We’re sitting on the balcony in the candlelight, at two o’clock in the morning: my ex and I. And I do not say any of the things I want to say, because there’s no point saying them now. We chat and laugh and are gentle with each other, and he smells really good and he’s beautiful. So I don’t say ‘what the fuck’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘mate, I fucking loved you.’ When you hang out with your ex, there are certain things you’re just not meant to say.
I nip inside to grab water for us both, and bring it out with a grin. Sit down awkwardly, rip my cheap jeans, pretend to be embarrassed. And I don’t say ‘what went wrong with us?’ because it’s pointless. His answer won’t match mine, and that’s only one part of the problem. We’ll descend into one of those break-up nightmares where I’m mouthing words but no sound comes out, and he doesn’t hear or can’t understand and it doesn’t matter anyway. Or he’ll tell me, earnestly, what his answer is, and I won’t be able to bring myself to believe him.
So instead I say ‘I got you some water’ and he says ‘cheers’ and we smalltalk about the weather.
He smells so good and looks so good and my heart hurts so fucking much for him.
I tell myself repeatedly that it isn’t right to be here. It isn’t good for me to run head-first into this pain, over and over. That the brief and intense pleasure I get from drinking in his company – holding him and touching him and laughing with him and oh God oh Christ, fucking him – it’s not worth it for the misery hangover afterwards.
I try to summon the courage to tell him we should stop doing this, but I fail. Instead I say ‘how’s your family?’ and ‘have you listened to the latest episode of that economics podcast?’ and ‘I brought your post from the house.’ It takes effort and work to remember to call it ‘the house’ and no longer ‘home’, and even more effort not to say ‘Goddammit, Jesus Christ mate I loved you so fucking much.’
I tell him about my lockdown hobbies. How I’ve been learning BSL and going on long bike rides. I update him with stories from friends scattered elsewhere – who’s happy, who’s struggling, who’s just painted their kitchen and who’s getting laid. And every second I spend reeling off these headlines is another second I’ve successfully not said ‘I thought you loved me, oh God fuck I was so sure that you loved me.’
We drink and smoke and dance and fuck and he tells me I look good and I say ‘same.’ And then we sit by the candlelight on the balcony, and I bite my lip and try not to ask him the question you should never ask your ex. The one that burns most brightly:
Why didn’t you love me?
Because that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the one. That’s the biggie. All the shit that happened can be picked apart and analysed and turned over and over, but ultimately all I’m reaching for is the answer to that question: why didn’t you fucking love me, man?
I don’t say that, of course. As I say, his answer won’t match mine. And there are far better questions that a stronger me might ask than this: it’s pointless. A total nonsense.
But as two am turns to three and I start to get drowsy, I lean my head on his shoulder and allow myself to whisper:
“Fuck. I fucking miss you.”