The night it all began, I was dressed as a wench and he wore a pirate hat fashioned from newspaper. When we arrived at the party, he was brandishing a plastic cricket wicket as a sword, lunging at us as we came down the front path.
Sitting around the brazier outside, I sipped punch and snuggled up to my best friend. Suddenly, he was beside me with a whole pineapple, daring me to take a bite. Not one to back down from a challenge – especially with the invincible cloak of too-much-alcohol surrounding me – I took the proffered fruit and took a bite, skin and all. He grabbed it back and, not to be out-done, took a bite himself. The next 15 minutes were a blur of hilarity as we giggled about how much it stung.
Then I had a fight with my boyfriend, and it was time to go home.
Weeks passed. Most Saturday nights, our friends converged at one of the pubs in town. I would spend my time flitting between the girls on the dance floor, and the boys at the bar; a friendship was developing that made me intensely happy. One night, I sent him a text as our taxi dropped us off outside a bar. His response that he was away made me suddenly sad; I shook the feeling off, but it stayed with me all night and I found myself heading home at an earlier-than-usual hour.
Two days later, as I was stretching at the halfway point of my daily 10km run, my best friend (returning from hers) stopped to stretch with me.
“He likes you, you know,” she said suddenly. “It’s pretty obvious.”
My heart leaped, but I laughed dismissively. “Well, he’d have to be an idiot if he thinks I’d go there,” I scoffed. “I’ve got a boyfriend, and besides, I know how she [a good friend of ours] feels about him.”
We ran on, but instead of thinking about nothing as I usually did when I ran, I couldn’t get her words out of my head.
A few weekends later, my boyfriend was away. I was relieved – I’d been miserable for months, going through the motions of being in a relationship, of living with someone I didn’t love. He was prone to bouts of angry depression and manipulation, and nothing I did seemed to make a difference. I felt smothered, trapped, controlled.
It was 5am, the end of a big night in town. “I like you,” he said. “I really like you. I don’t usually say things like this, but this time, I had to say something…”
“Thank you for telling me,” I replied slowly. “That’s a really brave thing to do. But it’s complicated…I have a boyfriend…” Then I found the words tumbling out of my mouth, and he was the first person I told how miserable I was.
“I’ll email you tomorrow,” I promised as we parted company.
I emailed my sister. I asked for her advice. Her words have stayed with me for the past almost-nine years: “Does he offer you more mentally? emotionally? physically? If the answer is yes, then I think you know what to do…”
I composed another long email and with a shaking hand, pressed send. My stomach lurched, and I tried to concentrate on my work, but I was anxiously waiting for that familiar ding of a new mail notification. I checked the volume on my computer. I reinstalled the notifier, just in case. When there’d been no reply by 5pm, I began to feel sick, and a thousand “what ifs” ran through my mind
I was reluctantly forcing myself to eat dinner when my mobile bleeped.
“Our stupid email was down all day, so if you sent me anything, I didn’t get it…”
I released a deep breath that I didn’t know I was holding. My face almost broke with the wide grin that spread across it.
“That’s a shame, because I did, and it was a long one!” I replied. “I had a big think about everything, and if you’re okay with it, then…I choose you.”
There was a long pause.
Then: “Seriously? That’s so cool! Are you sure? I was waiting all day for it to be fixed. This is the longest text I’ve ever sent!”
(Read part two here)