What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I no longer feel like I would do it again: I changed my mind, I think it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. … I can’t do it. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. But this time around I don’t think I can’t do it. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, there’s no way that I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things would end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on I just felt this “Oh god..” feeling in my body. She looked hot, and as much as my brain could try to ignore it, my body told me in no uncertain terms how I felt.

I like her so much. But we must live in this universe, this world in which we like each other but it will never be realised. Nothing will ever happen, and one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out the way I wanted it to. And of course… sometimes it doesn’t work out, at all. When this happens again, first with S. and now with A. … I begin to wonder whether I really am treating people as if they are a goal, a challenge to beat. Am I unknowingly seeing these people as not people, but prey? Am I disregarding what is right, what I should do, how I should behave, purely for my own selfish interests? Life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

The Words We Cannot Speak

“[T]o love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

– Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

So much of life is about loss, and how we deal with it, process it, keep moving afterwards. I told my best friend M. that I love her, and that this feeling scares me because love is like my lungs have been scooped out and replaced with pop-rocks. She told me she sometimes feels as if she loves in a surface way, shallow and never quite getting so deep. When she loses someone, when someone dies, she cries and then keeps on with life.

I feel right now as if someone tied me up with red threads, as if the world is so much tinier than I imagined and all these connections are pulling me in different ways. What do I do with all the loves I have? How do I explain to people: I adore you, I miss you, I love you so much that the base of my spine turns to butterflies when I think of you. I can’t help but feel so alone sometimes with these feelings, like nobody else feels so strong and keeps it all so pushed inside. I store it in my bones, in my blood, and yet when the time comes to actually say the words I can’t, I can’t, and instead all that comes out is tepid.

The flipside of that coin is that I’m fickle, easily extinguished if I don’t get enough to keep the flame alive. I cannot say that either: if you don’t love me enough, if you don’t show me enough, the fear fills me again and I will leave. But where do I go? I can’t say what I need to say, and the sadness of losing someone makes me feel so scared that I just push it away and move backwards, move away, put something in between us so that the loss will not be so much. But all the feelings are still there, everything still simmers underneath, I just need the right thing to wake it up.

I think when it comes to my flight or fight response, I’m all flight.

I met a girl on Thursday who had a tattoo of a cormorant on her back. She told me that the cormorant stretches its wings out after diving, to dry them. It’s one of the only aquatic birds in the world that does not have fully water-repellent wings.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But with her, she gave me a home here, she became my home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin begins and ends with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something special between us. It’s so very special to me, and in my life it’s something rare.

I read this poem last week and remembered how awesome it is. It’s pretty well-known but I think it’s beautiful and at the moment it really resonates with me.

This is [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by E. E. Cummings.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like New Zealand. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least.

My fuck-buddy replied quickly when I messaged her, she was kind and told me that she understands. If I want to message her again one day, I can, she said. I told her what I need and everything was fine. I’m not used to this.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into the world. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.

Your Body is Not My Body

Your body is not my body
You don’t need to take those rocks from your chest and hurl them through my windows
I’m already broken enough

but the one thing that isn’t
is that I refuse to be afraid of heights

and every morning I get into a hot air balloon and float up into the sky.
that’s joy, flame underneath and bright colours up top
because down below is just a pit of all we could carry

My body goes through metamorphosis, heaviness into light to save itself

without doing that

I

just

sink

suffocating in a mine shaft filled with stormwater

so I go up, whether you’re with me or not but you can follow me out, if you want to

And even if
even if
even if we are on fire, so what?
you can grow many things out of ashes.

You say you’ve been burned before but I already lost my wings, time and time again this body has been alight
that horrible scent of charred flesh
then plucked like a dead canary, feathers ripped off
bloody back, kneeling down prostrate and praying to nobody in a tunnel with no end.
but now my god is eros
see I’m not afraid of flying, and no matter how many rocks you hold
this balloon can still carry you.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tomorrow is the 9 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Discussing it is still so hard for me, and yet I’m increasingly realising that I must find better ways of dealing with it and talking about it. When I recount how he died, when I explain everything, I somehow feel like I have to give people a disclaimer.

It’s a pretty morbid story. I don’t know if you want to hear it.

I tend to avoid talking about it. But when someone starts asking about the scars on my arms, or about my depression, or about being a teenager, inevitably the topic of my stepdad comes up. And then through talking about my stepdad, I talk about my brother, and the whole dark and twisted story comes out. There’s no good way to talk about it all, there’s no simple way to say it. When I push the words out of my mouth it’s like I’m shoving them through a barrier of cotton wool, as if by uttering them, the person I’m speaking to will be so horrified that they will disappear in a puff of smoke.

He drowned, okay? He had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub.

