San Francisco

74F6AE08-E828-48F8-B0BB-A6A29DD93BDDSan Francisco. The moment we knew.

I had always wanted to go to San Francisco. A city that somehow manages to incorporate hustle and bustle with beautiful sweeping landscapes. Sealions, Sunshine, China Town, trams, hills, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to see it all. I did. But that isn’t what I remember most from the trip.  I remember the look on your face when I said the words I couldn’t take back. 

Just…pause for a second. I want you to know that writing this doesn’t make me feel good. My blog is telling a story but the part of the story that we are getting to, the next month, the next year…it was me at my worst and it started pretty much right here. But it had to happen. We had to end. Even thinking about San Francisco makes my stomach tight and my heart hurt and I don’t know if you are reading this or now or if you ever will but I am sorry. I am sorry it came to be like this.

We arrived in San Francisco by lunchtime. A landslide had meant we had stayed in a motel the night before rather than arriving here as planned. An hour outside of the city we stopped at a lighthouse. It was beautiful. It was December but Northern California is mild and I stood with my coat unbuttoned watching the waves crash against the rocks, spraying salt water up the white washed walls. Oh, to live in a lighthouse and hear the waves crash for the rest of my life. 

We didn’t talk much, but that was okay.  We drove into the city. We parked the car. We walked by the Bridge. We spotted Alcatraz. I remember how bright the light was. And gold. It honestly seemed golden. I liked San Francisco. The vibe. A lot of people walking dogs, riding bikes and seeming genuinely happy. I would love to go back and join them. Especially with the happy part. 

We were meeting my friend Tim that night. Tim is 6ft 5 and change, a sassy gay male from my theatre days and a bad influence when it comes to swilling back about eight too many cocktails. I’m 5ft 2. I don’t know why I even try and keep up with him as Tim has always and will always drunk me under the table. 

The year before we had all met up in Chicago. It was a better time. Almost exactly a year ago. A lot can change. We drank martinis and listened to an incredible 16 piece jazz band playing Christmas tunes in a dive bar. The three of us, Will’s brother and a gang of friends we hadn’t seen for four years danced around the table singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Well that night in San Francisco wasn’t such a carefree jazz affair but we did have plans for dinner and drinks, followed by more drinks, followed by more. 

Now, here is where I struggle to give this any narrative context…because really I have none. Things had been bad with Will but I’d assumed they’d get better. It was only 11 days since the car crash in Tucson when I realized they probably wouldn’t but I thought I had time. I am sorry, I thought we would have time. But our time was up in that very second. Yes, things had been bad but in that moment they were fine. We were drunk and relaxed and in a cocktail bar with Tim. We had taken pictures and laughed and ordered more brandy. But, from nowhere, the words came out of my mouth, so matter of fact and I couldn’t stop them. “We aren’t going to be together next year are we.” We weren’t. 

“We aren’t going to be together next year, are we?” ……….So blunt. So clinical. It was like stating tomorrow was going to be rainy or that I needed to pick up some bread on my way home from work. No inflection. No drama. Except of course, there was. But I just knew. Tim was going to be back from the loo at any second and I’d taken you off guard. You didn’t know what to say. You were shocked. I’m sure you saw it coming, but like me you thought we would have time. A few more laps. Twice round the merry-go-round. Once more, with feeling.  Nope. This ride has reached an abrupt end. 

Tim came back. The tension. The embarrassment. What is wrong with me? Why there?  We left and went back to our apartment. I passed out in my clothes in the bed. You slept on the sofa in a ball.

The first few seconds when you wake up are the best and worst. You’re cosy and warm and for a moment everything is okay. But then. The thud. The sinking feeling. The pain, all the worse in its return. Will. I called out to you. What the fuck had I done. 

Did you mean it? You asked me. I said I didn’t know. We knew I did. My heart was in my chest and my eyes were red holding back tears. The stress overcame me. I ran to the toilet and threw up a quart of brandy and what was left of my dinner. 

We talked more. I was sick again. I had a shower. I threw up in the bath. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew, I KNEW this was the last time I would see this person staring back at me. Everything was about to change. I threw up in the sink. 

It hurts to remember how worried you were about me. You went out and bought some bread for breakfast. I couldn’t eat it. We had to check out of the apartment and into a cheap hotel across the road for the night before our flight. I shakily made the ten minute walk and you carried my case. When we reached our room on the fifth floor I drank a can of coke and had to rush to the communal toilets ten minutes later. It was just liquid at this point. 

We agreed it was a mistake. We agreed to try. We said when we got back home we would try harder. We would be better. We didn’t want this. I was so shocked and sad and drained that I clung on to you extra tight. After five hours of vomiting I made a recovery. We went for a walk and I clasped your arm. I always held on to your arm. I did not want to let go. 

