The first time he saw the real me was the time I threw a coffee cup across the kitchen. We had been living in-between. Not quite in love, not quite indifferent enough to give up on the relationship we knew was never going to pass six months. Logically he was perfect for me, he ticked every box on every checklist I had ever made on the topic of love. Love of books? Check. Enjoys cheesy horror movies? Check. Knows how to cook? Check. He even listened to the Waterboys. What more could I ask for? Everything seemed right, on paper we were perfect. Yet for some reason we couldn’t seem to let go of our illusions. Six months in and we still used euphemisms like “I like you” when we wanted to express our affection. The word ‘girlfriend’ still made me queasy. I counted the minutes before replying to his good morning text to convey interest without seeming desperate and you still hadn’t met my friends. We had seen the highlight reel of each other’s lives and it had become the perfect routine. In our convenient distraction from the world we were safe. Never letting ourselves get closer then brushing fingertips.
It was just like any other Sunday. We were cooking our traditional breakfast of toast and eggs. A lazy attempt to clear the haze of cheap wine and cigarettes that hung in the back of our aching heads while we made half-hearted small talk and noncommittal plans. The vague idea of meeting his parents had been floating around for a while, every now and then he would make the plan slightly more concrete. Hangovers never made me nauseous but the thought of meeting his parents made me want to vomit. I had managed to avoid it for a while but the walls were closing in. With him it always felt as if the walls were closing in.
I was just about to serve the eggs when my phone buzzed across the counter. I would have ignored it but the way it shuffled towards me was too tempting to resist. I didn’t look at who was calling but when I placed the phone to my ear I knew before you even spoke. Maybe it was the way your breath sounded, dragging up memories of midnight phone calls trying not to wake my parents. Maybe it was my own desires willing themselves into reality but when you spoke, your voice ripped apart months of healing with nothing more than a hello. I barely heard your words but the message was clear.
“I miss you.”
Every memory hit me at once. Late nights intertwined in paper thin sheets, walking your dog along the beach in the ice-cold rain. Films we watched and songs we listened to became a cocktail in my mind curdling with the early morning fights and public tears. We had never been perfect. You didn’t read all that much, you hated cheesy horror films and always turned off my speakers when I turned on The Waterboys. But I never thought before I called you at 3am to talk about the song I had just listened to on repeat for an hour. Or said “I like you” when I wanted to say “I love you.” We were masters of public break ups and dramatic make ups that would inspire the mind of any romantic comedy writer stuck for a story.
I let it all soak through me starting with our first hello. Ending with the moment I threw your grandmothers ring out the window and you went to get it. You didn’t come back.
Why didn’t you come back?
The first time he saw the me that you knew was the time I threw a coffee cup across the kitchen. He watched as it shattered into daggers on the cracked tile floor and I slipped down leaning my head against the cupboard door. We had never been brave enough to stay in silence for more than 5 seconds but this silence seemed to last forever. Part of me wanted to fill the room with apologies and excuses. I wanted to turn it all into a funny anecdote, blame it on PMS and go back to making us breakfast. But the toast was burnt and my lips refused to move, so I closed my eyes and fell into the empty silence.
Eventually I let myself open my eyes, ready to offer explanations or at least justifications. The cup had been swept up and put in the bin with the burnt toast. The eggs had been taken off the hob and left to go cold on the counter. He was gone. I picked myself slowly off the floor and cleared away the last of the mess, wasted time wiping down the counter and splashing my face with water so if I caught my reflection I could pretend everything was ok. I logged onto Facebook and shared a motivational quote about learning to dance in the rain, wondering if I would ever believe it was true. I completed every chore that didn’t involve my phone until I couldn’t bear it any longer. Curiosity mingled with desperation sending tingles to my fingertips as I opened my messages. There was a voicemail from Mum asking when I was next coming home to visit. There was a text from my boss asking if I could work a couple of extra shifts next week. There was nothing from him.
There was nothing from you.