Somewhere Only We Know
For you, “the one”, during a time in space
Late Summer, 2013
… the hedges, right? The one by my house, the one we used to walk past after school every day as I talked to you endlessly about the chemistry of biological solutions in sociology. Or something like that.
We’d walk home, holding hands. I loved how your hands felt in mine, it was a perfect fit, it was safe. You’d leave me with a hug. You always felt so strong, comforting and protective.
You felt like home, almost immediately.
As soon as you left, I missed you. I’d go into my room, lay down and sigh out all the excess emotions I felt for you. Love. Happiness. Content-ness. Butterflies. Well, more like a zoo. Wait, isn’t that a song? Whatever. At that moment, the cheesiest love song was the most relatable thing.
We met at our school foyer. You were red. You were handing out leaflets to guests coming in and I was hiding away from my parents and teachers because of the usual fear of parents’ evening. We got talking about fireworks night. I started singing Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” out of tune. I don’t think you appreciated being deafened that evening but I did see you smile a little bit.
Early Summer, 2013
We had chemistry.
In fact, straight after that awkward “omg I haven’t seen you since x” conversation on the corridors and the usual Facebook message (I sent”quack” because that’s how 17-year-olds flirt, right?), we instantly got talking about family, hobbies, your impressive Minecraft server, my collection of Playstation games, the future – I told you about my favourite area of science: optic vision. At one point, I wanted to be an optician. I enjoyed eye contact and liked looking into your eyes in particular. I didn’t tell you how much I loved the colours of your eyes; a mixture of different shades of brown and hazel.
I found the rarity of our eyes meeting funny, you mostly stared at the Starbucks cup which I sipped on a lot when I got nervous.
Why was I even having hot chocolate in the middle of a hot day in July?
Why am I on a date with the biggest nerd ever?
Wait, is this even a date?
Yeah. I think it was.
We went on another, and another and then another which eventually led up to officially declaring on Facebook that we were, you know, going on dates. You love coffee so most of them were at Starbucks – especially the branch where I got my phone stolen during one of our dates. Ha – remember that? It was our third date and we ended up at the police station. Because of course, we did.
You showed me parts of my city, I didn’t even know existed, including that police station at the shady end of town. But also nice places too – like the quirky little Italian restaurant at the end of the block, the one where waitresses wore bright blue eyeshadow and called us “duck” – the one we had our first dinner together. It was getting darker earlier with a month left until Christmas. This time of year always feels so homely, especially now with you. You ordered a mushroom pizza and I pulled a face.
“You should try this, it’s amazing!”
“But I really don’t like -”
And this was the evening I fell in love with Italian food, mushrooms and even fell a little bit more for you.
I started believing in the saying: the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. The restaurant played some great jazz music. Before you, I hadn’t really appreciated jazz or Electro Swing or even saxophones but now I see why you like to dance and sing along to them, often remixing it with your own lyrics. Lyrics that fit us.
Some time, 2014
A year and a few months in, as I was sat opposite you at yet another restaurant, a strange feeling hit me.
It wasn’t just the excitement for the food but an electric shock of realisation: I think I could do this for a while. With you. “A while” defined as a long time. The shock was similar to the one we both felt that time we were still awkward teenagers and had weird crushes on each other. We had accidentally touched each other’s hands outside your stuffy Period 4 Further Maths class and felt it.
I shared this with you. You felt the same. I was ecstatic.
There were a few times your eyes would sparkle because you got emotional. I loved that raw emotion you never failed to express.
Like, the genuine happiness you expressed when we both got into University.
Our hours spent after school of intensely revising Biology and Chemistry, cracking up jokes to get through it, sharing resources and doing exam papers together paid off – we got it as a team and went in as one too.
We did a lot of things together – as expected of couples but you never was just a guy I was dating, you were my best friend, my family, my biggest crush, my biggest supporter, my lover, my alma gemela.
I believe in soulmates at the time because that’s where true loves come from, right? I really am silly, but so are most princesses in Disney.
What is love? Writing this now, I’m not sure.
But at that time, I was so certain that connecting with another human to that level was love. I thought the patience of watching me heal from previous scars, the constant surprises during our monthsarys, sharing the last bit of food, giving me your coat in the rain and snow, the hugs during my panic attacks and holding me tightly on the bus so I wouldn’t fall when it suddenly stopped,
Why did you say that you’d stay on the bus with her and take her home? Why won’t you take me home, up the hill, pass the hedges? Why didn’t you take me out to see that musical? Why is she still texting you?
You’re angry at me now, for overreacting.
Maybe I was overreacting – actually, I most certainly was overreacting. I freaked out and got paranoid. I might’ve judged too quickly and reacted too fast. I’m sorry I was explosive; my emotions get the better of me sometimes. After the silent treatment, you hugged me tight and reassured me again by stroking my hair and giving me a kiss on the top part of my cheek. The soft part.
“We’re still on the same team and no one else is in it, right?”
Did you mean that?
As university days pass by, we both increasingly became more and more stressed.
At some point in the second year of university, I realised that I needed a break. A break from the assignments, the studying, the academic pressure.
