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First thing’s first. I’ve removed her as a follower of this blog. I have to be able to talk freely here, and I can’t do that knowing that everything I post gets sent to her email box.

I don’t think there will be any real structure to this one. I just need to set my thoughts down.

***

At this point in my life, I’ve spent an aggregate of about 12 years devoting myself to two women who ended up cheating on me and leaving me.

In Melissa’s case, maybe I should have seen it coming. She had bounced from relationship to relationship every 6 months. I think she had one that made it to the one year mark. I’m not sure why I expected our relationship to be any different, but I did.

She cheated on me, and she was upfront about it immediately. She said she would always love me, but that she couldn’t be with me.

I took it pretty hard. I don’t have blog entries detailing my thoughts from that time period because I deliberately kept that subject out of here, but it shocked me to the core that this person who I had spoken to almost every single day for the last six years was out of my life forever.

Eventually I came to regard her as evil incarnate. I referred to her as “the infamous woman” for years afterward because of the emotional roller coaster she had dragged me through for the entire duration of our friendship and relationship.

I really thought Jessie was different. She’d had her own teenage years fucked up by a cheating boyfriend, and she knew how it felt to be left for someone else. During our relationship, it was revealed that her father had had an affair, putting both her and her mother through emotional turmoil.

And so I thought “Surely, if I can trust any woman on the planet not to put me through that again, it’s this one.”

But here we are.

I was cruel to her at the end. Perhaps unnecessarily so. But she absolutely deserved it, and right now I’m not sorry.

What she did to me was vile.

She cheated on me.

She continued to foster a relationship with the man she cheated on me with, even when I was very clear that in doing so she was hurting me.

She put me through hell for three months so she could explore her emotional and sexual relationship with this man, while I was told to stand aside and wait patiently without speaking to her. All the while she maintained that she loved me and was doing this for us, to rid herself of these “clouds” and the “confusion” in her head.

And then, in the end, she left me.

In the same way that Donald Trump is making a lot of people look wistfully back at George W. Bush, Jessie makes me look wistfully back at Melissa. There’s a new infamous woman now.

***

The worst part of this is the fact that I didn’t do anything wrong, and yet I’m the one who gets shafted. The woman who cheated gets a new boyfriend to help her get over the old one. The man who didn’t respect boundaries goes from being single to being in a relationship. And I end up alone.

It sucks.

My friends have been really supportive, but they can’t fill the void. It’s not possible.

Really, the void left by Melissa wasn’t filled until two years later when Jessie and I got together. And in the same way, I don’t think this void will be filled until I meet someone else.

I’m worried about that too. What if I don’t meet someone else?

I don’t do the whole “love at first sight” thing. I’ve never fallen for someone who I haven’t known for at least six months already. And with school behind me, opportunities for meeting and establishing relationships with people will be fewer and further between. So, I don’t know.

***

For the first time, the shortness of life is really starting to hit me.

I’ve just turned 26. If not for all this, I’d have been proposing in three weeks’ time. If it was sunny, it’d have been in the park, and if not it’d have been in the museum. And it’d have been done by reading from the advance proof copy of Under Milk Wood that I bought for her – specifically the early Mog Edwards dream sequence. She’d have said yes. Given the additional difficulties with the Atlantic Ocean being in the way it’d probably have been a lengthier than usual engagement, but I imagine we’d have been married at 27. That would have left lots of time for settling down and deciding whether or not to have a kid.

But now, who knows how long it will be until I even meet someone else? Last time it was two years. Say it’s two years again this time. I’ll be 28. A four year relationship and a one year engagement, and I’m 33. And that’s assuming the first person I get into a relationship with ends up being the person I marry. I hate that. And I hate that she’s already with someone new, so she doesn’t have the same issue.

***

I’m still in disbelief.

The cheating, and the continued relationship with this man, and the three months were all horrible ordeals.

But I could have – and would have – forgiven her for all of it if in the end she had chosen me.

That she didn’t boggles my mind.

