By the time I was 22, I’d had two long-term boyfriends, both of whom had loved me, both of whose hearts I’d gone ahead and broken. Not that either of them had been a perfect boyfriend (I broke up with them both for good reasons), but between all their flaws nothing epically Bold and the Beautiful themed ever went down in either relationship. As far as introductions to relationships go, my taste gave me the sense that the Ross vs Rachel “We were on a break!” thing was just entirely too scandalous to be realistic, because for the most part, people are pretty nice and make good decisions most of the time.
If I could, I would insert approximately infinity pages right here, printed with nothing but the words “Hahahaha! Hahahaha!” over and over again forever.
I was making my way through university, working nights as a door bitch at a couple of local indie nights, just waiting to fall in love and travel the world. I had big dreams and no relationship baggage, so (I don’t know about you, but) I was feeling very 22. That was when I met Dave, who was a new DJ at the nights I worked at. He was 10 years my senior, had no “day job” and a passion for sneakers (you know, the kind of person who lines up for limited release Nikes and cleans their seams with a toothbrush). Again, I wish for nothing but infinity pages of written laugher to follow here—my older self cringes at the idea of such a resume ever being enticing. But I was young, and “being a DJ is HOT” basically sums up everything you need to know about being young.
The first time I saw Dave he was sitting on a table in our small office, the open door of which faced me, clipboard on my hip, taking names and turning down anyone for entry whose jeans weren’t skinny enough. I didn’t pay much attention to him at first—he was laughing about something or other with my boss, and he was sort of tubby, which is another sentence that sums up being young pretty well, considering that now I’d willingly sell my soul for a “sort of tubby” dude.
When he left, my boss marched straight up to me. “You should totally go for him,” she said.
“Who is he?” I wanted to know.
“He’s our new DJ. He makes good money and he’s got a really good sense of humour, also, he’s older than you, and guys my age are better at sex than guys your age. Actually you should go for like, a 50 year old. They’re really good at sex,” my boss flipped her hair and repeated the same thing she said about every guy she wanted me to hook up with, “If you don’t go for him, I will.”
“I don’t know,” I cringed, “He’s sort of tubby.”
“Tubby guys are the best,” said my boss, “They’ll do anything to please you and they love eating pussy.” I was intrigued by Dave, not because of my boss’ colorful sexual advice, but because he was older and cooler than me, and because deep down I had a yearning to be a tubby guy’s skinny little wife, like in all the American sitcoms I’d grown up watching. And because I was as yet untainted by bad romance, I didn’t see the red flags (I just want to remind you again that this guy was a 32 year old local DJ that played at clubs where the median age was about 19).
Once I clocked off that night, at around 2am, I went into the club for an after-work drink, and the party was still raging. The second red flag—Dave was still there raging with it. Leaning against the bar, he smiled at me.
“You’re the door girl right?” He shouted over the music, cupping me intimately on my upper back.
“Yeah, Kat,” I shouted back.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Dave! Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
“Just a beer is fine,” I smiled coyly at him. He then proceeded to pay for my $5 beer with one of the free drink cards we would issue him for playing at the club. Third red flag. Actually, by now, there should have been a siren wailing above my head, but there wasn’t.
I ended up staying for more drinks than I should have and flirting wildly. Eventually, I gave him my number, and he sent me a text immediately after we parted ways. I was flattered by his attention (because in a room full of early 20-somethings, a DJ, tubby or not, has his pick of the litter), and I started wondering if I could be attracted to a tubby guy. If I could go back in time to that exact moment, I would slap young Kat in the brain and tell her him being tubby was the one reason I should go for him, and all the reasons I found him attractive were, in reality, dried spew on a club’s doorstep the night after a big party.
For the next month, Dave pursued me by phone, and every Thursday and Saturday night when he’d DJ where I was working. But with his advances, so came warnings from friends, and even acquaintances. People would grimace when I mentioned him, and say things like “I don’t know about him,” but always with a very vague import. It was my friend and co-worker Dilan, who in no uncertain terms, told me I was better off ignoring Dave’s affections.
“He dated my friend in high school,” Dilan told me one night. “She was 17 and he was like, 28 or something. And he was living with his long-term girlfriend at the time. It was really fucked up.”