And then the opportunity arose: I was “head-hunted” by an employer. From this, I realised the importance and value of practical work. What you can achieve from multi-disciplinary work struck me.
Suddenly, I found a fresh drive and motivation to finish my second year and secure a year-long placement where I could learn practical skills and apply them to problems in the future. I was excited and shared it with you – maybe over-sharing – almost constantly sharing the details of each and every application I put through. I realise now that my constant talk of applications might’ve added unnecessary pressure.
I might’ve started sounding like your parents.
I’m sorry that I’m like this. I know that I have a habit of hanging on to opportunity and potential so tightly, directing my focus purely on them until I finally achieve what I want. It might be selfish but I wanted you to understand that in addition to being your lover, I also have my own dreams.
Am I being selfish?
You never answered.
You didn’t want to hear it anymore.
You shut me out. I tried to communicate but you weren’t communicating. The fights became frequent. The white dots spread. The grudges never shifted. Why are you mad at me again? Why am I mad at you? Why aren’t you listening to me? Another white dot. But is that important? No, it’s not. You’re perfectly fine. Listen to me. Let’s talk. Let’s work on this. Don’t walk away. Don’t shout at me.
We’re outside university. Stop blaming me. I’m upset. Don’t ignore it. Don’t you dare walk away again.
We’re on our way home. Stop blaming me. I’m upset. Don’t ignore it. Don’t you dare walk away again.
We’re eating at our favourite Italian place. Stop blaming me. I’m upset. Don’t ignore it. Don’t you dare walk away again.
We’re in London, walking down South Bank. You blame me again and I blame you right back. Silent. Angry. Ignoring.
I look up and see London lit up in dark and then at you, you’re building up walls like the video games we played to protect ourselves from the enemy.
But honey, I’m not your enemy and we’re not against each other.
I’m not home anymore, I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel protected. In a desperate moment, I reach for your hand with the expectation of your usual gentle self slowly unfold but instead, I feel you push my hand away. That’s painful.
Come back and talk to me, come back and communicate. Am I too much? I’m sorry, that’s just who I am. I’m sorry if my constant talk about the future stressed you out. I’m sorry I shouted at you because of how you acted in front of her, I just want to be respected. What do you mean that you don’t feel any fire between us anymore? Please answer me. It’s dark again but I’m in my room and not with you. My anxiety is eating me alive. I’m finding it hard not to burst out into a panic. Where are you? Why is your stupid phone telling me that you can’t be reached again? I mentally count seven. This is the seventh night in a row. Where are you?
Couples fight, right? And that’s okay. We’re going to be okay. I mean, it’d totally be unnatural if we didn’t fight.
The freedom from exams embraces us. The stress slowly melts away and all we feel is a burden being lifted from our shoulders. I continue to discuss the exam as we walk to a park in the typical British summer. We both make it an annual thing to embrace nature after exams, we’ve done it for the last 3 years. It was our tradition.
You’re annoyed. I’m not sure if it’s because of me going on about if the heart was showing its left or right ventricle or the fact that it’s raining. You dislike rain a lot and spend a good few minutes warming up your feet with a blow dryer when you get home. I smile at the memory of myself being extra prepared whenever it rained to make sure you were safe from the rain.
You’re still frowning and I plant a kiss on your cheek with your glasses scratching my face a little bit. I don’t mind, it happens often. I look up at you lovingly and feel the excitement for the three months of summer ahead. Our university friends go back home and our old school friends return. Our catch-ups with them are always fun, the shock they never fail to bring back when we answer the question:
“Are you guys still together?”
Yes, I always say enthusiastically. Since day one, I’ve been so hyped by my relationship with you. People who had only just met us would often assume we were in the early stages of our relationship i.e. “the honeymoon stage” because we were still so “in love” years later.
I look over you with my heart singing but you’re not awake. You seem tired.
Like attempting to connect to that shitty coffee shop WiFi, getting us on the same page again resulted in nothing but failure.
Honey, are you there?
The sun is actually shining in Sheffield now. We’ve just both come back, glowing, after a week in the sun. I’m still working at the shoe shop in the middle of town. I know I promised you that I will hand in my notice soon. But this time I will! Especially since I finally secured that year long placement I kept telling you about, in the university too so I can still see you throughout the year. After all the stress last year, I finally did it! Are you proud of me?
Hello, where are you? Oh, you’re running late? That’s fine. I’ll wait here.
I see you and you’re looking as great as ever. Your hair gets lighter in the summer and your eyes too. You look more and more like a bear these days. You’ve called me bunny since we started dating. We’ve been bunny and bear, just like our favourite John Lewis advert.
You take me to the newly opened Costa branch and offer to buy me my favourite drink – mango passion juice. I don’t know if you know this, but I love mango in the summer. I appreciate you and thank you a million times.
As I sit, soaking in the surroundings, I’m excited to tell you more about my day at the shoe shop and my placement. I quickly look over at my phone and read July 31st, 2016. There are only a few days left until our anniversary. We were going to start finalising our plans to the visit the Lake District. Wow. Our anniversary. We were turning into an old couple, and there was no other way else I’d rather have it. I look up at you with my eyes sparkling.