If he was alive he would be 18 years old now. I can’t even imagine what he would be like, what his life would be like, what any of our lives would be like. When I think about him my chest feels tight and heavy, and I feel as if my mother must be consumed by this sorrow so large that she cannot even begin to climb it.

I remember stroking his hair in the hospital when he was in the paediatric ICU. His hair was flattened into a Johnny-Bravo-style peak, from everyone stroking his hair in the same way. It was so soft.

The doctors had to test if he had any brain activity remaining, so my parents could decide if they wanted to switch off the life support or not. The doctor shone a torch into his eyes, and I stared so hard at his pupils just hoping and screaming inside my head: “React! MOVE! JUST DO SOMETHING”. But nothing happened, they turned off the life support, and that was it.

I hated his hugs, because he was always sticky and slimy and he was so skinny that his hugs were bony and painful. He would hug me and say “I love you, Leah”; he’d wake me up at 3am, standing by my bed, wanting me to play with him; my boyfriend and I would babysit him and take him places and look after him as if we were our own little family. But then he was dead and the hugs were gone and I wished with every piece of my body that I could go back in time and love him better, pay him more attention, spend more time with him, make sure he knew in his bones that I adored him even though he drove me crazy.

Four brothers seems like a lot to most people. But to me it seems like such a tiny number, just four. Four doesn’t seem like enough, when it should have been five.

Destroy Me

I can see it happening, barrelling into my life like a freight train, a train I’ve ridden far too many times and jumped off far too many times to count.

I read you and I hear you and I feel you and I taste this pulling, dragging desire, bubbling up inside my chest, a hot pink thick soup of fear tinged with longing, cursing and calling as if all these oceans aren’t too far for you to hear me.

Every tiny word that sprouts from you is lightning in my veins, just a thrill please one more, I’ll take it if you want to give it.

I want it, all of it, all of you. I haven’t even touched your skin or heard your voice, but I know it in my bones that if you said so I would get on a boat tomorrow and sail into the moon just to eat ice cream with you and let it drip onto my body, you can lick it off and wash me with your tongue. It’s too much, I’m always too much, this feeling is too much, but it’s in me and you know I can’t push down lava, eventually it always explodes.

I can see this other me, this me that didn’t leave, this me that comes home, this me that feels the magnetism of another person more strongly than I can possibly explain, this me who wants just to try it, just to taste it, to feel all my senses alive in your bedroom.

But how can I say these words to you, you with all your strength. You could break me, shatter me into a million pieces, and do whatever you wanted. And the worst part is, I would let you.

We’re With You

Everyone cares about what other people think. I’ve been fighting against it for so long, taking tiny steps towards doing what I feel is right, presenting my true self, and living authentically. But there are still times when I think to myself “Am I doing enough? Do I still care too much? Should I come out of the proverbial closet just a little bit more?”.

We’re all driven by a desire for people to like us. It’s only problematic when that desire overtakes our own selves, to the point where we don’t ever do anything weird or unconventional or challenging, simply for fear of having the people we care about turn their backs on us.

One tiny thing that has helped me has been (surprisingly), Twitter. I started posting things. My thoughts. Re-tweeting jokes I thought were funny. I stopped worrying if anyone liked what I posted. I slowly gained followers, random people who saw some reply of mine to someone ‘bigger’. Some Twitter comedian that nobody knows unless you spend too much time on the internet.

I wrote about my ex-girlfriend, and how she dumped me. I wrote about my queer identity, my marriage, our lives, our kids, my political views. I forgot that my husband’s father follows me on Twitter.

My daughter E woke up one morning with tonsils so huge that they were blocking her throat. I rushed with her to the ENT, and struggled to explain in broken German what was wrong with her. The doctor looked in her throat for a few seconds at most, and said with a serious and firm voice “She needs surgery”. I posted on Twitter about this experience, and later that day sent an email to my in-laws back home, explaining what was happening and when the surgery would be.

When my father-in-law replied “I saw your Tweet and photo” I felt this weird feeling in my stomach. He saw my Tweet? Does that mean he saw my Tweets about my girlfriend? About getting dumped? About polyamory and getting high and being queer? I wondered what he thought. I love my husband M with all my heart. I had this cold and heavy thought that my father-in-law would think I was cheating on M, or that I didn’t love M, or that I was somehow messing up our family.

I hurriedly replied with a huge email, detailing various aspects of our lives, being careful to include how happy we are, holidays we planned together, information about our mostly-very-normal life. And then I wrote it: “You follow me on Twitter?! I tweet about a lot of stuff I don’t put elsewhere so that’s… Probably raising various questions for you…”. I decided that tackling it head-on would be best, and that if he had any questions about my other partners or about the stability of my relationship with M, he could just ask me.

It turns out that when you marry someone as wonderful as M, you should not give his parents too little credit.

