We met in a corner shop, you and I. The time had paused at just around a quarter to one in the morning. You, smelling of rain and sweat, trailed water into the doorway at my back. I sensed, rather than saw you. I was contemplating what foods I would binge and purge on. I had been good that week. I hadn’t eaten. My shift at the pub had been hard. I deserved it, you see.
The choice between pizza and frozen fish and chips was proving to be difficult, when you spoke. Your voice. Your voice, a deep hum that reverberated inside my chest. Primal. Rough coated, but soft. You asked me, laughing, to choose what you should eat. I caught your smile, infectious and toothy. We wandered around the shop discussing your options. You chose nothing. You chose me.
Outside, under the streetlights, you told, not asked me to come back to your house. I almost said no, would perhaps, have always, usually declined. But then. But then a raindrop landed on the scar in your left eyebrow and danced down towards your cheek. I wanted to trace that same path, to bring the water to my mouth and taste the rain.
As we strolled back to your house, you held your hands above my head in the most gentlemanly of umbrellas. It had been so long since anybody had taken care of me. At your house, the lights were on, your friends still awake. You told them to leave. They did, hurriedly. The authority in that rough coated, soft voice wound coils slowly down my spine. Your calloused thumb found the cleft in my chin and tilted my face upwards. Your mouth, as soft as your voice, but as forceful, found mine. I’ve never been kissed like that before. I do not think I will ever be kissed like that again. Nobody could kiss me with such intensity, care; oh the slow delicious burn of such a caress. You bit my lip. I was yours.
You held my eyes in bed, as I tried to splinter back into my own subconscious. You traced my poor ribs with a finger, thumbed the curve and sinews of my neck. You found and lingered on each mole and freckle. Loved. I felt loved. I felt wanted. I felt needed. I felt my demons retreat to all manner of hidden hiding places. They couldn’t hurt me in this moment. Nothing could. Afterwards you lit us both a cigarette and we savoured silence together. And then you asked my name. I responded. You rolled the different letters inside your mouth, trying them on for size.
“I’ll call you red.”
And so I became red. I was with you. I was for you. For a girl so scared of intimacy, I had become reborn. I had become loved. As I walked home in the morning I could feel the hope and joy and pure pleasure of it in my chest. This was what it felt like to be adored. This is what it felt like to be cherished. This is how those other girls had it. This time it was mine.
I kept you my most delicious secret. I became party to all of your parties. I befriended your friends. I loved you in snatches, from the tip of those black trainers to the top of your shorn brown hair. We shared our secrets, you and I. You did not run from details of eating disorders, depression, mental hospitals. I did not shy from a past that included prison and childhood trauma. We weren’t afraid of each other then were we? We didn’t need anybody else. You told me that you loved me. I told you that I loved you back. How happy we were, forever suspended in that moment of pure exuberance; astonished that we had found one another.
And then. And then. And then you revealed to me, what you promised was your last secret. But I wasn’t like the other girls, you explained; you knew that I would have no problem with cocaine. I had dabbled with drugs. I had dipped my toe into the pool. I was easy going, in love and desperate to please. Did I care? Of course not. I hated stoners, had been let down by stoners in the past. The crisp, continuing cleanliness of this Class-A drug appealed to me. We would become legends.
So it was, that a third party entered our romance. My ambivalence released her. Why should we walk, talk, party, watch television, cook, eat, screw; why should any of this be performed, if we weren’t high. You didn’t have a problem, you just wanted the best for you, and the best for me. Nights of sharing our secrets, your hand stroking my neck, became nights screaming our thoughts into each other’s faces. We were the most adorably, crazy couple, they said. We were out there. We were always up for a laugh. We were the never sleeping, never eating, never sitting champions of the world. We were glorious.
It was perhaps four months into what I now know as the J&A period of my life, that the excessive cocaine use began to ruin sex. The loving embraces of old had all but disappeared, replaced with numbness on my part, and a strange kind of aggression on yours. I was not a fool. I knew that there was a reason that your friends all obeyed you so readily. I had seen you angry. I witnessed the way in which the cords of your neck strung themselves out. With a naivety, I had not thought you capable of being angry with me.
