I was in love with #78. I mean, it’s not like this is some amazing new revelation: I said it at the time. But I’ve looked back on it since and tried to figure out if it really was the case, because you know, sometimes things get clouded by the intensity of the moment, and sometimes you look back and rewrite history and decide it wasn’t love after all, because it no longer makes enough sense to you. The way I was just role-playing with #4, or how I’ve come to think of #117 as the biggest mistake I ever made. But I still think I was in love with #78, no matter what way I look at it now.
I mean, afterwards, I tried to write off the things I liked about him as being superficial. Great, a lip piercing, a history of shoplifting, fluent in Irish, so what? But then there were the mornings we’d lie in bed talking, and the time he kissed me in an alleyway in Dublin and said “I love you, crazy girl.” There was more, a lot more, but I’m not here to talk about that. It’s just that it all felt so right, I couldn’t brush it away even though it didn’t last.
I met him at the Mission, of all places. It was my first time back there after the night I was a drunken train wreck. I’d avoided the place for a while and of course when I came back it wasn’t like anyone gave a damn either way. I met #78 and I’d got my whole mix of bravado and insecurity with me. I might talk a good talk but things change when I’m alone with somebody. I took him back to my place and we talked and made out till he left at maybe 8 in the morning.
He was back that evening. I made dinner, we watched a film with friends, and he spent the night. I knew already that this was the start of something big. It still amazes me that this is something it’s possible to know: or is that just another kind of rewriting history, optimism that happens to turn out good?
The thing was, #78 lived in Dublin. He was only in Edinburgh for a weekend with friends, but he came straight back and spent a week or so at my place. I couldn’t get over how easy it felt to be around him. He wanted to transfer his studies to Edinburgh, but of course that was a lost cause.
After his departure, I spent two weeks travelling in Malaysia and Singapore with #28. I was into the trip, but it was also driving me crazy to be so far away from #78 when I so badly wanted to explore where this was going. I needed to just enjoy this trip, which we’d planned for a while, but there’s this sense of urgency that overrides everything else when you feel like something really important is going on elsewhere. I e-mailed him from internet cafés when I got the chance, and I was excited to get photos of him developed while I was away. I still have the photos, but nowadays they’re in an envelope marked PICTURES OF #78 DO NOT LOOK UNLESS FEELING HIGHLY STABLE. I transferred them there long ago, after everything went wrong. I’ve felt stable for a long time now, I just never transferred them back.
Two days after getting back from Asia, I took the plunge and flew to Dublin. I figured if things went horribly wrong then I’d spend a night in a hostel and then go and hang out up in Belfast instead. But he met me at the airport and all the fear went away as I figured out that this hadn’t actually been a horrific idea.
For the first few months, once I felt confident that we were stable enough to cope with the distance, it was fine. I threw myself into my studies and got a lot of valuable work done, and I was happy and each month one of us would visit the other for several days. Dublin was so much more spread out than Edinburgh, and it was complicated by the fact that he didn’t have a home. Most of his friends didn’t either. Much of the day would be spent doing the rounds at university, seeking a sofa to crash on for the night. Once or twice when I visited, he paid someone to give up their bed for a few nights. Or we’d go back to his mum’s in Naas. I liked her a lot: she was unconventional, quirky, I didn’t feel like I needed to censor myself or be all formal. And I got on with his friends. It didn’t seem like there was anything to worry about.
After the first few months, though, the fear got bigger. When you’re in a long-distance relationship, one that was long-distance from the start so you’ve never known what it might be like to live a normal life together, you can sometimes worry about your grip on reality. When I went to visit him I was afraid that he would be someone else, that it would no longer be as easy as it had been up until now. And that’s kind of how it turned out, and I wondered whether it all would have been fine if only I could have kept my own insecurity at bay, whether it was essentially my own fault that things had cooled with this person who I believed was perfect for me. I started looking for signs that he still cared about me, whereas before I had simply known. I got quiet and I was afraid to admit I craved reassurance, because suddenly I was scared that that would look too needy. I guess I hoped he’d notice I was different and he’d ask what was wrong, tell me everything would be okay, but it didn’t turn out that way.