I was thrown by this confession, and when I asked him about it, he smoothed over my concerns with ease.
“She had a huge crush on me and wouldn’t leave it alone. I never even touched her, but I was scared of what she’d do to herself or to me and my girlfriend if I ignored her,” he told me.
What can I say? I wanted to defy the “he said/she said” mentality of my town’s social circles. I wanted to be rebellious. I wanted so desperately to trust this guy, because I had no reason not to. That week we went on our first date, and when he dropped me home we kissed in his car.
For the first month we were together, Dave wasn’t like other guys. He would call me to talk every day. He took me on dates, just the two of us. He paid for everything. He loved his job. When you’re 22, all those things matter more to you than they do with years of racked up experience—mostly because no one in your age group does any of them. The novelty of these superficial qualities was enough to hook me up, reel me in, and gut me entirely. I thought Dave, despite his juvenile lifestyle as a DJ, was a real grown up. He had a full beard, not like the fluff on the faces of the boys who would bum cigarettes from me and then invite me to hang with their group of friends, a crude sort of courtship ritual they still hadn’t divested from since their teenage years.
In the bliss of infatuation, I drowned out the groans of the dissenters around me, as more and more of my friends started giving me very good reasons why Dave was bad news. I even began ignoring the evidence as our relationship started deteriorating, nearly 2 months in. I ignored the fact that Dave had never taken me to his house, but always came to mine. I ignored the time when, after 3 sudden days without contact, he finally called me to say he’d lost his phone at a club and only just recovered it (even though email and social media were all perfect modes of communication at the time). I accepted his excuses as to why I couldn’t post pictures of us together on the Internet or why we couldn’t change our relationship status to dating on our social media accounts. I believed him when he said I couldn’t come to certain events because his ex girlfriend was crazy and if she saw me she would try to fight me. As time wore on and excuses built up, absences started becoming longer, and stories got more far fetched (once he couldn’t see me for a week because he’d been bitten on the face by a spider and he had swelled up), I began ignoring my instinct. The worst part is I knew I was ignoring my instinct, but I still had no solid reason—other than gossip and hearsay—not to trust him.
Nights would pass by where he’d say he’d turn up to meet me and then hours later, wouldn’t answer his phone. He went from being up my ass all the time to being completely unreliable and scatty. So I broke up with him. He cried when I said I couldn’t see him any more, but I stuck to my guns—I knew that no matter how much I liked him, his inconsistency was not only shady, but it was tearing me apart and making me miserable. Liberated from Dave, I did what I assume Beyonce would do under the same circumstances: I put my freakum dress on and went to party with my best girlfriends.
I was at a bar, dancing on some couches, throwing back shot after shot, whipping my hair and laughing so hard I was afraid pee would come out when Dave called me. I ignored the call and stuffed my phone deep into my bag. When I eventually checked it again, I had 20 missed calls from him and 1 text message: “My grandfather died, I need you.” Drunk, I didn’t even say goodbye to my friends as I pushed through throngs of revellers, out of the bar and into the street, where I called him.
“Where are you?” was the first thing I said to him when he answered the phone, before he’d even had a chance to say hello. And then I was off—tearing through the city streets in my stilettos, sprinting to the club where he was DJing, running so fast the scenery rushing by became a blur, because he needed me and I was young and lithe and fast enough to be there for him. When I arrived his eyes were wet as he stood forlornly behind the DJ booth. He just held me and breathed into my hair, “Never leave me again,” and I promised not to. I spent the rest of the night going from club to club with him, sitting by him as he played his sets and collected his cash, and when he was done we sat in his car until well after breakfast time, talking about his grandfather.
“These were his glasses,” he said, pulling a pair of frames from the glovebox, “God I’m going to have to make a eulogy.” As he broke down I awkwardly reached across the handbrake to hold him, and he buried his head in my chest and cried.
The months that followed were much the same as they’d always been, except that now all our interactions involved me listening him talk about his grandfather, and feebly counselling him through his grief, so when he was booked to play a 3 day music festival, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to enjoy ourselves. Except that it wouldn’t be, because Dave only had one “plus one” ticket and he had to give it to his manager, leaving me out of the equation entirely. Even though something nagged at me about that—surely his manager could get his own ticket, and if not, surely Dave could request more—I accepted the situation.
