**I wrote this piece over a year ago and while I still love the man I wrote about, it’s more because you never really stop loving anyone, and it doesn’t feel hungry or burning anymore. It’s the kind of love that’s in a back pocket of some jeans I don’t wear anymore rather than embroidered on the sleeve of my top every day.
I’ve also since started studying herbal medicine, and now know loads more about the hawthorn tree and its incredible properties, so if you ever want to chat about the berries, leaves or flowers just holler at me.
This isn’t one of those blog posts where you read through a bunch of drivel just to get to a recipe at the end, this is 100% drivel and I’ll include the recipe for the DELICIOUS hawthorn ketchup in a separate post**
The man I love has a dodgy heart, it beats all wrong and seems to be entirely incapable of loving me back. I tried and failed to remedy the latter of these complaints, and the end result was lots of quiet crying on the overground train from Barking to Harringay Green Lanes. Because I love him I wanted to at least help the former problem in whatever way I could. I fantasised that if his literal heart was working better, then his figurative heart might also work better and would love me back. Sometimes I also fantasised that loving me was the cure, a doctor straight out of an old folk tale would tell him that the muscle was weak from lack of metaphorical use, and my name would be written up on green prescription paper. I guess it’s pretty telling that the only way I could imagine this man loving me back was if it was life or death for him. I did some reading on food and herbs good for cardiovascular health and discovered that hawthorn was a good fit for his heart problems; namely the regular pain, and lack of rhythm and romance (it wasn’t just towards me, he’d been single by choice for 15 years). Not only did the hawthorn fit my criteria but it was abundant in every hedgerow at the time I was doing my research, it felt like it was meant to be.
I picked the first lot of hawthorn berries for him in a cemetery near my house in London. I would stop at a tree and say “hello hawthorn, may I please take some of your berries for my lover’s heart?” Was I lying to a hawthorn tree? He wasn’t really my lover, was he? How would I explain my relationship to this tree though? Hawthorn tree, may I please take some of you beautiful red berries for a man who told me he didn’t want to wash his sheets because they smelled like me, who gifted me his tooth, and sent me his ECG in the post (a literal print out of the beating of a heart that can’t or won’t love me back) but insists we’re just ‘sex pals’? I remember lying in bed with him once while he stroked my back and spoke about where he might go to find a wife. My own heart felt like it needed an urgent poultice of hawthorn blossom and berries in that moment. Of course, I was lying to the trees, because I was lying to myself. They played the silent therapist trick back at me; let me listen to the absurdity of my own words. When I told people about Ted (that’s the alias I’ve given him) they would offer their opinions in return, and would either validate my behaviour or tell me how stupid I was being. If I was validated, great, and if not I needed to prove them wrong – stick around long enough until he learned to love me. Hello magnificent and magical hawthorn tree, while you are blessing me with your bountiful berries could you please bestow upon me just a little bit of self-respect? Help me learn to love myself enough that I’m not desperately foraging for it in places where it will never grow.
I picked the second batch of hawthorns in a place called ‘Coppice’ on the autumn equinox. Coppice is a small bit of land in the Surrey countryside that used to belong to my great granny Ena and my great grandad Will but now collectively belongs to all 15 of their descendants. It was a short cycle ride from where I grew up, and as a kid I spent a lot of time playing on a rope swing on the big oak tree there, exploring where the dog violets and wild strawberries grow, and running over the land that the brambles have since claimed as their own. This autumn equinox I sat with my mum and brother in front of a fire that they built, I drank cider and ate fire-cooked sausages while we listened to a tawny owl in the distance. Before the sun set I whispered my question to the hawthorn trees. May I please take some of your berries for Ted’s heart? I didn’t want my mum to hear me, I was ashamed to still be talking to this man who didn’t value me, the man who my friends, family and therapist all agreed I would be better off forgetting. I saw the disappointed looks on their faces when, after I managed a period of prolonged non-contact, I ended up reaching out to him again. I’ve never had as much trouble quitting something or someone as I did him. I knew I was making a fool out of myself, and it was becoming embarrassing to talk about him but I still wanted to talk about him, his name felt so delicious in my mouth. It felt good to be picking berries for him. This was how I said “I love you” when I was too chickenshit to say it with words.
I feel compelled to interrupt myself here, because I haven’t told you anything about why Ted was hard to quit, aside from my demented attachment style. Despite the gigantic character flaw of not wanting to marry me, he was a good man (I’m talking about him in past tense because I don’t actually know if he’s alive or dead now). He had a collection of books on etymology right by his bed, he had lots of freckles and a wonky nose, he wrote his cats birthday on his calendar in all caps, he took me on more than one date to look at things in the sky through big telescopes, he made me laugh more than any man I’ve ever met, he knew the names of lots of plants and animals, and he had the sexual skills of a totally emotionally unavailable man (which is to say he was amazing in bed).
There’s a little hill near my mum’s house, I don’t know if it has a name, weirdly it had never felt special enough to have a name. I picked my third, and final, batch of haws there. The place had gifted me with wild garlic, blankets of bluebells, blackberries and haws throughout the years, and I never honoured it enough to try to learn its name. There was an element of magical thinking involved in my foraging, like if I picked the berries with enough love he would consume that love and love me back somehow. At the time, all of this made more sense than cutting my losses and walking away from Ted. I paused my picking for a while to watch a volery of gorgeous long-tailed tits flying in and out of the hedgerow and it dawned on me that I was taking their dinner. I took out my phone and wrote a reminder to myself in my notes app “OUR LOVE ISN’T REAL BUT BIRDS ARE” (I don’t recall writing this so can’t tell you if I was attempting to be funny or deep or neither), put my headphones in and Alice Coltrane on, and walked back to my mums with my carrier bag full of rutilant loot.
I made my medicine for Ted in the form of a spicy haw ketchup, put it in a box with a small letter, a matchbox of really great smelling dirt, some jams I made from other hedgerow goodies, and sent it all up north by Royal Mail. I finally told him I loved him with words for the first time, and ended things for the last time only a few weeks after I had sent my heart mending potion. It would be a neat, albeit pretty cheesy, ending to this story to say that the hawthorn trees healed my heart. Neat but untrue. The truth is never that simple, but that the trees did hold a space for me to start working out that you can’t make somebody love you, not even with potions.