As part of Hogmanay 2019, Stef was one of six writers commissioned by Underbelly and the Edinburgh Book Festival to write a 'Love Letter to Europe'. The piece was then animated by Eleanor Meredith, scored by MJ McCarthy and projected onto a building in Edinburgh for the month of January.
You can watch the piece in full by clicking here.
The text is below and is not be reproduced without her permission.
Europe (or a letter for my love who I left)
You lay next to me.
I watch you breathe, slowly shifting from sleeping to waking. Diaphragm moving from you to where I am.
Further and nearer. Light fights its way through a crack in the curtain. And that certain smell of you and me still lingers in the air. Hair, caught up in a nest of the night before. Make-up smudged on the pillow, like the paw prints of impatience and Pinot Grigio.
You look beautiful in this light.
When it could be night or morning depending on which side of the sunrise you stand.
Lust has left me jetlagged.
And my mind trips into the cliché of thinking that you are a country I need to discover. Sappy songs about lovers suddenly make sense and between your breath and that light, I have to fight not to float away into my thoughts. But your touch is enough to root me into the soot of something.
As you slink away from sleep, your hand moves towards my cheek. Eyes inching open. We stare at each other. Safe here under the cover.
Seeking something. Seeing something.
A tender togetherness as our breaths meet and make something new. I reach out over to you, the future at my fingertips. And you move close and place a kiss on my lips. With possibility pulsing. With hope hanging in the air. We silently agree to embrace this adventure, to see the world and where we might belong, build and better ourselves. Warm and distant from dreaming – What is it? you ask. What do you want?
And after a few seconds of silence, I reply - I want to love you.
Please, let me love you.
You sit next to me.
Our hands entwine as time has brought us closer together. My skin still shivers at your touch and it’s almost too much as your thumb runs over mine.
And it’s coffee in Krakow, beer in Bucharest and Merlot in Madrid.
We say ‘I love you’ in nearly thirty different languages.
Most of which I pronounce wrong and forget the following day.
Cultures crush up against each other. And it’s neighbourhoods and narrow streets, squares, seas and seasons, and hostels that hold hundreds of humans. Heaving. Hoping. Holding each other.
A whole continent of people holding on.
And it’s a theatre festival in Wiesbaden, a puppet show in Ljubljana and galleries in Ghent. Our phones fill with pictures of places and faces and drinks and dancing and statues and fountains and monuments to moments that we promise never to forget.
History has her way of creeping around
every corner of this continent.
We dance in Dublin. Sing in Stockholm. We celebrate an anniversary in Amsterdam. We get mugged. We miss a flight. And finally, months after a little stick turns blue with positive news, we lose our baby in Berlin.
We weep in Vienna.
Doubt and debt come knocking and we slow down. Real life and responsibilities discover us. New turns into normal.
We dwell on our jobs and manage our mortgages. Borders build. Countries collapse. Mother nature takes back what was once hers. Fear makes folks clings onto the familiar and families flee and swim the seas towards us. Our history is coming back to haunt us.
My passport sits dormant in a drawer.
And when the news gets too tough, we just turn the channel over.
Drained from your day – This, you say. This is what we’ve made. This is what we deserve. Kingdoms always collapse. I disagree, and you just look at me with distain and disgust.
And I reply - We deserve better than this.
You stand next to me.
A fight is thick in-between our breaths. Both of our faces raw and red from the teargas of tears. Shocked into silence and submission.
My fists clench.
And I walk away without even packing a bag.
I go to a bar and order a bottle of the strongest stuff I can stomach and swig at it until the room spins. I know we had a deal.
It was you and me.
But another part of me, pierced through that. Thought it saw possibilities in a different place or it was unsatisfied with the status quo and I don’t know if it an act of self-destruction or self-preservation.
But something has shifted.
And when I return back, half cut and hurting, you are gone.
An empty echoing house.
And there is a picture of us in Prague on the wall in the hall. Taken when we were in the first rush of lust. Standing in front of that big beautiful clock in the city square, placed there, to count life away.
Tic. Tock. Tic. Tock.
And I knock that picture down. The glass smashes as it hits the ground. I pick the photo up and out of the shards and on the back, I noticed a note from you – To the future, you wrote. To our thrilling, exciting, frightening future. Together.
And I reply by ripping it in two.
You stand in front of me.
You’ve come back for your boxes of stuff. And I explain how this new world doesn't make sense without you. And how I take a paracetamol with my porridge in the morning to try to deaden the dread.
How I've been drinking. You always said I drank too much and it's true.
I am embarrassing without you.
And now I am alone, I realise how little I owned. I rattle around these rooms, roaming like a lost Rottweiler.
And I explain that there are thirty seconds when I first wake up where I forget what's happened.
And then the decision descends on me. Light fights its way through the crack in the curtain and without your body to block it, it blinds me.
And your side of the bed is cold and empty.
An iceberg of alone.
And I say that on bad days everything is dulled and dated or sometimes the world seems anxious and dangerous. And sometimes things look exactly the same. Heartbreak is so strange and it shifts everything, all the time. You cannot get a grip on grief and
it’s a relief when I forget to remember you.
I say I’ll try to write this down, formalise my thinking on our future into a font.
But there is so much still unknown to me.
So, I promise to write you a letter by leaving my breath on a window. I’ll press the tip of my finger into the condensation. Write words that dissolve as soon as they are discovered because words don’t feel like enough to describe, us.
Serious and distant and turning away you say – Good luck. Good luck with everything.
And I don’t have a reply.
I stand alone.
On this island, surrounded by four seas and still, there is such a strong sense of uncertainty, and that frightens me. The world I imagined has not materialised.
I lied to myself.
Thinking I would be better alone.
I’m not so sure.
I’m not sure of anything anymore.
So, I pull my passport out of the drawer and I decide to return to the places we had been before, this time I will go alone.
Because I have been so naïve.
And now I’d like to see what is really there instead of things through the singular simple lens of love. To try and make sense of the grit and dirt and soil and sand and blood and bile and history and heartache that brought us here. Me, here.
I am trying to understand. I am trying to see the truth.
It will be harder now, without you. There was a security with you.
Now, I have to be careful.
And I’ll pick a window seat so that I can see the country from thirty thousand feet. See it for what it is, just a collection of people, holding on.
A whole continent of people just holding on.
And from every place I go I’ll send you a postcard. Pictures of scenery, streets, squares, seas and seasons. Each a request not to be forgotten, each a plea to be forgiven.
And at the end of every note, in my neatest handwriting, I’ll write –
Do you think you could take me back?
Please, take me back.
And I’ll wait for your reply.