My father-in-law replied within an hour, giving me all the updates on their life back in New Zealand, expressing sympathy about E’s surgery, asking me what I plan for my career when both my kids are in Kita.

And then at the end he included one final comment:

I’m a very rare twitter viewer – mostly just look when I have a few notifications come up. Don’t worry – just be real 🙂 We’re with you.

So I guess that’s the end of the story. I care immensely about what they think. Nothing worse than having your husband’s family hate your guts. But they’re with me. They’re with me, despite all the life decisions that I’m sure they wouldn’t make in a million years. That’s a pretty wonderful thing to happen; to accidentally take your mask off, and have the people that you love still support and care for everything that’s underneath.

Loving You Was Breathing

Finally it happened. I wrote before about choosing love, and not being afraid. So I walked that walk and let myself be carried along with a feeling that years ago would have terrified me. It turns out that when you open up your whole heart, sometimes it gets broken.

After J, I started a relationship with a woman called S. She is married and has a little girl called E. My own daughter and E are such good friends, it’s amazing to watch how much they like each other.

S and I met at our childrens’ Kita. We started with playdates, ‘Mom dates’, and wine. But something began for us, something totally unexpected and way out of left field. One night at dinner she touched my arm, and the attraction that flared up was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt my heart leap while this dread sunk into my bones: “Don’t get a crush on her. Don’t fall for her. She just wants to be friends. Fuck.” I tried to be nice, friendly, caring, without letting myself get in too deep. I didn’t want to be outed as queer, I didn’t want to mess up our friendship. So I kept quiet. For months we would hug outside Kita when we picked up our children, and I’d breathe in and not want to let go. I’d bury my face in her hair and my whole chest would turn to butterflies.

I found out months later that the spark had not just been me. She had panicked and messaged her best friend, scared about what she was feeling, uncertain about what to do about it, unsure about having this feeling for a woman for the first time in her life. Afraid of ruining her relationship with her husband, S went back and forth about what to do; should she pursue something, stay silent, ignore it? She gave me small and quiet hints; a comment about loving my hugs; a text about wanting to feel that uncertainty of not knowing if someone likes you back or not. Over time these hints became louder, and I began to feel like she wanted it, she wanted me. Every time we hugged it felt like I was going to burst, the attraction was obvious and urgent and clear. My husband M was already cool with what I wanted; smiling, he encouraged me to go for it. S decided to take the risk, and asked her husband if it was okay if she and I pursued something. He, wonderful man that he is, said yes.

She asked me out for drinks and told me that we could do what we liked. I drank the rest of my wine so fast, from that moment my brain had turned to static. We walked out the door of the bar and I couldn’t do anything but kiss her. We made out on the street, reaching into each other’s clothes with a rushing intensity that only comes with tension that has been denied for too long. She ran her hands over my body, dragging her nails over my skin, kissing me with a feverish desire for more; when she pushed up my dress and put her mouth on my nipple, my heart and blood and body dissolved. People were watching. I didn’t care.

We continued as we began, frantic, desperate. She called me her girlfriend, our families began to spend more and more time together, I got to know her husband, I began to love her daughter.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Suddenly, out of the blue, it was gone. She was too tired, too exhausted by motherhood and life and everything that made demands of her, she had nothing left for me. I’m the kind of person that takes a lot of energy to get to know. I’m complicated and anxious, intense and moody, and sometimes so sex-driven that I can’t focus on anything else. It was all too much for her, and she and I kept saying things that hurt each other. I saw it happen like a drip of water falling from a tap not quite shut, dripping and dripping over the course of a week and then the faucet was suddenly on, extinguishing everything.

We met up for a sleepover, and it felt as if her body had turned to stone. She told me she didn’t know how to say it, but I already knew what she would tell me. It was gone. We had lost it. I hugged her and I felt her face twist into this painful disappointment. I didn’t understand it but this horrible feeling was too obvious to ignore. We cried at what had happened.

I grabbed my things and she drove me home. Her husband was confused; he had been so supportive of the whole thing from the beginning. He liked me, he cared about me, he wanted “our thing” to work. She was sad. I was sad.

The morning brought this strange pain into my chest, like something was raw inside. She didn’t want it anymore. Somehow, this thing, this beautiful and special thing, was over. She sent me a text saying “I love you”.

She said that most people feel too proud to want to carry on a relationship after they get dumped. I felt the opposite; I felt so happy that I had let myself be open and curious and ultimately, hurt. Life goes on. I downloaded Tinder and got a ton of matches within the space of two days, and I have a date tonight with a beautiful woman who seems intelligent, kind, and interesting. My husband still adores me, I love my kids, I’m enjoying my study and my life and all that lies before me. Getting hurt and letting someone else be in control was a big thing for me. But somehow I felt good. I felt strong. For the first time in a long time I felt powerful and confident and secure.

