I was the one they always warn you about. They say, “Okay, so she dumped her last boyfriend to be with you. So how do you know she won’t leave you for someone else?” And that’s pretty much what I did. Or what I tried to do.
At the end, #20 was still in Germany, working at the factory where I’d only lasted four and a half shifts, so he could get some money together to move to Edinburgh in my wake. We said goodbye in Frankfurt airport on 24 September 1996 and four days later I moved to Scotland. I didn’t know what my new life was going to be like.
I met the microbe boy on 2 October, I guess, and two weeks after that I broke up with #20 when he called me from Germany, when he expected just an ordinary how-are-you, I-miss-you phone call. The microbe boy doesn’t have a number because we never kissed, despite my best efforts. And I figured that, whether breaking up with #20 would change his mind or not – and god how I hoped it would – I needed to do it, because it wasn’t fair to continue a relationship when I had these conflicted emotions. And I’d been there before, so I reckoned I knew.
All his plans and expectations, fucked up to his surprise when he stepped into the phone box in Neustadt, and me wanting to speed it up and get it over with just so I could get to the next step. The next step, and this is poetic justice I guess, was the microbe boy two days later telling me he was going to go out with someone else. A bottle of vodka in my room on a Friday night, and crying on the shoulders of people I barely knew yet. #20 visited a few weeks later and tried to talk me into taking him back; I never told him about the microbe chronicles, but I figured I didn’t deserve to be with him, so I said no. That, and I guess I was still trying to get to grips with my new life. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that as part of a pre-existing couple.
Nowadays, I think he lives in the States and makes special effects for films. I hope he’s happy. I’d contact him but I don’t know what I’d say and I don’t know if he’d want to hear from me. He wrote me a few letters in the first couple of years after we broke up. Nearly three years on, we met in Glasgow one afternoon in July and I told him I wanted him back. He said he figured he still loved me, but he couldn’t trust me. He said no. My delayed reaction finally kicked in: the leaver wasn’t supposed to have regrets, and yet I did.
Ultimately he did make the right decision. I wanted it to be like it used to be like, and there was nothing to guarantee I wouldn’t fuck it up again. My experience with #18 had already proved that good intentions are not always enough.
“#20 smokes Marlboro which is probably the brand I prefer, and besides I’m always so stressed out when I’m with him.” – journal entry, late 1995
#20 and I were hanging out weekends while I was still going out with #18. You could say there was kind of a class thing which I didn’t really give any thought to at the time: #18 was working minimum wage or less than; sometimes he’d have to get up at 5am just so he could walk to the airport for work, and with all this in mind it was no wonder he wanted to stay in and take it easy in his free time. But with #20, I had someone to hang out with on the Belfast music scene. He was in his final year of university and I’d left school by now; after a few months of unemployment I’d found a 9-5 office job which, though it didn’t pay amazing money by any stretch of the imagination, gave me some disposable income, some interesting work, and a place to publish my zine.
I used to crash at #20’s place and sleep on the floor, but all we really needed was a bottle or two of Ravers 20/20 and then it all started. And when it’s illicit it’s fucking hot. I’d scoot the guilt into another section of my mind and focus on the moment, worry about it in the morning. I didn’t tell #18. But he knew. He wasn’t stupid. And I didn’t know what to do. It was like I was in emotional debt and I had already made my decision to be with #18 and I couldn’t change my mind. It was the age-old fucking story. Back and forth and lies and excuses.
I guess things shifted when #20 wrote me a letter. “I’ve never said this to anyone b4 but walking home I knew. On paper seems second rate but I guess here goes. I love you.” I tried to not let it matter, because I was supposed to stay with #18 for the rest of my life, right? “Anything we shouldn’t have done, we have done it,” #20 pointed out. It hurt either way, I figured, and I didn’t have the strength to cut things off with #18. Until I did. “I should have been selfish all along,” I wrote in my journal – for everyone’s sake, not just mine.
But this is what it was like once we got together for real: Skateboarding at 2am. French films at the QFT. The guest list at the Empire every weekend. Action like whoa. Mix tapes and zines. JD Salinger and early Douglas Coupland. Someone who understood me. And love. It was pretty fucking idyllic, to be honest: twelve years on and I’d do it over if I could.
So it’s hard to explain how a stranger was able to walk right in and inadvertently cancel it all. Maybe I was just too young. Maybe I needed to figure out my new life alone. Maybe I just couldn’t be trusted.