When I was fifteen I made a mistake that I now seem to be paying for every day of my life. In my moments of terror, when I relive what happened, I find myself wishing to go back in time and slap myself around the face, tell myself I’m messing up our future, push myself in the opposite direction, do anything I can to stop that mistake.
I recently met the most amazing guy in the world. I’m so lucky to have him and I thank my own ridiculously good fortune every time I get to wake up next to him, kiss him, or even just hold his hand in the street. But sometimes, something he says or does snaps me into a trance and instead of my beautiful boyfriend, I see my boyfriend of three years ago. Someone I’d happily never think of again – and one day I hope to.
You see, at fifteen, I was going through my ‘rebellious stage’. It wasn’t as big as some people’s. I didn’t start some wild house parties, or end up in jail, or – I dunno – run away to the circus. No, I got a boyfriend. A boyfriend, however, which I’d been expressly forbidden to get. I realise now, it was incredibly obvious to my parents that such a person existed in my life. Mainly because every time they’d come into the room, I’d flip over my phone so they couldn’t see who I was talking to whilst looking incredibly sheepish. And on the two occasions in the three month relationship he actually – God forbid! – took me out on a date, my thinly-veiled deception about where I was had more holes than my grandmother’s net curtains. In short, I’ve never been a good liar. Why I thought then was a good time to try picking it up, I’ll never know.
He was a bit older (but not by much) and attended the local school for ruffians just round the corner from mine. And he had a moustache. This felt extremely important to me at the time. I’m not sure why. Though I do remember a particularly notable Art GCSE lesson in my all-girls’ grammar, in which those sitting around me sat in wide-eyed amazement at 1) the idea of me having a boyfriend and 2) the moustache. It wasn’t that impressive really. It looked as you’d expected a teenage male’s facial hair attempts to look – as though he carefully trimmed the ape-like hair off his toes and Pritt-Sticked it to his upper lip. It itched and got up my nose every time I kissed him, and frankly made him (I thought) look like a bit of a knob. But all the same, nothing was more impressive than that bit of bum-fluff balanced under his nose.
We met via Facebook. We had three mutual friends – practically best buddies! He commented on a photo of one of said friends. As did I. Soon we were discussing who was the Robin to the other’s Batman, and then apologising to our friend for spamming his feed. A modern day whirlwind romance! Romeo and Juliet can suck it.
Before I knew it, our conversations became more serious. He’d call me “m’lady” and tell me how much he loved me – despite us having never met. All the same, it was important we told everyone of our new relationship by updating our statuses.
Then it was time for our first meeting. We met after school and had the most awkward kiss. I don’t know if you’ve ever kissed someone you’ve never met before but are supposedly in love with, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The second time we met in person, we went on a date to the cinema. Why a second ticket was bought is still beyond me. He insisted I sit on his lap for the entire film, on the back row (of course). During the film, without warning, he pushed his hand down my top and squeezed a little too hard. When I gave a yelp, he looked at me with big sad eyes as though he was hurt I wouldn’t do this for him. It should have been one of many signs to me that I should be running – running as far and as fast away from him as I could – but I thought it was just part of relationships. I thought, as the girl in the relationship, it was my job to let him do as he wished. And people ask me why I’m a feminist now?!
The third and final time I ever saw him in person, was the last day of the autumn school term. We’d both had half-days at school because we were breaking up for the Christmas holidays. He told me he’d take me somewhere “special”. It would be quiet and secluded where we wouldn’t be “interrupted”. The park between our two schools had just had all these little saplings planted. After walking me from my school gate and round the corner – even offering to carry me through the mud (such a gentleman?!) – he led me into this muddled maze of new branches.
Suddenly there’s wet grass under my feet. I can feel it dampening my toes through my worn school shoes and tights. The little branches nip at my clothing – all just a little too small for me in my final year of school. He is sat below me, looking up expectantly from where he’s laid his coat over the dew. I shift awkwardly from foot to foot not sure what he wants from me.
But now I’m on the ground too. No, on his lap. My knees are tucked up to my chest and I’m not sure what I want, but I’m starting to realise it’s not this. My heart is speeding closer and closer to explosion from my chest, and my mind charging through the thoughts of my turned-off mobile sitting at the bottom of my bag that’s hanging in my peripheral vision. Just out of my reach.
He gives me his sad eyes – his ‘why won’t you do this for me’ expression – and places his hand on my knees. “I love you. Please.” he whispers. A small moment of doubt flashes over my thoughts and in that second, I relax my knees just a bit.
Quickly, there’s the pain ripping from my legs through my abdomen as he carelessly seeks out where he wanted his hand to go. I screw up my eyes and bite my lip to stop myself crying out.
And now we’re kissing, although I’ve started crying. He looks at me shocked, as if surprised I could produce such an emotion. So he apologises, realising it was his doing.
Finally, my stiff and frozen body has woken up. It’s picking me up, finding my bag, transporting me out of there. Away from the grabbing fingers of the branches that snag my tights, away from the sad eyes that grab my heart strings and snag my better judgement. I’m sliding through the mud trying to get away. “No. Please. No.”
He’s on my tail, grabbing my hand and trying to say sorry. He won’t stop. He won’t stop saying he regrets it, he didn’t mean it.
And just as suddenly as I found myself there, I find myself free. I’m not in the park. Or even in the same town. I’m sitting on my bed in my uni halls – eight hours away from where it all happened. Three years away from when it all happened. I’m not looking at the mud or the grass or that bloody moustache. I’m staring into the scared face of my wonderful loving boyfriend. I’m staring just a little too long at the stubble beginning to grow on his upper lip. My breathing is so erratic that I feel light-headed and don’t notice the sting of tears down my cheeks.
It’s not fair. I know I’ve scared him. Every time I look at him and don’t see him, I know I’ve hurt him. But all the same, he’s there shaving at the slightest darkening of his chin; avoiding mention of going for a walk; steering clear of telling me he loves me at the wrong moment. He’s trying so hard for me. I keep asking myself if I’m trying hard enough for him. The answer is: I don’t know. Can I stop this? If I think really hard enough, the leaves on the saplings look all wrong. They’re a kind of purple-y colour. Or this time, I’ve left my bag in a different place. I can tell it’s not real. I know I’m remembering it wrong. Am I just making all this up? Maybe if I really try, I won’t ever think about it again and I can commit to this relationship. I can cope. I can be normal.