That, after all that she concluded that she would be happier with him than me is stunning.

I would have gone to the ends of the earth for her. Those who were closest to her and could see the things I did for her on a daily basis were well aware of that. And if it hadn’t been clear enough already, the past six months – where I willingly went through the closest thing to a literal hell for her – should have confirmed it.

Beyond that, we were compatible on so many levels. Emotionally, mentally, intellectually, sexually, etc. We just… fit, for lack of a better word.

And so for her to conclude that she’ll be happier with him than me is difficult to comprehend.

If there were problems with the relationship, I could understand it. If we’d been fighting, or if there was a loss of passion, or if something between us had fundamentally changed, I could understand it. But there was none of that. We had a fantastic relationship until she decided to scuttle it.

We were both (as far as I could tell) genuinely thrilled with each other.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling. It’s like scoring a 99 on a test and being told you’ve finished second. I’m left wondering how the hell I got beat, and what the hell he brings to the table that I didn’t. I did everything for her, but everything somehow wasn’t enough. It’s tough.

what have i done

I am a monster.

How could I say those things?

I was in so much pain, and I felt the walls closing in, and in my pain I went blind with rage and burnt everything to the ground.

I was so cruel. I just wanted the pain to go away.

And now it’s all in ashes. I’ll never see any of them ever again.

And the pain hasn’t gone away. It’s only gotten worse.

Why did she do this? Why did I do this?

I am the lowest form of scum, and I deserve all of the pain I feel right now.

There’s no hope anymore. I made sure of that.

But I still love them all. Even though she discarded me.

 

 

The Rest Is Silence

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

Despite everything that I did for the past six years – included the hell I’ve gone through on her behalf for the past six months – she chose him instead.

I think it’s a gigantic, devastating mistake.

As low as my self-confidence is at the moment, I know that I was an outstanding boyfriend. She will never find someone who will try as hard as I did to make her happy.

But, it wasn’t enough. And now I’ve lost everything. Maybe for her this will be for the best, but I just feel completely broken.

There’s nothing left to say here anymore.

 

Battles

Have I ever posted three in one day before?

 

That last one was the depression talking. It’s scary, isn’t it? It frightens me too. Part of me wants to delete it, but I don’t think I should. That’s the reality of how my mind thinks sometimes, and either hiding it or pretending it doesn’t happen only makes it worse.

Fortunately, I had a therapy session this evening, and that helped a little. I’m still not feeling great, but I’m better than I was.

The fact is, every day is a battle right now. Some days are minor skirmishes. Others, like today, are all-out wars. There’s no real sense of victory at the end of the day – just exhaustion. Right now, the key is just making it to the next one. So far, so good.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

 

I am not a good person. It would be better if I disappeared.

I don’t know how we got to this point, because four months ago I was a good person. I know I was. I used to bring joy to people. I used to make people happy.

And now all I do is hurt people, just by talking to them.

I talk to Sue and it makes her miserable. Sometimes she doesn’t even respond anymore because I’ve hurt her with what I’ve said.

I talk to Lizzie and it hurts her because she likes the other guy better than me and doesn’t want to lose his friendship.

I talk to my parents and it hurts them that I don’t do the things that they want me to do.

I talk to Jessie and it makes her feel guilty, and she eventually just tells me to go away so I won’t hurt her anymore. And that’s the worst one of all, because all I want to do is to love her and be loved by her like I did for almost six years. Instead I’ve been an immense source of pain for her, non-stop, for months on end. That’s pathetic.

I love all of these people. All I want is for them to be happy. And I used to be able to make them happy. But now I just can’t stop hurting them. Everything I say to them hurts them. But I talk to them anyhow because I’m selfish. And they’ve all turned on me now. As they should.

If I disappeared, things would be better for all of them. Sue wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. Lizzie would be able to have her new friend without feeling bad. Jessie wouldn’t have to make any decisions. I wouldn’t disappoint my parents anymore.

