You meet him in a crowded bar in East London. He’s tall and shy and although you keep making eye contact, it’s you who speaks to him first. His voice gets louder and faster when he talks about something he loves, a crescendo that builds until it breaks, an ebb and a flow. You watch his mouth as he talks. You play pop songs on the jukebox, giving each other coins and daring one another to play the worst song, the one that will make each other cringe. You go to the bathroom and you look in the mirror and you just know. This one’s different.
When you leave the bar you look up at the sky, the dark clouds framing a yellow moon, and you gulp air into your lungs.
Two days later you call the guy you’re seeing and you break up with him. You’ve been dating for a few months; he’s nice, but you can’t stop thinking about the one at the bar. You don’t even know if you’ll ever see him again, but knowing that he’s out there – that whatever you felt on that rainy Friday night is out there – is reason enough for you.
You never stop looking for him. You think you see him at a local café once or twice, but it’s never him. And one idle day in January, when you’re least expecting it, when it’s been six months and you’ve pushed him far enough away that he’s only a flicker in the back of your mind, he’s right there in front of you again. He remembers your name.
The flicker turns into a roar, and everything else falls away.
That night you stay up until dawn drinking whisky on a rooftop high above the city, a blanket wrapped around your shoulders. You can hear the trains in the distance when he kisses you for the first time, the heavy thud of steel on the tracks, a thump that matches the feeling in your chest. The sun comes up and the sky turns shell-pink and there’s this moment where you just look at each other, really look at each other, and it’s he who smiles first. You feel so happy you think you might burst, a million pieces of you splintering into the sunrise.
You fall in love. It’s everything you hope it might be and more. Life feels different; it sparkles somehow, now that he’s in it.
When he breaks up with you on a crisp autumn day, you don’t cry. You focus on the way his jaw tenses and releases, tenses and releases, watch his hands fold and unfold in his lap. The opening and closing of him. You wait until he’s gone to allow yourself to realise his hands will never touch you again. You understand that it was a long time coming and you realise that maybe, right now, as he’s walking away, he feels… relief. Thinking about this, you lie down on the hardwood floor, and you cry.
It’s never what you imagine it will be, is it? It takes its time, those tiny fractures on the surface like cracks on ice – delicate at first, but at any moment ready to break through. You believe that if you just stand still, if you don’t move, you won’t plunge into the icy water below.
This is how your heart breaks: slowly and deliberately, and then all at once. The shock of the fall overwhelms you, drowns you.
You try not to think of him. You try not to remember the way his eyes looked in the morning sun, the way they turned from grey to green. You try not to remember how you felt when you’d watch him walk toward you, those infinite seconds when the world slowed down. You force yourself to laugh when you’re out with friends, force yourself to not let your eyes roll and dance around the room, looking for him still. You leave your phone at home, hoping it will help you feel less distracted, less haunted. You obsess over what was so wrong. You obsess over what was so perfectly, so inexplicably right.
This is how your heart breaks, again and again.
The seasons change, the sky shifting from a wintry pearl-grey to a cloudless pastel blue. You go for walks. You stop listening to the mix tape he made you. You start to heal. You realise he’s not in your dreams as much anymore. And sometimes you sit on that rooftop, listening to the trains, and you start to feel warm again, you start to feel like you again. The shattered remains of your heart start to fuse together, becoming one.
You run into him on an unusually warm winter’s day, over a year since you saw him last. You agree to go to a little pub that’s new to you both, a spontaneous meeting, just like your first. He orders pints of Guinness at the wood-panelled bar. He turns to look at you, his face shining gold under the lights, and you realise everything will be OK.
An hour with him still feels like a minute. You talk until the pub closes. We can be friends now, you say to one another, but you both know that isn’t true.
You say goodbye outside the pub under a dark, moon-filled sky. You look at each other, really look at each other, and it’s he who smiles first.
Goodbye, he says to you, smiling, searching, and you know you’ll never see him again. You know you can stop looking. You give him the last broken splinter of your heart, because it will always be his. You watch him walk away for the last time until he blurs into the city backdrop, a sea of black cabs and double-decker buses, their headlights washing the streets in a pale silver glow.
Sometimes you think of him, wonder what he’s doing. Sometimes you hear the thump of your heart beating in your chest, that healed heart, that powerful heart, and you listen.
For more like this, check out The Last Time I Saw You