“I’m going to miss you so much,” he told me over the phone the night before he was due to leave for the festival, “I’ll be thinking of you the whole time and I’ll even dedicate my set to you.”
“That’s sweet,” I said, despite feeling as though something were remiss. I hung up the phone and that night went out with some friends to watch Rebel Without A Cause at a rooftop cinema. As we were waiting for the film to start, my phone started ringing with an unknown number. I showed my friends and they urged me to answer, so I picked up.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hi, is this Kat?” a woman’s voice on the other end asked.
“Yeah, who’s this,” I retorted as a knot began to form in my stomach.
“This is Trisha, Dave’s girlfriend,” Trisha, Dave’s girlfriend, responded.
Have you ever had one of those slow motion, out of body moments, like that famous scene on the beach in Jaws, where all you can see around you is static and the camera is rushing at your face just as you realize: “Holy. Shit. This. Is Happening”? That was my moment. The knot in my stomach was asphyxiating, but I was no longer part of myself at all. I was someone else, somewhere else, learning a truth that Kat had suspected all along, but never acknowledged.
“That’s impossible,” I said, “I’m Dave’s girlfriend.”
There was a hand on my shoulder except I couldn’t feel it. I only knew it was there because I could see Kat’s friend Diana placing it there, and her other friend Laura leaning in with a look of murder spreading across her beautiful face. Kat covered the phone receiver with her hand and put it to her chest. I heard her say I’ll be right back to her friends and robotically stand, and push her way through the crowd to the bathroom, where she chose an empty cubicle, and locked herself inside.
She, or I, or both of us probably, sat down on the close toilet seat with the phone, now a precious, precious diamond we were clutching to our ear with both hands, trying to figure out if it was defective, in awe that it wasn’t.
“You didn’t know about me did you,” said Trisha.
“No,” we replied.
“Well you should know we’ve been together for 7 years and we live together. I can’t believe he’s gone and done this again,” Trisha laughed. Why was Trisha laughing. We didn’t laugh.
“But I was there for him when his grandfather died. He came over after the funeral,” we begged.
“There was no funeral. Both his grandfathers are alive,” Trisha was more serious now.
“I’m so sorry,” we said, “I’m so sorry.”
“No,” she said, “I’m sorry.”
We said, “I need to make a call,” and hung up.
We dialled Dave.
He answered: “Hi babe!”
We put on our sweetest, most excited voice: “You will never guess who just called me!”
He wanted to know: “Who?”
We said: “Your girlfriend, Trisha.”
He paused. He said: “It’s complicated, she’s my ex, she’s crazy…”
We interrupted: “Come off it, Dave.”
He darkened: “Oh fuck. I gotta go. I gotta call my girlfriend Trisha.”
He hung up the phone and we re-joined our friends, who let us sit in the middle, and not explain what happened, but hold their hands through the movie anyway. When the movie finished we told them, we told them that Dave had a girlfriend for 7 years that he lived with, and two breathing grandfathers, and we told them Trisha had laughed. As we talked, reality started to melt back into itself and instead of swimming through it we found our way back to each other, and I was me again, and I was looking through my eyes at the faces of my friends who had both managed to combine sympathy and rage into exquisite facial contortions.
“God I need a drink,” I told them, and as fast as the night I’d rushed to Dave’s side, they rushed me off that roof, beamed me through the city, and stuffed me into a shot glass at the closest bar.
I never spoke to Dave again. He never called to explain. He never even text or emailed or told one of his friends to tell me something even just to make him look better. I didn’t get closure, not the way Rachel does when she calls Ross on the eve of his getting a cat with Julie to say, “I am over you. I. Am over. You. And that my friend, is what they call ca-losure.” He just disappeared from my life like he’d never been in it, like dry spew on the pavement outside the club the morning after a party, being washed away by rain or street sweepers, or eaten by a stray dog. But he had been in my life, and he will always have been in my life. So there I was, 22 years old and surpassing the weight limit for baggage at the airport, being told I needed to take something out if I wanted to continue to my flight. And it wouldn’t be the last time.