I wish that I was still a good person. I don’t know how this happened, but somehow we’ve reached a point where the world would be better off without me in it.

I don’t know who’s reading, and I don’t know who cares, but I’m sorry to the whole world for being the way I am right now. I’m trying so damned hard to fight but it’s hard when you’ve lost everyone and everything you loved.

I’ve fallen into an unpleasant pattern.

Talking to her feels as natural as breathing – and just as necessary. But I know I’m not supposed to right now, so I hold it in. I hold my breath.

For the first day or two I’m okay. But then I start to struggle against myself. I begin to forget about whatever positive things were said the last time we spoke. I start feeling alone, and forgotten. By the fifth day it’s unbearable. I need to say something. Anything. I just need to know if I still exist. I need to breathe. So I do.

I think overall I’ve done a good job of giving her space so far – our communication is probably less than 5% of what it normally would be. But whenever I say something, I feel guilty because I feel like I’m intruding on whatever it is she’s doing. I don’t want to disturb her, but the need to say something is just overwhelming sometimes.

Today is one of those times. Tonight is the monthly swing event over there – usually her favourite night of the month. And even though it’s something I’m usually not present for, I’ve made sure to either skype her or have her send a picture before she goes, so that I can tell her how beautiful she looks. And she always looks beautiful. Every single time.

And so at this very moment, 3000 miles away, there is a woman I love who looks absolutely stunning. And for the first time, I can’t tell her how wonderful she looks.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

How Depression Works

I don’t tend to cross-post between Facebook and here, but I’m going to make an exception in this case.

It is very difficult to understand depression unless you’ve been through it. I certainly didn’t understand it until it grabbed me by the throat a few years back.

So, in the spirit of #BellLetsTalk Day, I’m going to talk about my experiences with depression. Everyone’s experience is different, but hopefully this will serve to help explain it to those who haven’t been there.

Pick a happy memory of yours. Someone telling you that they love you, for example.

Now see if you can find a way to reinterpret that memory in order to make it a sad one. Imagine that the person who told you that they love you was only saying it out of pity. Or perhaps they were only saying it because they wanted to avoid an awkward situation. Or perhaps they meant it at the time, but in the five days/weeks/months since they said it, their feelings have changed, and now they no longer love you.

Normally, you’d have to work very hard to convince yourself that any of those alternative explanations are true. There’s just too much evidence against them.

But when you’re depressed, the opposite is true. It takes a herculean effort to convince yourself that you are truly loved, and even when you’re able to muster that effort, your fortitude can crumble in an instant.

Now imagine that process happening against your will to all of your memories at the same time. That summer picnic ? Yeah, no one really wanted you there but they felt compelled to invite you. That time you went dancing? All everyone was thinking about was how it would have been so much better if you weren’t there. That time you went to play board games? You were the only one having fun; everyone else thought it was lame.

It’s not long before your past is completely swallowed up by the darkness.

“I’ll fight it” you might say, but it’s not that easy to fight against your own brain. If your brain has concluded that no one loves you and that the past was miserable, then those become “facts”. From there on it’s just as difficult to convince yourself that you are loved as it is to convince yourself that the sky is red.

After your past has been devastated, depression comes for your present. Nothing is enjoyable anymore. Big hockey fan? Now you have no interest in sitting through more than five minutes (and not just because your team is complete garbage at the moment). Video games that you once loved feel like a chore to play. TV shows suddenly seem boring. Your favourite foods all taste like cardboard. Hanging out with friends feels hollow – you’re laughing outwardly, but on the inside you feel numb.

Because none of these things make you feel good anymore, eventually you just stop doing them. Instead, you wake up, struggle desperately to find ways to kill eight minutes here and five minutes there until it’s late enough to go to bed. Every day feels sixty hours long, and by the end of it you’re exhausted from the effort of pretending that everything is okay. If you’re lucky, you’ll sleep and dream of nothing. If you’re not, you’ll spend half the night having nightmares and the other half lying awake, too scared to fall asleep again. Then you get to do it all again the next day. And the next day. And the day after that.