One evening, you couldn’t perform in bed, so to speak. We had hit our mutual friend hard that day. I was intoxicated in every way; powerful and unbreakable. I made the mistake of laughing, of trying to make light of the situation. You punched me so hard in the face that the room span. On top of me now, your weight bearing me into the bed, those calloused hands wrapped around my throat. I could feel the sudden excited hardness of you against my leg as I passed out. Waking up, I would find you gone and feel strangely offended that you hadn’t raped me.
The incident was my fault, of course. I made sure that you knew that when you cried, handsome head in my lap, an hour later. I had pushed you too far. I had not known our limits. I had hurt you. I was the monster. I was ruining us, by bringing my own demons into the relationship. As you agreed with me, I tilted my head backwards and watched a lone raindrop meander across your window pane. The way it suddenly gave in to falling made me think of suicide. We had the best sex that we had managed in months, directly afterwards.
How long does something have to happen, before it becomes a habit? Not long. The cocaine use continued, your lack of sexual ability continued; the beatings became more regular. After two sets of black eyes, I told you that the next time you hit me; it had better be my body. People at work were starting to ask questions. Perhaps, then, for a moment, you returned. You. The man I met in a corner shop, not the other man I had created since. You told me then, and never have repeated since, that I should leave you. I was too good for you. You didn’t understand why I would let you treat me this way. I replied that as I had been self-harming my whole life, it didn’t make a darn bit of difference if you were doing it for me.
The beatings slowed down after that. I suppose my admission took some of the fun out of things. Or perhaps you were trying to regain the person you had wanted me to see. But, the more you tried to control your anger, the darker the sporadic flashes I saw. You beat a mutual friend to a bloody mess over a poker hand. You threw a saucepan of boiling water at me. You missed. Your eyes, once so direct and focused, now constantly bounced, back and forth, waiting for an opening to attack. We had sex sometimes, that didn’t feel consensual. I had enough bad life experience to know the difference. When you held my eyes in bed, I no longer felt loved. I took to counting ceiling bumps and cobwebs. I took to pretending I wasn’t quite there. You didn’t care. You no longer wanted me to take part in sex. You wanted a submissive, so that’s what I became.
One day, as I tried to sleep, you told me, quite calmly, that should I ever love another man, you’d kill us both. That you would also kill yourself, so that they would bury us together. Afterwards, you racked a line of Crystal, and pricked your finger with the metal ruler you had used. I watched you squeeze one brilliantly red drop of blood out, onto the pad of your thumb. You wrote our initials on the soft butter skin of my wrist, paused, grinned, and told me that we should get tattoos.
I began to plan my escape. The thought of not seeing you, not touching you, not hearing your voice made my chest ache. The thing was if I were to die, it would be by my own hand, not by yours. I took the train home in the rain and visited my parents one day. I told them that I needed to move home. The thing was completed in a matter of moments. One month left. One month. One month to savour up what I loved, and to fear. I knew that nobody would ever love me again, you see. Not the way you did. Not the way you still do. Nobody would ever look inside the dark, sticky mess of me and find something worth loving. I also knew that if you were to find out, you would destroy my escape route, leaving only wreckage.
I finally told you that I was leaving on a warm Wednesday. The news passed across your face, and paused, with a twitch of your mouth. You smiled. It was for the best, you said. It was best for all of us. Later you held me down and stubbed a cigarette out on the back of my pale hand. I look at that scar every time I miss you. It continues to heal. I had thought that returning home would make me heal.
But of course, moving an hour away wasn’t the answer. Within a week I had called crying, and begged you to love me again. You began to spend weekends with me, in my flat. Then you began to spend the weeks too. You were dabbling in drug dealing, and therefore your schedule during the day had cleared right up. At night, sometimes I rode along, nervously chain-smoking and jealous that I had to share you.
It was the Monday before Halloween, when I finally finished us. We had spent the evening in bed, without cocaine; and we had talked. You had broken down as you told me, finally, what they had done to you. Poor, broken boy. I held your head to my chest, and, feather-light, caressed your hair. Later you cooked my vegetarian request, despite despising the “stuff.” Over dinner you broached the subject of my moving in with you officially, of my return to London. I told you that I would think about it. In turn, I broached the subject of dyeing my hair a different colour.
