Archive for July 2010
It was just a coffee.
I wasn’t even expecting a response when I messaged him on Facebook with the razor sharp and achingly original: “Has anyone ever told you you’re ridiculously hot?”
(Seriously, come on. How can anyone fail to be floored by that?)
But it worked, because last Thursday afternoon found us sat in Café Nero on Old Compton Street, smiling, laughing and flirting.
He casually put his hand on the small of my back as we were chatting, eventually moving to my knee and then taking hold of my hand.
“Sorry, is this too…?” he asked, indicating my hand in his and not needing to finish the sentence.
“No, absolutely not.” I replied, smiling. And to my surprise, it wasn’t.
You see, anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that a couple of months ago, I made a heartbreaking decision before I went on holiday, regarding someone I loved very much. I had a short, intense affair with a married man, and I truly believed he was going to leave his sexless, platonic marriage for me. But the stark reality was actually the opposite — he merely wanted a toy he could take out of its box and play with when he felt bored and horny — a bit like a Fleshjack.
So I finished it, and I came out of it heartbroken, bereft and so numb, I felt like jamming my fingers into a plug socket just to remember what it was like to feel something.
I’ve never been a ‘rebounder’. When a relationship ends, I don’t go looking for another one to use as a bandage for the wound. It takes time for me to heal, trust and let my guard down again, so you can imagine my astonishment when I looked at my date and realised: I really like you.
He leaned in for a kiss. And boy, was it good. So good in fact, it had me regretting my decision to go commando that day. I could only look on in embarrassment as I started pitching a tent in my army shorts.
His voice was like butter, with a soft Manchester accent, a bit like the actor who played Vince in Queer as Folk. I could have happily sat there and talked with him all day, but we both had stuff we needed to do. We left the café holding hands, and as he caught sight of us in a shop window, he turned to me and said: “I think we look good together, don’t you?”
I kind of agreed.
I dropped him off at the tube station, and as I walked away I chanced a look back. He was looking too. We grinned at each other before turning away one last time.
Will I see him again? I’d certainly like to, and he seems keen as well. Although he’ll probably read this and run screaming for the hills. But even if that happens, it was just nice to realise I can feel a spark with someone again. If nothing else, I’ve learned a valuable lesson — that there is, indeed, life after an ex.
It was just a coffee — but it was a damn good one.
I looked in the mirror at the man smiling at me, and smiled back.
He was about thirty, wearing a deep V neck t-shirt and fitted black blazer. He had short hair that had gone sandy-coloured from a recent holiday, excited green eyes, stubble that hadn’t quite made the transition to ‘beard’, and was probably wearing a bit too much aftershave.
I’m now at the age my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in my six-weeks-from-turning-thirty-one years. Probably over less bumps than some, but definitely over more bumps than most.
But all those experiences put me on a path that had landed me right where I was standing — in the gents’ restroom at the Royal Festival Hall, about to share a stage with six ‘proper’ writers at the London Literature Festival on the South Bank.
I was reading an extract from my recently published story: Dying, And Other Superpowers in front of about 200 editors, writers, authors, critics and general ‘literary’ types.
Don’t ask me what ‘literary’ looks like exactly. But to give you an idea — it usually wears glasses, is probably holding a copy of your book, has its legs crossed, pen poised, head cocked to the side and is regarding you with a slightly inquisitive expression.
The book’s editor, Paul Burston introduced me as “the newbie” and I got up to cross what had morphed into three miles of echoey floor to the stage at the front of the room.
I say echoey — people were clapping and cheering — but I could only hear my own footsteps.
Deep breath number two.
(Oh, who am I kidding? Deep breath number three-hundred-and-forty-two is slightly more accurate.)
I straightened my notes on the lectern and began with Josh’s story:
“I’ll remember my eighteenth birthday for three reasons. The first being that I turned eighteen.
The second reason is because it was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. And the third? I made a mug explode.
Yeah, that was a pretty hectic day…..”