After we saw in the new millennium in Edinburgh together (awkward: a party I discovered I didn’t actually feel like having, and #112 was visiting at my own invitation, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time alone together), he returned to Dublin and almost immediately I booked flights over for a few weeks later. I didn’t even wait for a token invitation; I needed to know that my trip was going to happen, and that way I could get through the time leading up to it. And when I got there, nothing felt right. I’d started having panic attacks by then, which was another thing I didn’t feel like owning up to: I had to choose between potentially seeming weird by openly talking about them, and probably seeming very weird by trying to cover up how anxious I felt the whole time. When we went out to places, #78 spent a lot of time talking to his former partner in crime, a girl who’d avoided speaking to me thus far, so it felt like I was in the Boulevard again waiting for #2 or #3 to come over and act like we were actually going out together. Even physically, it wasn’t the same any more – I felt clumsy, like I was suddenly with a stranger and like I’d forgotten whatever it was I’d wanted to do.
Another pitfall of being in a long-distance relationship: the only people I knew in Dublin were #78 and his friends; I couldn’t really walk out of a bar and just go home. I should have gone up to Belfast and spent my mother’s sixtieth birthday with her, but instead I chose to stick around with #78 in case things miraculously got better. They didn’t.
#78 said goodbye to me on 1 February 2000 as I boarded the airport bus, and I knew I wasn’t going to be visiting him again and he wasn’t going to be visiting me. I cried all the way onto the plane, all the way to Glasgow Prestwick, all the way to Edinburgh on the train. I wrote about it in the on-line journal I kept back then, and he e-mailed me and told me not to write this shit, something like that. What I’d written had pretty much been an appeal for help, I guess, and I’m not proud of it and I wouldn’t do things that way nowadays, but anyway there I was, still in limbo and I knew that doom was on its way.
I got the letter a month later. “I still love you,” he explained, “just not the distance.” It was impossible for me to comprehend. I figured if you loved someone, you would just find a way to deal with the distance. Of course, I had more disposable income than he did, so it wasn’t quite so hard for me. But I don’t think that was all there was to it, either. I was confused and distraught and he wasn’t giving me the answers I needed.
Even though the relationship only lasted six months (although don’t knock it: I still consider that lengthy), it’s the one that took me the longest to get over. Even when I was seeing other people and having a perfectly nice time, part of me was still pining for him. I was in mourning for a long time. I scuffed through the cherry blossoms and then the autumn leaves and then the snow and I kept on missing him. I went to Scandinavia and I went to Japan and I went to Belfast and I missed him. He e-mailed me once in a blue moon and attempted friendly conversation, but he acted all breezy, like everything was cool, and it wasn’t cool with me. So I gave up on trying to communicate with him. I told myself that if I thought he was so goddamn perfect, there’d be someone else out there who was equally goddamn perfect, only with the added bonus of wanting to stay in a relationship with me.
I heard from him out of the blue in June 2005. I’d had ten copies of my zine on sale in the zine shop in Dublin and he bought one of them. He e-mailed me and told me he liked it, told me the things it made him think about, and then he apologised for acting so callously when we broke up. He said he didn’t know why he behaved like that. By now, I didn’t need to know why: all I had needed was an apology, and now I had it, and we could move on.
We’ve met a couple of times since then. The last time was just a couple of months ago. We met up in Dublin and I was nervous before I met him and then it was absolutely fine. One cup of tea turned into two cups and then a walk and then drinks and then dinner with my friends. And it felt like being with an old friend, like we understood each other, sharing jokes and stuff. And the weirdest thing about it was that it didn’t really feel weird. But I’ll tell you something, and I have no agenda here: I could still see why I had fallen for him. I have no agenda, I just wasn’t sure where to file how that made me feel.