Fire. When you were angry, all I could think of was fire. Could almost feel myself wanting to reach upwards, and brush the ash smuts from my cheeks. You had not hit me since I’d moved away. You hit me now. Why was I dyeing my hair? I knew that you liked it that colour. It must be for another man. Who was he? Who was he? WHO WAS HE? You’d kill him, of course. You might kill me, too. You’d kill yourself. You’d burn my house down with us both inside. You’d kill my dog. You’d never even met my dog.
Finality. That is the only word that I can use to summarize that moment in time. It was with a sudden, certain finality that I knew I could never let you back inside my house. That I could never let you kiss me again. That I could never let you hold my hand. That I could never let you pretend that the grooves inside our palms fit together like a lock, and twirl our hands, laughing. I wished that I could, even as I used those same palms to push you backwards out of my house. You were so surprised that you didn’t even fight me. The look of heartbreak on your face when I told you that I hated you shattered mine.
But my heart had been breaking for some time. And I had been so wrong to let you stay beside me. I had been so wrong to let you treat me as badly as I treated myself. It was so vile and disgusting that I let myself become amused by the theatrics, addicted to the drama. I was a girl in love with pain, and desperate to die. We had become the very worst versions of ourselves, and we had created a world in which nobody else mattered.
I did not speak to you for two weeks, got drunk and high at a party, and almost slept with somebody I shouldn’t have. I ignored your phone calls for the most part. I ignored the pleading turned to love turned to crying turned to rage and threats. I ignored the overtures of mutual friends on your behalf. My heart hurt with every refusal. But with each refusal I felt a sense of myself begin to return. I began to feel my own pain again. I no longer felt only yours. I smashed my own face against a wall and found that I had lost the taste for it. And with every day that passed, I became less afraid that I would find you, lingering inside my house, waiting to end me. The game had been played through. The game had become tired. I, without cause, began to miss you all of a sudden. I missed the physical intimacy, the laughter, the light, the attention, the glory. We are the kings of this world, you told me once. I wasn’t royalty anymore.
And then, as my Grandfather lay, in his last hours of life, you, jealous, pretended to overdose. Instead of being fully focused on the only man I had ever loved, prior to you, I spent hours worrying, frantic, desperately fighting the urge to drive to London and save you. Hoping with all my heart that they would lock you in rehab and that from that place would appear what was once mine. Dark clothed, and dripping with rain, using his hands as an umbrella to shield me from the rain. Rough coated, soft spoken. The only man I have ever loved.
I saw you on New Year’s Eve, quite accidentally. A lie of course, I attended a party, I knew you would crash, out of some sick kind of curiosity and sadness. You brought a girl with you. As you entered the room, your hands had already begun to curl around her neck. I did not acknowledge you, heart numbed by the sight. Later, she made a joke that you did not like, and you told her, quite calmly, that you would deal with her later. Our eyes met in that moment and I found my anger. Back and forth the discussion went, turning quickly vicious and aggressive. Your girl turned, telling me that I was your problem, that I had been the death of you. I don’t know whether to believe that. After she left, my finger blurred clone, you dragged me to the bathroom and informed me that I was still yours. You would kill yourself if I did not return to you. You would kill me. You had heard I was seeing other men. You would break them in two. I sat, quite still, in the empty bath and watched you rage. You did not need a participant. A friend entered, and then another, and then another. They did not listen when you told them to leave. Your voice had lost its power. Suddenly, united, they saw you through my eyes. You sad, damaged, lonely man. You self-saboteur. You sick, loveless, waste. You smashed the toilet cistern, and looked at me. This time the moisture on your face was not made from rain, but from your own tears. You knew that I could allow myself to love you no longer. I watched those hands rest on the frame as you paused at the bathroom door. This is the last image I will have of you. How fitting, when our hands don’t fit any longer.
My feelings, in the present, are strange. I will never forgive you. I will never forget you. I wish you were dead. I wish I was dead. I wish we had never met. I wish we could go on meeting, in that one moment, forever. I wish I could tell you that some of the men I have met since you aren’t worth the ground you stand upon. I wish I could heal you. I wish you could heal me. I wish I could soothe your rage. I wish, I wish, I wish. But I can’t save you. And no longer can I let you destroy me.
Every day, the act of not answering your call is harder than it should be. But, every day, it also becomes just a fragment easier.