I took the audience through the story I knew so well. I knew these characters far better than I’d described on the page. I knew what they looked like, where they lived, what music they listened to, even the subtle facial tics they made when they were angry or excited. I got lost for a little while, enjoying the feeling of bringing them to life through speech.
I finished on a cliffhanger:
“I gaped at my hands, turning them over a couple of times, but my vision was blurring and I felt unsteady. I looked around the room, unfocused and disoriented, and in a weak voice said, “Mum?”
I don’t know if she answered, because my world went black.”
I looked up, smiled and said: “And if you want to know what happens, you have to buy the book!”
There was a collective cry of “Gah!” from the audience, followed by a round of very genuine applause, and I knew I’d done OK.
I’d like to tell you about the rest of the evening, but to be honest, it was a bit of a blur, I remember points of it. My wonderful friends and family hugging me and clapping me on the back, warm congratulations from people I’d never met. A very humbling moment when a young man told me he’d come all the way from Nottingham to hear me read because he’s a fan of this blog (thank you, David — it’s not often I’m rendered speechless).
And people were asking me to sign books! With my signature!
Feeling like a bit of a fraud, I wondered: what do I write? Do I try to make each message personal? Do people expect you to write “best wishes” or is that just wanky and patronising?
Do I just sign it? Do I try to be neat? Do I screw it and just be intentionally, fantastically, artistically untidy? Can I make my writing even remotely legible when my hands are shaking this much?
Oh, Paul-bloody-flipping-Burston, you’re supposed to be my mentor! WHERE are you when I need you?!
On top of that, I realised I was going to have to ask them all that cringeworthy question:
“What’s your name?”
The crowds filtered out and I rejoined my wonderful, drunken friends, and ceased being a writer, a new talent, or a member of the literary world — I was just ‘me’ again. We set off into Soho for a few celebratory drinks.
Now that the dust has settled on that crazy night, I certainly don’t feel like an ‘author’, a ‘fresh new talent’, a ‘hidden genius’ or any of the things I’ve been described as over the past few weeks.
It’s hard to feel like a ‘rising star’ when you’re sitting in a messy bedroom, wearing crap boxers, writing a blog post with a cup of tea and Star Trek: Voyager on the telly for company.
Cynics may (possibly rightly) argue that this is nothing to get excited about; I mean, it’s not my own novel — it’s a short story that’s been published in an anthology.
But as I’ve said before, it’s the beginning of my story, and I don’t know if it’s a short story, a novel, or a whole fricking library, but I can’t wait to write some more pages.
Paul called me late last night:
“I didn’t get to speak to you afterwards because it was just a bit crazy, but I wanted to tell you, you were phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages about the event over the last 24 hours. You made a huge impact. You should be very proud of yourself.”
Phenomenal? Well, that’s for time and other people to decide — not me.
Breakups are never easy. I recently split with the man I saw myself marrying. The worst thing is that it was my decision — he wasn’t in the right place to give me a whole relationship, so, as much as it hurt, I had to walk away. And believe me when I say it hurt.
So I’m faced with the task of finding my way back to happy again. I’ll get there. I was happy before I met him, so I’ll be happy again in the future. And this is how I’m planning to get there:
1. Put it in a box
Amy Winehouse got it right with her song, Take The Box. Some may disagree, but I say cut contact and remove all those reminders that, for now, are going to stop you from moving on.
Delete them from Facebook/Twitter (but tell them nicely why). Take all those photos of them off your phone, un-sync “your” songs from your iPod, change your phone’s screensaver. Put everything in a folder on your computer and set that folder to ‘hidden’.
Don’t get rid of it all though — don’t delete things or throw them away, just put everything out of sight where it can’t hurt you, and come back to it at a time when you can view it more objectively.
It’s like setting a broken bone in a cast. Your heart is raw and open and needs time to heal, and you need to protect it while it does that.
2. Don’t try and second guess them
You can only go on what you know, and all you know right now is that you’re not together. Don’t drive yourself insane trying to guess what’s going through their mind, because you just don’t know. So concentrate on the stuff you do know.