But your eyes are darker now and for a second, I couldn’t recognise you.
Why are you looking at me like that? What’s wrong?
You say it quickly and then slower as if to make sure that I heard you.
I heard you the first time despite the loud chatter and crying children around us.
My face must’ve given away my emotions too quickly. I tried to stay strong and hold it together because this isn’t the first time you’ve hurt me like this. You walk away again with the intention of never coming back. And that’s fine, says my rational mind. But my rational mind was not present then.
I run after you and you repeat it. What do you mean? I’m confused. Why are you acting so cold? I’m suddenly freezing. Why are you hurting me? I’m in so much pain. I can’t breathe, I feel as though you’ve got your hands around my neck, strangling me. I’m crying in the middle of the busy shopping centre. But I love you. We’re a team. You’re the one, I say your name.
You tell me that I never was the one.
And just like that, you push me, the furthest you’ve ever pushed me. I’m taken aback by your words emotionally and physically to the point that I stumble and fall. Everybody is watching now. I hear people asking “are you okay?” They try and help me up but all I want is to stay right here. I look up and you’re nowhere to be found.
Our 3 years and our future plans were gone in a 5-minute conversation that left me with so many unanswered questions.
Spring, this year
It’s weird walking down the stairs to the foyer of the hotel without you by my side. Wearing heels sucks. I’ve always been a trainers type of gal. You always laughed at how tiny my feet are and I laughed at how huge yours are no matter what shoes you wear!
The foyer was crowded with unfamiliar faces. I’m anxious. All I can remember is how you would usually keep me close and calm down my anxieties in public places like this.
Suddenly I feel a hand touch mine and jump at the skin contact. It’s one of my friends, complimenting my dress and asking for a photo. I agree to it and start to relax a little bit.
I feel weird.
I see you by the bar. I’m certain it’s is you but I’m not sure, when did you start drinking?
But that’s definitely your hair and glasses. I think you’re still wearing the suit you wore to our first prom together in 2014. You’re wearing a bow tie. Bow ties are cool.
I feel you acknowledge me. It seems like we reversed roles – I avoid your gaze at all costs because looking at you in the eyes would tear me apart. I can’t. You call my name and ask me a question. You only call me Pauline when you are mad at me. I don’t remember what you said. Perhaps it was just casual small talk.
When did we result to small talk?
It makes my skin crawl and I flinch. I reply with something – maybe not the best response – but I was clouded by the anger from betrayal.
You seemed shocked.
I was shocked by how I acted so confident and put together on the outside. Inside, all I wanted to do was scream at you and ask you the questions I don’t have answers for yet.
The evening went on. I heard people asking you if you were okay because you were frowning a lot. I kept smiling and laughing to protect myself from any more pain inflicted by your actions. I won’t cry over you again.
Who is she?
Actually, I don’t mind.
Where are you?
You know what, it doesn’t matter.
Do you still love me?
Do I still love you?
I think I’ll love you for a while.
A while defined as forever.
I’ve come to learn that relationships aren’t easy. Effort from both parties is important. I can’t lie to you or anyone else and say that I was perfect, you know full well that I was far from it. But what I can confidently say is that during our time together, I was dedicated and committed to you and only you.
Long-term relationships can be easy to take for granted after a while. The assumption that your other half will always be there is an easy trap to fall into. I know that at times I did and I’ve learnt since to be more mindful of this and to appreciate every moment and to consistently express gratitude.
Letting go has been the hardest part of this and closure was something I never really got from you. There is no point in me keeping in anger and resentment anymore. Putting the past behind me will always be difficult and for the first few months, my only way of coping was to hate you for hurting me.
This year, I found myself somewhere else in the world, outside of our city, often in awe of beautiful views.
One day, as I hiked up to see the sunrise, I thought of you and I thought of what had been. What filled my mind and heart was not resentment but an underlying feeling of gratitude and appreciation.
I was grateful for the advice, the heart-to-heart conversations late at night on everything and anything, the moments of vulnerability, the continuous love and support over three years, the protection from the bad people and things, the things I learned from our time together, the jokes only we would know, the places only we would know.
Although the memories will always be stabbing me in the back, I appreciate your generous heart during the time. If I could do it all over again, knowing full well that it would end like this, I would volunteer without hesitation. Why?
You allowed me to love.
You allowed me to be loved.
Letting me go, the way you did, broke me apart, yes but also resulted in the most positive self-growth.
I am a different woman: I am wiser and stronger. I know how what I deserve. I know how to love better, I am in love. I remember who I am; an individual rather than just someone who is ‘yours.’
There’s the saying:
People come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime
You came into my life for a reason, stayed for all four seasons (three times actually) and gave me a lifetime of lessons. I recognise what you brought into my life and I am eternally thankful.
During a time in space, you were the one.
During my present time in space, you are the one I loved intensely, the one I grew up with, the one I shared the best moments of my life with, the one I will always admire, the one with many names, the one I will cherish forever.
*Featured image by Aaron Blaise