With the past and present both consumed, the last thing to fall is the future. And this is the worst of it. This is why we have a #BellLetsTalk Day. Depression wouldn’t be half as bad if you could be convinced that you will feel better in one month, or two months, or even six months. The problem is, it’s damned near impossible to do that when you see both the past and present as utterly bleak. You can’t look back at times in the past where you were happy because you’ve convinced yourself that you weren’t really happy then. You feel like you’ve passed your peak – your best days are behind you, and you’ll never be happy again. And you believe that with every ounce of your being.

And so hopelessness sets in. All you know for sure is that your past was mediocre, your present is worse, no one loves you anymore, and things will not get better – they will only get worse.

In the end, you might think that there’s only one way out. One way to end all of the pain that comes with every hour of being alive.

When you start thinking about dying, that’s rock bottom. I’ve been there before. I’ll probably be there again. It’s as dark and desperate a place as you can possibly imagine.

I don’t take things particularly seriously. I’d say I’m joking around somewhere between 90% and 95% of the time. But this is something I’m serious about. This is literally a matter of life and death:

If you suspect that someone is struggling, talk to them. Never mind that they’re withdrawn and don’t really want to talk. Do it anyway, and do it right now. And then invite them out somewhere. Never mind that they’re no fun to be around at the moment. Do it anyway, and do it right now. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just out for a beer or a coffee is enough. If they don’t want to, suggest another activity. Or another date. Just reach out to them until their brain can’t ignore or re-interpret the love that you are showing them anymore.

And if you yourself are struggling. Talk to someone. Talk to me. We’ll climb out of this pit together. Just don’t suffer in silence. Talk.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

Creep

Every now and then the Internet puts you in an awkward position and gives you an embarrassing story to tell.

Recently I’ve started playing a game called Town of Salem. It’s a video game, but it plays more like a board game, really.

The basics are simple. There are 15 players to start. Among those 15 players are 3 or 4 mafia members. The mafia members know who the other mafia members are, but the other players do not. Each turn, the mafia will kill off one of the villagers. The players can then decide amongst themselves to execute a player if they believe that player to be a mafia member. The villagers need to identify who the mafia members are before the mafia wipes them out and takes control of the town. There are plenty of intricacies, but that’s the gist of it anyhow. It feels a lot like The Resistance, if you’ve played that.

Here’s how it looks:

Salem.png

So, on the first turn, the mafia decided to kill off “prinzEugen”, and the remaining 14 townsfolk will now discuss who, if anyone, to send to the gallows.

By its very nature this game requires a lot of communication with complete strangers. If you’re a villager you need to convince the other villagers that you’re trustworthy, and if you’re a mafia member, you need to convince the other villagers that you’re trustworthy while trying to spread confusion and doubt so that they make the mistake of executing other villagers rather than mafia members. In either case, communication is necessary. You can stay silent for the first few turns, but once the number of players starts to dwindle, saying absolutely nothing looks suspicious as hell. So naturally you get chatting with people, both about the game and other subjects.

Today I got chatting with a girl named Karla. I say this, but of course this is the Internet, so I had no idea if the person I was speaking with was really a girl named Karla. But my rule with anonymous Internet conversations is to take things at face value unless the person gives you a reason not to. So, Karla it was.

She mentioned that she was from England, so we got talking on that subject for a bit. The game ended before our conversation reached a natural conclusion, so I sent her an in-game friend request, and we kept chatting.

Then she asked me “How old are you?”

I froze up. That’s not something people usually ask. Not this early in an Internet conversation anyway. One alarm bell went off in my head. This was a reason to suspect that the person I was talking to might not be a girl from England named Karla. It might be a creep.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be rude. So, I decided to test “Karla” by saying “I’ll tell you how old I am if you tell me where in England you’re from.”

She said “London”, which is the exact answer you would give if you weren’t a girl from England named Karla. Another alarm bell.

