Ways to Love
The man I’m with right now is teaching me new ways to love. The one that came before taught me new ways to be loved. And the one before that taught me that sometimes people don’t know how to love you. At least not in the ways you can live with, even if you tell them how. Even if you will it to be so.
So, Adam Blampied from WhatCulture, one of my favourite pop culture YouTube channels, is a wrestling aficionado, but it turns out he’s also is a horror and humour writer, a fact I discovered recently by creeping his Twitter account.
I've only just discovered his "One Word Nasties", which is a series of short stories in which his Twitter following provides a single word, and he turns it into a story. The most recent one on his site is Hiss, a story about a woman whose life has always been defined by the unpredictable appearance of a horrifying robed figure — which she names Mister Hiss — who has haunted her since she was in the crib.
It’s a story written with fascinating tone changes that match the chronology of the character (Ruth) growing up, and features seamless narrative transitions from babyhood, to teenage life, to adulthood, to old age.
It's a creepy, funny, skin-crawling, ill-atmosphere-inducing read, and would make the most brilliant short film (because almost everything I read gets filtered through a cinematic lens).
But the thing that fascinated me the most was the way Adam talks about love in this story.
After a haunting episode where Ruth as a young adult sees the robed figure in a park during the day, a first for the night-bound creature, she is pulled out of it by Peter, a man passing by, who asks if she's okay and offers her a sip of his strawberry smoothie when she throws up after the figure disappears.
At this point in the story, it has already been established that the smell of strawberries - the scent of her mother's favourite perfume when she was growing up - is effective at pulling her back into herself whenever Mister Hiss appears.
In another narrative leap, we see Ruth as a middle aged woman in bed beside Peter, who she's been with ever since. It's been a couple of decades since she's seen Mister Hiss, but she remembers the moment, well into their relationship, when she told Peter about him — the first person in her life to learn of her secret. His reaction afterwards (he says, "Right..." and returns to the horror movie they were watching) disappoints her because she thinks he doesn't believe her, but she accepts it because it's a pretty hard to believe story.
They build a comfortable, fond life together. (“Peter could have left at any time, but he seemed inordinately fond of the “stressy little spaz” (his words) and stuck around. He would sometimes tell her to be quiet and she would. It was a nice little thing they had.")
Tonight, though, twenty years later, Mister Hiss has returned, and in the encounter she realizes something about Peter that she had missed entirely. Whether or not he believed her about Mister Hiss was beside the point. For him, it was enough that it was something that she believed, and was deeply affected by, and he wasn't going to let her deal with it alone.
Twenty years further after that, Ruth is an old woman when Mister Hiss reappears, but she has learned how to go beyond her fear in order to deal with him, and at least part of it has to do with the way she and Peter loved one another.
"She often took stock of all the little trials and adventures they’d shared and she would smile. The good outweighed the bad. Her life with Peter had generated new things she liked, hated, loved. She’d formed aversions to things and grew to tolerate others. He had changed her in many ways, and she had let him, changing him in her own ways. It was a content feeling: he had mattered, and so had she.
She had said goodbye, and he had slipped away into another place. She thought about it sometimes, and was afraid, she couldn’t help it. Certain fears remained, but they were a part of her now, and if she’d learnt one thing from Peter’s death, it was that fearing it didn’t stop it. Neither did acceptance, of course, but acceptance was easier at her age.
Then, at last, she heard the hissing. It had risen in volume and she stiffened in her chair. Slowly, and a little painfully, she rose to her feet and wandered to the window. She saw him, the silhouette of a man in rags, standing under the dim light of the street-lamp across the road. He looked at her, the woman that he had haunted ever since she was a baby, but did not take a step forward. She looked at him, then closed the curtains.”
I think it’s an elegant, subtle way of showing the ways love shapes, strengthens and changes our experiences of the world, and shows that you don’t have to be writing a love story to write a love story.
Sometimes it can be a creepy little horror piece that goes and surprises you with its depth and a little bit of love thrown in with your garden variety monsters.
I guess that’s the thing about love — it’s always there, popping up in surprising places and keeping the gears moving whether we focus on it or not.