By Sophie Olson
When you were seven, and the stranger wearing a grey suit and driving a red car said through the open window, if you get in I’ll take you to see some puppies, and you pedalled home into the arms of your abuser, it was Not-Love when he told you how proud he was and how clever you were, not to get in a car with a stranger.
When you were a bit older and the husband-of-your-mum’s friend called you into the next room, shut the door behind you and told you how really very fond of you he was, whilst standing too close and moving his hand slowly-up and lower-down your back, it was Not-Love, even though he let you stroke the pretty red dog lying on the rug.
When you were ten and your abuser gave you a present in May when your birthday was in March, you hoped it was love but you knew it was Not-Love. Despite the football you’d wanted for most of your life, the I love you’s, the shoulder squeeze, my poppet, the hair ruffle, and the wink.
And when you called him again four years later, to double check, and he pushed his tongue in your mouth, it was still Not-Love, of that, you were sure.
And when you challenged the Not-Love, it was the day you thought you were the cause. For that was the day he called you a c**t, a wh*re, a slag and a slut, words you didn’t yet understand but ones you knew were not loving or good, and that you, therefore, were not loving or good.
When you were thirteen, in a bar in Majorca and passed from the lap of one adult man to another, it was Not-Love, despite being the centre of attention and the endless chocolate milk and brandy they bought you – a delicious drink you’d not tasted before, and one that made it much easier to believe in love when they took it in turns to kiss you and search with creeping fingers under the elastic of your underwear.
At fourteen, when your physics teacher told the class you are my best ones yet, and pressed his crotch against the girls when checking their work, it was Not-Love despite him giving higher marks and far less detentions than the others.
Later, much later, when you went along with it, because you were unsure how to say no to a man, even if your body reacted in ways that made you wonder about love, it was Not-Love.
Even though you called him later, let me be clear. It was still Not-Love.
At forty-three, when you confessed to a friend about Not-Love and she stopped returning your messages, it was Not-Love, regardless of how many confidences you’d shared over coffees, and slices of lemon cake she’d bought because she knew it was your favourite, and how many times she’d called you bestie and said I have your back.
It is hard to believe in love when Not-Love gets in the way. But you do believe in it still, you really do.
Love is there when your dog greets you with warm-bodied, wriggling excitement at the door, even though tonight she will probably shit on the kitchen floor.
You found love when your new baby held on tight to your little finger, looked into your eyes and you recognised his soul. You kept love even when he cried and shouted for four, frighteningly fractious years.
Love is in the scent of your daughter’s hair and the warmth of her breath on your cheek. When you argue and your heart breaks a little bit, love doesn’t leak out. It stays intact and in place.
Love is in the orange sunset and the first startling snowdrops in spring. It is in the roar of a log fire you light yourself and the smell of unexpected rain in August. On Grey Days it is knowing love will return, with the predictability of season and time.
Love is falling asleep when you think you won’t and waking tomorrow when you don’t care if you don’t, to a hot cup of tea on the bedside table. It is the belief of a new day. Love is trying again even when you wonder where love has gone. It is trying again, despite.
‘Not-Love’ writing prompt from Saša’s ‘Write it Out’ journalling workshops.