I have an old leather-bound notebook on the front cover of which are five letters, ‘WORDS’. Passionate about words for forever, that red book is positively bulging with quotes exposing my soul; my selection revealing so much of me. I was on the point of writing that the authors are diverse and varied – as are the sources – but, perusing objectively, I doubt that is the case. As a diary contains one’s innermost thoughts, a book of one’s chosen quotations is a summary of these thoughts and feelings; no less than a personal shorthand. For me, however, there is one author who would seem my mouthpiece. It is as though she has access to my soul; has borne witness to my life and the relationships within. Her words cover many pages of my cherished red book and, as I penned the poignant lines from her most recent publication, Travel Light, Move Fast, I realised that I might as well transcribe it in its entirety for every word rang true; every hurt pulled at a heart string; her damage was mine. That author is the inimitable Alexandra Fuller.
‘That childhood place was broken, and there’s no going back in time to fix it, or to fix us.’
Alexandra Fuller, Travel Light, Move Fast.
My family fell apart in 2005, fifteen years ago. For one who clung to the innocence of childhood, the belief that the happiness and security were real and for all time, that was a bitter pill to swallow – but I did. I had no choice. The hurt was all-consuming as I was forced to re-evaluate the characters within; to recognise the agenda of those who were merely victims of their own insecurities and that of one weakened by guilt. I was oblivious to it. Cynicism comes from within. I knew nothing of jealousy and its insidious power to destroy but had I not been blind to the fault lines, perhaps I would have been better prepared for the fall.
Describing the aftermath of the death of her father, the ‘DEATH OF THE FORCE behind a family’, Alexandra writes:
‘The family falls, that’s inevitable; but it either falls together or falls apart. That isn’t a choice, though; it depends on the family’s fault lines.’ (Travel Light, Move Fast.)
Fault lines. Cracks in the family borne of the characters within. I learned of their existence at the hands of my own experience, affording me the power to see. There in every family, I had never before come across anyone else who referenced them, geographically, in this way – until now; the Fuller cracks rendering a family obsolete as did those in my own.
I finished Travel Light, Move Fast, yesterday, sad that my connection with the author would no longer be live, as it were; her words finite; her voice no more. I was left feeling completely drained, shell-shocked, even, the lines ripping the scabs from the wounds buried deep within. Buried? Not really. More ignored. Alexandra’s words, however – or, more humbly, the sentiment – could have been mine; her grief at the death of her father and the ensuing loss of all that remained of her family, I share. Why now? Must I address it all again, re-live the end of an idyll? Take the hand of a kindred spirit?
Alexandra Fuller is important to me, her words connecting two very different lives, ten years apart and on different continents, but bridged by shared trauma and experiences borne of the relationships within. I have never met her but, strangely, feel I know her and she, me. She came into my life by accident – or more fate, really – when I was amidst an acrimonious six-year divorce marking the end of twenty-eight years. Lies and deceit, the vehicles of infidelity, will do that but perhaps the lack of respect and the loss of one’s believed best friend and strongest ally prove the cruellest blows. The shock pervades but life goes on, self-worth one’s strength, and books became, once more, my refuge and solace. Thus, one happy day spent in St Andrews with Becca, we were in Toppings bookstore when I was drawn to a tome on the top shelf of the Biography section. The front cover was a photograph of a woman and her horse but western-style, she in jeans and a cowboy hat. As if that weren’t enticement enough for me, the title was Leaving Before the Rains Come. That was it. Sold! Climbing the ladder to retrieve it, however, I read the synopsis only to discover that it was a book written about the author, Alexandra Fuller’s divorce. Of definite interest, I loved, even more now, the lyricism and poignancy of the title … I suppose I am not alone in always reading a snippet of the opening – and, weirdly (although I try desperately not to), a few lines of the ending – just to give me a feel for the style of the author. As with people, I know, instantly, whether or not we are compatible! On this occasion, however, the book fell open in the middle and, thus, I read on. Help! The words were hauntingly familiar detailing the de-briefing of a marriage in which nothing was as it seemed. Steeped in debt, it was all a façade, the houses, the horses, the holidays; everything amounting to nothing. I was engrossed and disbelieving as I looked in a virtual mirror and, then, I read the words of Charlie, her husband, questioning her insistence on buying organic food! She was me. He was him. I have highlighted, in one of the first emails my lawyer received from my, now, ex-husband’s, the accusation that I ‘insisted on buying handmade, organic food.’ Here was the explanation for the the huge mortgage, the overdraft, the loans … This was my life and Alexandra Fuller was my voice!
That special father/daughter bond, the vibrant, eccentric – but, ultimately, cold – mother, the Africa connection, the horses, the humour, the divorce, the shattered family, the hurt, the writing, the recovery … it is uncanny. A shared bond with someone I have never met. I felt compelled to write to her and, eventually, in July 2017, my letter reached her yurt in Wyoming – and she replied. I treasure her words, handwritten on two sides of a postcard with her name inscribed across the top. Personal and engaged, she took the time to write back, recognising the parallels in our lives – somehow, I knew she would.
She has written several memoirs – in her words, putting the ‘me’ in memoir – and I have wallowed in them all. Her last, Travel Light, Move Fast, however, left me nowhere to hide. I happened to be reading it as I lived through the death of my childhood friend’s mother and her broken family, re-opening, once more, the gaping wounds caused by the fall of my own. I thought I had, successfully, buried it all but words are the cracks through which the past escapes, ever there beneath the surface. The damage may be done but the hurt remains. The grieving doesn’t end; instead, there are just different stages of which we are, all of us, a part. That is Alexandra Fuller’s belief. Intuitive, as ever …
As I read the last lines of Travel Light, Move Fast, yesterday, and, meticulously, wrote each quote into my precious red book, the tears were streaming down my face. Alexandra Fuller is an incredible writer; one who is able to transcribe the very essence of love and the insurmountable pain of its loss. Grief never leaves, nor do the memories fade. One thing, though, life goes on regardless …
‘Nothing is forever, except forever.’
Alexandra Fuller, Travel Light, Move Fast.
This is Trish, signing off.