Now when I hug her and breathe in, I smell her perfume and feel my heart skip a beat. I just let it beat this way, this shuddering, gasping beat. I saw the joy in her smile when she was with me. I saw the love in her eyes and felt it in her kiss. I saw the pain in her heart when it was over. I don’t ever want to be afraid of loving anyone ever again, because the joy, the passion, the desire, her smile and excitement when she looked at me … it was all worth it. In the end it was gone too soon, and in the end we both got hurt. But if I had to go back and make a choice of whether or not to have it, even knowing that it ended this way, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would do it again. I’d let my heart beat again, and again, and gasp “yes”, a thousand times over.

It Only Took Me 29 Years

I’ve been thinking about beginnings. A friend of mine, J, told me once that moving to a new city is a chance to reinvent yourself, to start over.

But I have always lived two lives anyway: my real life, and my reinvented, sanitised life that I present to people. I simply don’t talk about a lot of stuff, as if the details of my world are somehow shameful or unimportant. That inability to talk, that reluctance to be open, is something that has slowly eaten away at me over the years, and it made me feel inauthentic and hollow. Now that I’m getting to know J, and another friend S, I’m starting to feel like maybe I should be more like them.

J has a correspondence art project between herself and another artist. One of their mission statements is this:

Conservation of Energy (knowing– exactly –when to “end”/knowing what is a “beginning”)

In my eyes, a beginning is about change. Often it’s a conscious choice to change state; a movement in ideas and approach, with the result that things are new, refreshed, and unique.

The other friend, S, writes about the shift in her worldview when she moved from new York to Mexico, and then the turbulent relationship with her son’s father. When she found out she was pregnant, he left her. In a Mexican farm town in the middle of nowhere, he left her and didn’t come back. She says she won’t tell her child this story, she will only say that he chose fear and she chose love. It’s her own story of beginnings, as well as big decisions that change your life forever.

The choice between love and fear is one I live every day, with every person I interact with, including myself. Against my own desires, fear seems to be my default choice. I’m anxious, untrusting, wary. With certain people, choosing love is a struggle. With J, it’s a struggle. I am more afraid than I have been in a long time, in my interactions with her.

But I decided years ago to choose love wherever I could, to push myself to be brave.

Six years ago, my friend T was just about to get married. He and I had this complicated sort of love. He was dedicated, completely, to his fiancee. I had just begun a relationship with my now-husband, M. But T and I had this connection that felt so thick, like a twisted piece of boat-rope, linking our hearts and pulling them together. Whenever I looked at him, I felt as if there was someone else inside his head, a much older person just hiding behind his face, loving and loving and loving, pushing it outwards like brilliant light.

I travelled to his wedding alone, and on the day of it we found little pieces of time to connect. He had a million people to talk to and thank, he was busy getting married, of course. But it felt like every moment he had spare, he would come and stand with me, smiling, warm. He danced with his wife, his mother, his sister, and then me.

Four months later, I got in the car again to go back, this time for his funeral. Living in his new house with his new wife, he had died of a brain aneurysm in the night. As I held his wife’s hand, I wondered what it felt like to be her. I imagined that her soul had been cut out and doused in kerosene; she was watching it burn with the life she had planned.

Whenever I think of what happened, I just feel so angry. T embodied love, he was absolutely everything that love should be. It felt so unfair that it was him who was gone, like the world had suddenly become a much worse place.

Before him, I had always blindly chosen fear, not recognising that I was torching my own life one piece at a time. I’m the girl who has never been dumped. The second somebody starts to seem like they might reject me, I reject them first. Walk out the door, close off my heart, never look back. I was so afraid of being hurt that I could never really love anyone.

After he was gone I couldn’t do that anymore. I felt as if I would be disappointing him. I chose love with M, and I chose it again and again and again, even in moments where previously I would have been out of there so fucking fast I’d leave a me-shaped hole in the wall.

The beginning here is this: to start to choose love with my own broken, messed up brain, to allow myself to love others, and to value my own experiences. I’ve been so afraid, for the longest time, of everything, of what others think of me, of the thousands of ways in which people can rip my heart out and throw it on the ground.

But this fear wasn’t born in me, it was made. My Dad left, and then my stepdad came and broke all the pieces of me that were still whole. And then something happened inside me, a black rot in my stomach that slowly took over my body and mind. I was so scared of being rejected, so scared of being hurt, that I slowly became a shadow of a person, barely breathing at all.

But fuck all of that. I started on the road to change things a long time ago, but now I need to take a conscious step towards being less afraid, more trusting, more loving, and simply taking the risk of whatever comes. A beginning is a choice to change things, and I choose this.