The thing that marks that period most strongly is the crying in the shower. How I’d race home from work every afternoon, run through wooded paths to the point of exhaustion, then come back and almost collapse in a long, hot shower. I remember leaning up against the tiled wall, my head in my arms, sobbing for what felt like hours. Every night, the same thing, over and over and over. Then I’d dry off, come out and pretend to the rest of the world that nothing was wrong.
And the whole time I was breaking apart inside.
I remember telling myself that I would never let this happen again. This. Will. Not. Happen. To. Me. Again. I won’t ever let myself get into this position again.
I stopped eating. I was listless and uninterested at work; at one point I was spoken to and asked if I actually wanted to be there (no, I did not). I remember a concerned friend pulling me aside at one point and asking if everything was ok and I assured her, repeatedly that it was (no, it was not). Every day I drove home from work and looked at the same tree on the same bend, wondering what would happen if I just stopped steering, if I let my car smash into it’s trunk in a cacophony of crunching metal and shattering glass. I wanted to know if that would wake me up and shake me out of this lethargic misery, if it would actually make me feel something. I was so horribly sad.
I cannot smell Stella, the perfume I was wearing for those months, without being instantly transported back there.
Eleven years ago.
You know, I had a dream about him the other night. He was with his two kids, standing not far from me and talking to them about me while I ignored him pointedly, pretending not to hear what he was saying as I pulled on a black hooded jumper. And he was actually saying nice things, that’s the thing; he was telling his children what a great person I was. I woke up and for some reason I felt relieved, like maybe I hadn’t just imagined I’d had any kind of impact on him. That I might have meant something. Because I’ve never quite been sure.
It was during my stop over at Auckland airport last September, mid-way to starting the adventure of a life time, when I got the shock of my life. I opened up Facebook to find a message and a friend request from him – we hadn’t spoken in about eight years I reckon. And now he’d found me. Wanted to be friends. I was angry that this was happening on the way to something I looked forward to and planned for so long, this trip where I would take on the world. All of a sudden I was just that naïve 26-year-old kid again. I closed Facebook.
I’m certain that I wasn’t in love with him but I’m equally certain I was heartbroken when it ended. He was the first person I ever imagined marrying, no mean feat given I’ve never really expected I would marry. I wondered at how easy it seemed, how I’d managed to find this person amongst the billions of other people in this world, how I hadn’t needed to go through the arseholes and crap dates and bullshit before finding my person. Here he was. Here we were.
Until we weren’t. Until he lost interest. Until he walked away. Until it petered out in my continuing bewilderment.
We had one last night out after my eventual move to Melbourne, a night where the air seemed thick with chemistry and I left expecting things to be different. They weren’t. Over time even the random text messages and phone calls stopped until he became just something that happened in my past. I’d Google him from time to time, eventually finding that he’d married someone else – someone else who was now living the life I’d imagined.
When I got to LA I accepted his friend request, then responded to his message. He went on about some blast from the past mutual acquaintance who I barely remembered. This time the chemistry was gone; I made jokes he didn’t laugh at, he didn’t bother to ask how I was doing. It felt like closure and I realised this person I considered to be the missed opportunity of my life actually wasn’t.
Instead I thought about a boy, thousands of kilometres away at home, who would have laughed at what I said.
It’s taken me nearly all of these 11 years to realise what a profound effect a few months had on me. How it’s made me worried that someone will just change their mind all over again (and again and again) and walk away from me. How it made me fearful that if I did just the slightest thing wrong, any type of relationship would just crumble. How I think that stupid things, like taking too long to reply to an email will make someone change their mind. So instead I stuck to the pact I’d made with myself and ensured that it never happened again, by never engaging with someone to the point where it could happen again.
I’ve had three important people in my life decide having me in theirs wasn’t important. And somehow, those three failures have overwritten the many great people I’ve met and become friends with, making me wary and cynical and reluctant. Something I’m now starting to realise the extent of.
I promised myself, repeatedly, that this would not happen again. I would not make this mistake again. But it was too seductive, too easy to spend time with this boy with pale green eyes, laughing and talking. I told him stories about my past that I’d never told anyone, then wonder how I liked and trusted him so much already to do that. All the while I kept hearing that voice in my head that warned me I’d been down this road before and it did not end well. Be careful, be careful, be careful.
We have so much in common.
Except he has history of relationships with crazy girls and a thousand anecdotes to tell about them. I refuse to break down my own tragic experience into a story for others’ enjoyment, I don’t ever really want to think about it again. Until he pulls the story out of me one night, after too much to drink and I’m defensive and vehement. “This will not happen to me again,” I tell him, repeatedly. He looks at me with an inscrutable look on his face and tells me I’m going to miss out on good things if I keep acting this way.
We discuss it again, over the phone a few days later, while I’m waiting for my train to arrive after work. I’m sitting on the platform listening to his gentle lecture and trying to explain that I understand but old habits die hard. He loves talking about this stuff, emotions make me awkward and uncomfortable. Once he told me I was “hard to get to know” and I bring it up all the time, almost jokingly, but at the time it hurt.
Weeks go past and the fear is still there. I tell myself I’m waiting for some kind of sign about how he feels, a sign that never seems to arrive, much to my gentle bewilderment. We talk every single day and yet I cannot figure him out. I don’t know what any of this means or what it’s supposed to be.
I meet his family.
We make plans and he invites other people along.
The tenor of our messages changes, ever so subtly.
He offers to come over to my house and make me dinner and watch a movie after a running injury derails our existing plans. I’m reluctant to eat anything he cooks so I take over meal duties instead. He sends me a photograph of his DVD collection and tells me I should pick one, so I do. Then at 7.40pm he arrives, says he’s outside my house he thinks but he’s not quite sure if that’s the one. I go out to meet him and we hug hello.
We’re lying on separate couches, watching the movie and at 10.30pm he tells me he’s sorry but he’ll have to go in a minute because he has to call a mate. OK, that’s fine, I tell him but I’m more than a little surprised. The movie is still going. We keep watching. Then at 11pm he tells me he has to leave and so we stand up and say our goodbyes; his friend had a shit day he tells me. “I hope everything is OK,” I respond. We quickly hug goodbye but the air isn’t pregnant with any kind of expectation.
He leaves and I go to bed. Alone.
The next day he sends me a message, thanking me for dinner and apologising again for leaving early-ish. His friend had a shit day, he tells me again. He had to call them, he tells me again. I hope everything is OK, I tell him again. Then he explains that he’s only been friends with her for a few months but he gets the feeling that she’s the type where everything is a drama.
I make a glib reply but my mind is stuck on that word.
You left my fucking house mid-way through a movie to talk to a girl you’ve only known for a few months about her shit day at 11pm at night? I’m sorry but there’s not a girl in the world who wants to unload about her shit day at 11pm who doesn’t want more from the bloke who’s listening. And that’s not even considering what he wants.
This girl was more important than my company. Than our plans. And it really hurts.
This, this is the point where I realise I’ve fucked up. In so many ways because I promised, I promised, that I would not let this happen again. That I would not repeat all those long ago mistakes and find myself in this position again. That I wouldn’t give someone else the power over my emotions, even if they don’t realise they have it.
I have totally and utterly misinterpreted this situation and if anything is proof, then that is it right there.
I’m sobbing in the shower, 11 years later.
Because I’m stupid and I’m wrong, all over again. And I’m sad because a tiny part of me thought maybe this time it would be different. Instead I’m just an idiot.
I got out and dried myself off with a towel. Wiped my eyes. That will be your only moment of self pity I tell myself sternly.
This. Will. Not. Happen. Again.
And I mean it. I can’t not.