I said “London’s a massive city, you’ve got to be more specific than that – what neighbourhood?”

She said “I don’t know lol.”

About a dozen alarm bells went off in my head. How could you possibly not know what part of London you’re from? “Karla” could have said just about anything and I’d have believed her. She could have made up a neighbourhood and I’d have been none the wiser.

But she didn’t. She said “I don’t know lol.”

I knew that what I should do at this point was close the conversation, unfriend “her”, and never speak with her again. That would have been the smart move.

But I am not a smart man. I had to say one more thing. And in doing so I guaranteed my own doom.

I said “You don’t know where in London you’re from? Hmm. But whatever, I’m 25.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with telling a complete stranger that you’re 25 years old. There’s nothing they can do with that information.

But by saying that, I gave her a chance to reply. And how did she reply?

“Cool. I’m 10.”

The alarm bells stopped ringing.

I sighed, I closed the conversation, I unfriended her, I blocked her, and then I closed the game.

There was no longer any doubt that I had been talking to a girl from London named Karla. A 10 year old girl from London named Karla, who didn’t know what part of London she’s from because she’s 10 years old. A 10 year old girl from London named Karla who didn’t know that it’s not polite to ask how old people are on the Internet because she’s 10 years old.

And to that 10 year old girl from London named Karla, just minutes before, I had said “I’ll tell you how old I am if you tell me what part of England you’re from.”

With horror I realized that I was the creep.

No more Internet for me today. I’m banned.

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

The Last 32 Hours

This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write. But I had to do it because I don’t want to forget.

***

It started with dancing.

I was feeling somewhat unstable at the time, but nevertheless off we went.

It was a monthly event, one that I’d attended many times before. Of course, this time was different.

The night began with a beginner’s lesson, and as always I did my part to make the new folks feel good about themselves – especially the ones lacking co-ordination. It was a more difficult lesson than usual, but I used that to help people. Telling someone who was doing well that this lesson was particularly difficult served to boost their confidence further. Telling someone who wasn’t doing well that it was a particularly difficult lesson made them feel that the trouble they were having was understandable.

After the lesson came the social dancing part of the evening. For the most part, everything went as it usually does: Good music, good conversations, good company, and good dances. There were a few differences though.

Partway through the evening we did a little Secret Santa gift exchange whereby everyone who put a gift into a sack was later entitled to take a gift out of the sack. I didn’t get anything special, but looking around and seeing dozens of people opening gifts together was really nice. That was the most Christmasy I felt this year, though that isn’t saying much.

With some effort, I was generally able to keep my emotions under control on this evening. I had to go to the bathroom a few times to compose myself, but I didn’t have a meltdown.

I wasn’t the only one struggling that evening. Her friend was having a difficult time as well. I don’t know what was on her mind exactly, but I knew it was partly to do with me and that made me feel awful. She has enough to deal with already, and the fact that I was contributing more anxiety to her life – the day after her birthday no less – made me feel like everyone would be better off if I just disappeared. To top it off, I failed to participate in her birthday jam. Well done me.

And yet despite all of the emotions (or possibly because of all the emotions), I was on top form that evening dancing-wise. I rarely have as many dances as I did that evening, and I’ve never danced as well as I did that evening. I think I only danced with two people all evening, but on that particular evening all I wanted to do was dance with those two women who have come to mean so much to me over the past five years. I threw in moves I didn’t know I could do, I ended with stylish leans, I rarely mis-stepped. I was on fire.

The very last dance with her was the best dance we’d ever had. I knew the song very well, so I was able to actually match moves to the music. We were both laughing and singing along for the entire two and a half minutes, but at the same time I felt like crying because I knew it might be the last dance we’d ever have.

Saying goodbyes at the end of the evening was difficult. The questions were the same as always: “When are you leaving?” and “When will you be back?” At the time, the correct answer to both questions was “I don’t know”, but I answered with “Sunday”, and “I’m hoping to be back in April”, which both ended up being true. All I could think about was how she had shown up with me for the December edition of this event, and she’ll be showing up with someone different for the January edition.