And don’t try and find out either. You’ll make people uncomfortable, and you’ll also look like the freaky-ex-who-isn’t-over-it. So have some dignity.
3. Listen to music
And no, I don’t mean wailing along to Celine Dion’s All By Myself . I mean, seriously, is she even still alive? And if she is, why hasn’t someone shot her?.
Screw all those crappy power ballads about lost love and being heartbroken, Sarah Maclachlan’s I Will Remember You sums up perfectly the notion that you can let someone go, but still have them in your heart.
For the pop fans, I recommend Jennifer Lopez: I’m Gonna be Alright. It’s a strong song, full of grim, grit-your teeth resolve, and it’ll make you lift your head up and walk with a purpose.
To lift a mood, you can’t beat the shiny, disco-pop perfection of Agnes: Release Me. So sing along with her as she proudly proclaims “I’m better off without you” — even if you don’t feel like you are yet.
And for the times when you’re so furious you could put your fist through a wall, Apocalyptica’s I Don’t Care and Three Days Grace’s I Hate Everything About You are awesome, angry rock songs to scream along to.
Just don’t put your fist through a wall. It hurts. Take it from me.
4. Get distracted
Go on some dates. Enjoy being single again. Flirt back with the guy at the gym who’s been eyeing you up for ages.
Jeez, have a sweaty, no-strings fuck with a random stranger if that’s what you feel you need.
But accept you’re on the rebound. You’ll be comparing others to your ex for a long while yet, so accept that for now, dates are just a distraction. And be honest with them. Say you’re just getting back in the dating scene after a breakup, but leave it at that — they want to have a drink with you, not console you.
And whatever you do, don’t hurt a nice person by using them as a replacement. You might meet someone fantastic, who’s ready for a relationship, but you’re not in that place yet — and starting something on an unequal footing, where they stand more chance of getting hurt, is just not fair.
5. Count your blessings
A friend recently suggested I take a couple of minutes every day to acknowledge the five nice things that have happened to me that day. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, just make yourself aware of them.
- The sun was shining and I was in my shorts in the park at lunch
- The sandwich lady gave me a free portion of carb-tastic pasta with my chicken roll because I said I was going for a run later
- I had an uninterrupted half an hour alone with a great book
- My friend Dillon is treating me to 30 Seconds To Mars at the O2 in November
- My other friend Paul took me out for a run this evening to prep me for the Asics Great London 10K Run (see next section)
And in addition to all that, I’m grateful to have found an amazing set of friends who are there with a smile and a hug whenever I need it.
When people are there for the drama as well as the fun, you know you’ve found your gang. Guys, you know who you are.
No, it’s not a metaphor, and no, I’m not referring to that god-awful Leona Lewis desecration cover of the Snow Patrol song, I mean actual running.
A friend said to me: “Running is great. There comes a point where all you’re thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other and your mind is totally clear — it’s like mediation.”
So I tried it, and he was right. Bring on the endorphin high.
7. Hope, but don’t live in hope
There’s a difference. A big one. Some people put their life on hold waiting for that person to come back to them.
Hope isn’t a bad thing — as long as it’s not all you’re living for. So it’s okay to hope, but eventually, there will come a point when you realise you’ve stopped hoping — but it’s alright — because all it means is that you’re over it.
8. Let go.
Mourn it, and miss it, but let it go.
If you can put your hand on your heart and say you did everything you could, you just have to accept it and move on.
You split up for a reason, and yes, it hurts, but there’s no use going back to something just because it’s easier to be with them than to be without them.
Your problems would still be there if you got back together, you’d just be pushing them under the rug for a while longer.
Be grateful you’ve had the chance to be close to that person, remember them and take on board the lessons you’ve learned from them and from the relationship in all its stages.
And as my very wise and wonderful mother always says to me when life kicks me in the teeth:
“Don’t look back — you’re not going there.”
So look to the future — your future — and embrace it.