthday is on the 27th, and he's just ruined 27 for me, I don't like it now! So when I bought a new calendar and dairy for 2017, the first of January was on the same page as the 27th and I had to tear it out, I couldn't even look at it, it's so strange how you get so focussed on these stupid little things. I don't know if you've felt the same."
Yeah, there are things that draw you in, and beforehand, you think it won't be a problem, or why would it stir something up in me? Maybe in obvious ways, going to a place, looking at photographs, talking with friends. I think it's a beautiful notion that you can wear his glasses and see the world through his eyes, it's lovely. Things like numbers and colours trigger things off, and I don't think you can be annoyed at yourself or get too frustrated because it's a bit out of your control, which is easy to say...
"...and that's probably the scary thing about grief, it's the feeling of lack of control. Like I said earlier with the waves, you don't know which one is going to crash over you, and you can't control it! If it's coming, it's coming, and that's what's so difficult about it. You can get through a whole week and be fine, I'm alright most days, and then one evening, it just hits you. It's difficult to know where to go with it. Where do you do with those feelings? Where do you put them? Do you let them out? Do you want to fight them? Do you want to try to explain them and rationalise it? Sometimes you just feel like giving in to it, and just staying in bed for a week."
You've shared a lot of lovely sentiments, and maybe it's hard to escape if you feel you're in the midst of it, but can you feel positive about it?
"I know there will be light at the end of the tunnel, I think that's how life is? I think if I didn't believe in that then there'd be no point in doing anything really. There will be. It won't ever make sense that we only had 5 years together, that will just be always the most senseless thing I think, but if I was religious I would probably seek a notion that it was meant to be or something, but I'm not going to go there, because why would it be meaningful in anyway that he just expired, it's really sad that he did."