We walked by the ocean and we looked at the sea lions. Ironically it was one of the nicest afternoons we had had in months. The air was clearer somehow. Admitting there was a problem was the first step to fixing it. We would get back and it would all be okay. We were kidding ourselves, but I felt so good to pretend.

You put your head in my lap on the flight hope and I stroked your hair with an emptiness in my gut. When we landed, we took the subway home. There was a train waiting on the platform. The whistle was blowing and you dashed on. The doors shut in my face.  We looked at each other through the glass as the carriage pulled forward. And then you were gone. I stood on the platform alone. 

Oh, Fuck…

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They say when one door closes another one opens. That may be true, but it is also fucking inconvenient sometimes. 

November 2017.  You’re back. I wasn’t sure if you were coming. You had been gone for three weeks and I was nervous I wouldn’t see you again. Mainly because you were my friend but also a little bit because of something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…or I could but I wasn’t ready to consider it.

Things were okay with me after you left. I say “okay”….. “okay” to me means surving but not thriving. The only person I told about my findings on Will’s phone was Ruth. And even then it was in passing over a few wines and statements of “I’m not the jealous type”, “I’m sure it’s nothing”, and “it’s been six years, I trust him.” I was downplaying a sadness that had been bubbling in a tiny but boisterous whirlpool at the pit of my chest since August. 

I’ve never had feelings for someone else while I have been happy in a relationship. For sure I have found people “attractive” and encouraged my single friends to “go for it” with mutually agreed upon passing hotties. Twit twooo. I’ve even had day or weeklong crushes, but that always passed when I got to know them and discovered the reality of that human was nothing compared to the reality of my loving relationship. Every imagined future with them was nothing compared to tea and crumpets in bed on a Sunday morning, playing I Spy out the window with the person I knew I loved. Even out of a relationship, it has always seemed to be true that while I hold a candle for one person, all my energy, my fire, is for them.  Nobody else gets a look in.

I realize now the on the day I found the messages after the disaster camping trip a door closed inside me. The flame was blown out. I just didn’t know it. 

You’d always been my friend. I can’t say I never thought you were attractive, but it was never a problem. You had a girlfriend. I had a boyfriend. They long predated us. I liked her. You liked him. We would hang out, drink beer, laugh. You’ve always been very funny.  The thing is though, now I think about it, I’ve always had this strange ability to know exactly where you are in a room. I’ve always been lit up by your presence. I’ve always been sad when you have gone home because it always signified the end of the party. You’d always stay to the end. 

In October your world came crashing down. I had no idea you were unhappy too. We didn’t talk about it. And then suddenly It was all very dramatic. You text me asking if you could come and stay with us and I didn’t ask any questions I just said yes. I know I felt something strange inside though. I knew before you told me that you must have broken up and I was sad for you… and for her because like I said, I really did like her. But another feeling too. Like someone had just plucked a string and walked away. A note vibrating for longer than it should. 

You came and you went. You stayed two nights then got on a plane. The first night I made spaghetti and then we sat outside and drank whisky and talked it through. The next night I walked you to the bus that would take you to the airport and I told you I was scared you weren’t going to come back. You promised you would and I hugged you twice. You disappeared and I breathed a sigh of relief. You were gone. Back to England. From whence you came. A few weeks apart and I’ll have talked myself out of you.

But then you came back. It was a few days until I saw you. And then I did. And then I knew was in trouble. Real trouble. I had spent two weeks ignoring it. Blissfully ignoring it. But there you were and I knew before I even hugged you.  The string was still vibrating. Something had cosmically shifted and you were standing there in front of me, an open door.   Oh, Fuck.

TBC. 

 

 

Valentine’s Day 1996 – 2019

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I was seven years old when I sent my first Valentines card. It was to myself.

What kind of fucked up school encourages kids to send Valentines cards anyway? They put up a special red post box a week before the “big day”, then handed out the cards during registration. From that moment on I was convinced that the whole song and dance was just another way to shame people for being lonely. At seven I realized I was undesirable. Validation through popularity…was this what school was all about?  Spoiler alert: yes.

So, young as I was, I was clever enough to opt out of the shame game and send a card to myself. Thank you me. I feel like I’ve always had my back.

The next Valentines card I remember writing was when I was 11. Same school, but a few different faces. Alice and Kylie, two new girls who had the good fortune to prematurely grow tits, were the chosen ones, the desirables. I didn’t think I was going to get any real cards but by this point I’d entered into a pact with my closest gaggle of girl friends; we’d send them to each other. So there. But this year there was a boy. His name was Josh May and he wore a Pokémon t-shit and had gelled, crisp, spiky hair. Little turrets of status. The outside of the card had dancing hearts listening to a stereo on it and on the inside I wrote the lyrics to Mel C and Bryan Adams’ Baby When You’re Gone. He thew it in the bin.

