“Too shy, can’t do long conversations, not sufficiently arty.”
Humiliated, I turned away from the screen where the damning indictment was written, bold in twelve-point type. Purple, Comic Sans. Even the faceless instant messenger seemed to be mocking me.
Dumped. After fifteen months of being gradually isolated from everyone who couldn’t quite understand my choice. Confused church friends, who couldn’t make sense of the relationship between one of their number, and what they saw as the infidel. She was a druid and thought my religion was ‘screwing me up’ because it made me ‘care about people’. School friends, puzzled by her odd habits, who came to the conclusion there was only one answer- she was gay. It would have explained a lot actually, especially her choice of first boyfriend: me, eight months younger, in the school year below by a week. Strange, shy, socially awkward me. My family, who grew increasingly frustrated by her absences- she was away sometimes for two months at a time, and the instant messenger was our only method of communication. An hour every other night. I’d kept my life on hold, dutifully, humoured her and her strange moods, her arrogance…enough that her mother had hinted of a marriage. More than once. And I was only fifteen.
Then, less than a week after a strange dream in which she grew into an old woman before me and listed my faults, she had ended it with me, saying that she loved me as a friend, but didn’t know about anything more. The same instant messenger she’d asked me out on. The same we’d spoken on, every other night at 8pm, French time. And then, to add insult to injury, the next day, she explained the reason for her decision.
“Too shy, can’t do long conversations, not sufficiently arty,” What a load of rubbish!
I remembered the early days, when we were both so shy we couldn’t even make eye contact. We used to play chess. While she moved- staring fixedly at the chessboard and arranging the pieces so they faced exactly forwards in the dead centre of the square- I would watch her. I knew that when it was my turn, which it seemed to be all too often- she was teaching me- she would do the same, scrutinising me. She liked my eyes, but she never saw me cry. I knew better than that.
Long conversations? From her, who used to play on the computer whenever I was visiting and ignore me? Peggle, that was her favourite.
And I knew that my outstanding chemistry grade in year 9 would count against me one day. 96%, after revising for up to eight hours a day in the three weeks before the exam. Funny how selective she could be, that she could ignore the fact that she’d always received higher percentages in the other sciences, and maths. But she was an English nerd, a classicist, an old woman in a teenager’s body, and above all, a photographer who couldn’t bear to be parted from her camera. Compared with that, how could my scribblings compare?
I’m not going to say that she’s the sole reason for my writing, how could it be? I’ve scribbled things for years, ever since I first learnt to wield a pen. Not writing is like not breathing; it’s possible for a little while, but it’s uncomfortable, and eventually, I need to take an enormous breath and resume my feverish scrawling. It’s a wonder I passed my GCSEs, the amount of time I spent describing what I could see from the window. Those trees outside the physics classroom, which, in spring, looked like they were covered in strawberry milkshake, they kept me amused for hours.
But if I’m to be honest, there’s a tiny part of me that wants vindication. I want to prove to myself that she’s wrong, that these words which have haunted me for so long have no foundation in fact.
Oh, and for the record, I hated science.