The night came to an end, and we headed home. Did I give her a massage that evening, or were we both too tired? I can’t recall. Eventually we drifted off.

I woke up crying the next morning, as I’d done many times before on this trip. This time was worse though. I was crying because I knew it might be our last morning together. Today was a day where a decision had to be made as to if I was leaving the next day or staying for Christmas/New Year’s, and how the two of us would proceed going forward.

She wanted to take a break. I didn’t. But she gave me the choice between taking a break and breaking up, so I gave in. I felt sick. The thought of her being with someone else – emotionally, physically, and sexually – made me feel grossly inadequate, but what choice did I have? It was going to happen either way. We set out some basic rules, and we put a 90 day limit on it, with her having the option to end it sooner if she wanted to.

And then a strange thing happened. Rather than tearing us apart, once the decision was made we got closer together than we’d ever been before. Physical intimacy was the one aspect of the relationship which had been noticeably absent during the previous two weeks, but that morning was different. That all-consuming carnal desire came back as if it never left. And at the same time, the emotional intimacy was there too. Neither of us are particularly lovey-dovey, but that day we were.

I decided to give her a gift then. It was a gift that I was hoping to give her a few months later, under much better circumstances. It was supposed to be an engagement gift.

See, she’s always thought that it would be better for her to pick out her own ring. And I agree; although I know her general tastes, all engagement rings look pretty much the same to me, and there’s no way I’d be certain that I was picking something that she would like. As such, the plan was to propose with this gift, go for a nice dinner, and then go ring shopping with her the next day.

That was the plan anyhow.

But the gift was something special, something I couldn’t give to anyone else. And so I knew I had to give it to her anyhow. It was an advance proof copy of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, perhaps the oldest surviving copy of that book in the world. Her favourite book.

I bought it the moment that I was sure that I wanted to marry her. That moment was at some point during the summer of 2015. I’m not sure how I reached that conclusion exactly, but at some point over the last two years I really started to look at my future. And when I looked into the future, I saw a lot of uncertainty: I saw myself in a lot of different jobs, and different cities, and even different continents. But the one constant was her. No matter where I was, no matter what I was doing, I saw her there. And so I knew that one day I would marry her. And I knew that she would say yes.

So I gave her the gift, telling her that it was hers to keep regardless. But if she wanted to come back to me, she would have to give me the book back temporarily so that I could properly propose with it. The surprise of the gift itself may be ruined, but the proposal scheme is still a mystery to her, and it remains a great one (involving a Ioan Gruffudd cameo, no less).

She described it as the single most thoughtful gift that anyone has ever given her.

We stayed in bed together into the afternoon. Talking. Holding one another close. Crying. Kissing.

At one point she went to inform her mother of the situation, and shortly thereafter I saw something I’ve never seen before.

You see, her mother and I get along really, really well. Personality-wise, I’m a lot more like her than I am my own mother. We have similar senses of humour, we’re both very easygoing, and we’d both give anything to ensure the happiness of one particular girl.

There is, however, one way in which we differ: She sings.

She has been through a lot in her life, but particularly so in the last few years. It’s a wonder to me that anyone in her situation could find the strength to keep going. But not only does she keep going – she sings through all the pain. It’s very rare to go more than half an hour in her house without hearing her belting out one tune or another. Whereas I just break down and cry, she sings. It takes a heroic effort to sing through adversity, and yet she manages to do it every single day. She is a truly remarkable woman; I can’t imagine a better mother-in-law.

But that morning, she was not singing as she walked into the bedroom. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

Seeing her like that broke my heart. Even as I type this a whole month later, I can’t remember it without breaking down myself. It was heart-wrenching.

At some point after that her friend came over to drop off a Christmas gift for me. She was aware of the situation, and so we all knew that this would be more about saying goodbye than anything else.