Things just feel so wrong. Yeah, baby when you’re gone.

When I started secondary school, Valentines cards were a strict army mission that required strategic planning and negotiation. Ashley Baker and I agreed to send each other one, not out of romantic interest, but to avoid the shame of being left out. Some utter twats would strut the Science Block corridors yielding a mass of red balloons in one arm and their best squealing gal pal on the other, looking on adoringly, of course. I get it. You’re popular. You’re hot. You cloud the changing rooms after P.E with plumes of Charlie Red, your mum let you have highlights and you actually seem to know what you are doing with eyeliner. I could only marvel.  Although my popularity daydreams were rudely disturbed when I was bopped in the face by six stray balloons from a passing globular deity.

I’ve always been awkward. That doesn’t really change over time.

Last year my mum bought me a Valentine’ card. She signed it from Bracken the dog. My sister got me one too, signed by my niece and nephew. I love them so much. I could have cried. Although I think it is important to note that I didn’t. I was back in England for nearly a month recovering from my break up with Will and that just so happened to coincide with my first single Valentine’s Day in six years…not that when we were together he made a big deal of it…except for the first year.

Valentine’s Day 2012.  The first one in which I knew him. We had literally just met. I was 23 and still occasionally falling asleep wearing my shoes. Our student days were over and my friends and I were kind of living in a post university, pre adult life bubble where we were all working shit jobs but throwing dinner parties at the weekend with desserts made in martini glasses because we thought that is what real adults did. I’d known him just over two weeks and so we (dramatically) were not spending Valentine’s Day together. I was having dinner at one of the gentrified pubs in New Cross with my flatmates instead…but Will…he liked me. Weird awkward me. He had hand made me a card…a beautiful card using a scalpel and peacock feathers. He gave it to my scariest room mate at one of our dinner parties. The whole crew had scrutinized the poor boy but agreed to leave the card outside my bedroom door on February 14th. I think that was the first time anybody had ever MADE me anything. My uni boyfriend Nick was good as gold, of course, and twice supplied a bunch of roses from Tesco Express. At 19 THAT was romance.  That and a bottle of on the turn rosé from the corner shop…and maybe a Kinder Bueno. But Will…he had sat for hours and made me something and I was touched.  The fact that he cared enough to create something made me think that perhaps he could be my boyfriend after all.

That was the first and last hand made Valentine’s card I got from him. I don’t think we even celebrated the day in our last year together. That’s sometimes the thing isn’t it. People make a lot of effort when they don’t have you, but when they do…they forget how much it means that you are there. I hope neither of us makes that mistake again.

So there I was. Opening up a Valentines Card and a chocolate heart from my mum. 29 and newly single.

My mum has always been a good Valentine’s sport. She was the one who funded the ill fated card to Josh May and picked up the strategy pack for friends and associates.  She didn’t ask too many questions and I appreciated it. When I was 13, she sent my sister and I off to school with a Valentines card in our lunchboxes. I opened it up to see she had bought us tickets to see Craig David play live on stage. I screamed in delight. Craig. I loved him from afar…although not as much as Julia. I let her have him.

When the crowd say “Bo”, selecccccta.

Not wanting to spend the night in with my mum and my stepdad, I made plans to hang out with a friend last Valentines Day. I still have a lot of friends back home and she was single too so it seemed as good a time as any to get pissed on Prosecco and  eat some gourmet M&S macarons. Fuck I miss M&S. Maybe I’ll write them a valentines card one day….although I did see they’re peddling some love sausage abomination these days that I’d rather disassociate myself with. That’s the problem, isn’t it. People change. Major food brands change.

A year on and I am in a much better place. Last week I went to a very weird Valentine’s theme car event where I ended up getting “matched” to a KIA whilst swilling back my third cocktail and trying to keep a straight face as the valiant marketing team tried to sell me the damn thing like I might have more than $308.59 in my bank account. Love. What a good opportunity for an up sell.

Valentines Day. I’ve had good days and I have had bad. I’ve been on top and I’ve been rejected. I’ve laughed and I have cried…which to me makes it just like any other day of the year. My point being, don’t worry. Don’t worry if you’re alone this year. It’s not a big deal either way. Your time will come around, because that’s life. And this is just another one of the days in your life.

As it so happens,  this year I do actually have a Valentines date and I want to admit that I am looking forward to it. Not because it’s Valentine’s Day, I honestly couldn’t give a fuck, but because I’m spending the evening with someone I think that I might be excited about…. And those butterflies…the fresh air of change…that is something you cant buy. There is no day for that. It just has to find you. And so you wait. But know this; in my experience it always comes. Eventually. And when it does, you won’t care at all that Josh May ripped up your letter and that your last few cards were from your mum and your family dog. I promise. Until then. Chin up…there’s always the M&S Love Sausage….