The fire was lit in the corner of the room. The flames glowing with a bit more intensity every time the chimney breathed. She walked into the room; in from the cold. Took off the glove on her left hand, one finger at a time, and set it on the table in the middle of the room. The right one followed. She took off her coat slowly, walking over to the window to see the snow falling, to look up and watch the snowflakes instead of nestling her nose down into her scarf as she had only minutes ago, walking up the street.
This was where they met that time. Once. When he wasn’t so sure how he felt and she was sure that she loved him. Not that she ever told him that. She couldn’t. Madness to hand over your heart when you’re not sure there’s anywhere for it to go. But that didn’t mean she had it any longer. It just sat there dripping in her hand, beating, waiting, growing heavier and drying out in the hot air of this room.
That was a long time ago. Now the room was hot, but only with the heat of the fire. It was no longer full of the wet heat of kisses and smiles, interlocking fingers and glances held too long. The air doesn’t belong to them now. The lovers. Those sighs of his belong to someone else and fill a different room.
This room feels different. The table with the gloves on it. The fire flashing in time with the winter wind. She’s not big enough, what she feels isn’t big enough, to fill it.
She takes a deep breath and kicks her shoes off. The room doesn’t have to be full to be warm. It’s only one night.
It’s not an easy thing to wake up in the wrong country. It makes that hazy moment before your eyes actually open one of low-level dread that it’s all actually happening, but you still have to crawl out of bed earlier than you’d like, and do things for money so you can eat food, in the hope that you’ll wake up to a day where things are less crap.
This is exacerbated by my unwilling repatriation. Years of living in London abruptly, and somewhat dramatically (apologies to the pub for the lingering smell of burning hair), came to an end with the United Kingdom’s (and all of its citizens) unwillingness to put a ring on it. The world is getting smaller and more connected and the first, brick to the face, result of this shift has been fear, swiftly followed by resistance. It’s working out really great for everyone. To see so many nations of world with both hands fisted in the fabric of nationalism so firmly, many of which were on the wrong side of the last pass of this wave, is devastatingly disappointing.
I’ve started my whole life over a few times now. And I’ll do it again. But I don’t want to this time. I’ll do it anyway. Piece together house, job, food, friends, and climate appropriate wardrobe. Because it’s what you do. And valleys end in peaks, right? With about half of the above in place I can honestly say I’ve learned more than I predicted about what I can live with and what I can live without. I need friends; I don’t need close approximations thereof. And I need to work doing something that I believe in.
This whole life malarkey really is a work-in-progress sort of deal. Coping.
These are the words that I have chosen to define my twenties. Not because I spent them naked. Or because the decade was defined by how I look, but because I seemed to do alright when really I was over the top incredible.
That said, the phrase has been expressed more than once (if with variations in vocabulary) and other girls boyfriends have nodded sagely, their eyes glazing over with brief remembrance, before coming to their senses. They’ve never actually had the sense to date me for more than a couple of months, but that had nothing to do with me. Probably. Hopefully.
Anyway, there’s more to life than love, and there’s been plenty to love. Three careers in, I started a company in a foreign country with no money and while it’s mostly felt like a Prometheus and the rock sort of experience looking back I’ve done quite a lot that I’m really rather proud of. Happy clients, rent paid, and a few astonishingly supportive friends. My threshold for thriving possibly needs to be reassessed.
While still secretly baffled at what winning at life would actually look like, I’ve decided to give the woman I’ve been a break for not exceeding every expectation on the grounds of having chased every dream, and more than a few whims. Not to say that they were all met with rampant success, but, especially in that case, I did it anyway and I can forgive myself a host of other mistakes on that alone.
I’ve tokened myself the queen of trying, and the failure analytics are irrelevant when there is some success to focus on and an almost entirely empty slate of regrets.
As with every new year, I will look to take the good into the next decade with me, and leave the mistakes behind. My clothes will have to do their best to keep up.
It is human nature to try and find patterns. In what we do, what other people do, in your peas at the dinner table.
When I got my fifth ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ text from someone I had been seeing (which was also the third ‘I’m getting back together with my ex-girlfriend, see ya’ text) in the last couple years I couldn’t help but think it might be me. This, despite every assurance that it was not me. Unfortunately, none of these gentlemen advanced past the cliché. My taste is possibly the problem.
As a results oriented person dwelling on the problem was not going to be enough. The potential solutions appeared to be market myself as a professional reunite-er:
“Take me out and your Ex will take you back in two months or less – guaranteed!”
Or, I could try my best to interrupt the pattern. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, so this seems the healthier, if less lucrative, option.
I’m not totally sure what that looks like yet, but I feel as though not being quite so nice about being set aside like last week’s box set is a good place to start.
And so, to keep to this new resolution I decided to forgo my usual ‘It’s alright, no hard feelings’ response. It might be true, and, clearly, none of them were my soul mate, but that doesn’t mean I have to make it easy.
When I finally texted back this last time I said the only thing that could be said,
“I’m not wearing any underwear”
You know that feeling when you get every last thing that you want? When the stars align, the fridge is full, and all the boys call? No? Me either.
I do, however, have a great many of the things that I want. So many of them, in fact, that all past versions of myself are extremely jealous of the present incarnation. I’ve been struck with a wave of gratefulness and believe it to be one of those feelings that we should slather all over and wallow around in if at all possible. A recent extended break brightened the shine on the charm of my daily life, because I was able to zoom out. Focus less on the frustrations and obstacles, more on the successes and joys.
It is easier to hear criticism than praise, harder to see progress than failure, and natural to focus on what is missing. As a motivational force for aspiration and ambition these things are rather helpful. However, not great for existential satisfaction. Which is where the breaks come in. The deep breath smell the roses stop and take a look around moments take over for just a minute. Your brain and your calendar both turn to mute so that you can see how great your life is without the itchy pollen of doubt, panic, and disappointment.
I just felt that way. It was pretty great.
There are so many things that girls do when they are getting ready to go out. And a few extra things when getting ready to go out on a first date. Even with hours of preparation, part of you is always ready for something to go, if not wrong, then not quite right. That’s why you bring three different lip products, a pen, and a bottle opener (just me?). But there are some things you do not worry about. Things you take for granted. Things like your ability to open doors.
It’s the sort of thing that I would normally chalk up to being the kind of incident that would and could only happen to me, except that is not the case. My first thought when I realised I could not open a door was that a friend of mine had been in the exact same situation months before and I hadn’t really understood what she meant. But I did now. So, of course I texted her to let her know that she was not alone. But I was. Trapped on the wrong side of a door I could not open.
How did I get from first dates to locked doors? And were the authorities involved? No, legal action was not taken against my date, but a friend did later suggest that I was technically a hostage. I feel it is important to share this story for the sake of preventing its repetition and simply making you feel less alone if this was once you and you thought you were the only one. Since the evening did include interaction with another person, who possibly does not want moments of their lives explicitly detailed on the internet, I hope you will forgive the necessarily vague descriptions.
Boy asked out girl. Girl met boy at restaurant. Boy and girl ate food. Boy and girl had drinks. Then they had some more drinks. Girl came in for one more drink. She was then more surprised than she should have been that drink was not only thing on boy’s mind. She very sensibly made her way to the door… and could not, for the life of her, open it. The knob turned but the door did not open. The lock flipped, but the door did not open. Boy could not conceptualize that girl couldn’t open a door (nice of him really) and continued wooing efforts. Girl used wiles to get boy to open door for her and ran away home.
Don’t be that girl. There’s no living it down. I still have no idea how he opened the door.