The three of us sat on the bed, content for a short time to talk about absolutely anything else and ignore the elephant in the room. And then I said “Alright, I’ll start crying first”. And shortly thereafter we were all crying. Her friend assured me that she would always be my friend, but I knew that I couldn’t let her be in the middle of the situation anymore.

This friend of hers is a truly special woman. Of all her friends, she was the most keen to meet me five years ago, and she was also the friend who I got along with best. As the years went by, I came to love her more than many of my local friends. As I mentioned above, she struggles a lot with keeping her own anxiety in check, and yet despite that she’s constantly going out of her way to make people happy. The way she cares for her best friend so much is inspiring. And to top it all off, her hair is the definition of perfection.

And on December 17th, I had to say goodbye to her.

I can’t tell you how devastating that was. I held her and squeezed as tightly as I could. I sobbed into her shoulder. At one point I heard my girlfriend cry out “I can’t believe how much pain I’m causing”. I cried more.

And then she was gone, leaving me with new pairs of socks and a Christmas card that I still can’t bear to put away.

At any other time, this would have been a singularly devastating event. On its own it would have made for one of the worst days of my life. And yet it would be topped twice in the next 12 hours.

The next decision we had to make was whether I would leave the next morning as scheduled, or stay an extra four days. An awful decision to have to make.

On one hand, with the decision made to take this three month break, would extending the visit for four days just feel like delaying the inevitable? Would we be able to be happy at all knowing what was coming?

On the other hand, not extending the trip meant leaving, perhaps forever, in less than 12 hours.

With great difficulty we decided not to prolong the inevitable. And so the next step was to pack.

Packing to go home is something each of us has had to do many times in the past. It’s never a pleasant activity. The way the drawers reserved for the other person are vacated, leaving an empty space behind, is an apt metaphor for the hollow feeling it leaves.

But there was a particular sadness this time that went beyond anything that we’d previously experienced.

She helped me fold and pack my clothes, as she always does. But this time, before she put every item in my suitcase, she buried her face in it and inhaled.

I made fun of her for that, but I understood why. You can re-experience familiar sights and sounds just by closing your eyes and envisioning them, or humming a tune in your head. You can’t do that as easily with smells. So I understood.

I later found out that she had secretly stolen a pair of my (clean) underwear during the packing process and kept it. Again, I made fun of her for that. And again, I understood.

We had dinner at some point. I can’t remember what we had, and that bothers me. I feel like that’s the sort of thing that I should remember. But I can’t.

In the evening, we decided to watch a movie. We decided on The Muppet Christmas Carol. We snuggled close together and sung along.

The hours kept ticking away as much as we wanted them to stop.

We talked long into the night. About where we’d been. About everything the other meant to us. About the future.

I asked her what she would have said if I’d asked her to marry me back in June. She didn’t want to tell me because the answer might make me sad(der). I asked her to tell me anyway. She said she probably would have said yes. I knew it. I knew it back in June. I’ve known that would be her answer for a long time.

Eventually, our eyelids started to grow heavy, and we knew we had to sleep soon. We took our clothes off. I stared at the beautiful woman in front of me, illuminated only by the red Santa lights on her bedroom window. How many times had I seen her like this before? Hundreds and hundreds. And yet every time feels like the first time. I was just as excited, just as speechless, just as awed upon seeing her on that evening in December 2016 as I was in the late hours of a night in early April 2011 when I saw it all for the first time.

I moved my hands over every curve, every bend, every valley. I had to have her one more time.

 

And then we slept – my arm around her chest, our legs intertwined, as we’ve done on almost every night that we’ve been together since the beginning.

The alarm went off too soon.

We stayed in bed for as long as possible, but eventually it was time to get up. I think I ate something but I can’t remember it.

And then I had to say goodbye to her mom.

Oh God, of all the things in life I never wanted to have to do, this ranks very high. I felt completely and utterly devastated.

I thanked her for everything. I told her I loved her. I told her how badly I would miss her. I told her to take care of her daughter for me.

She told me not to despair. She told me she loved me. She told me how badly she would miss me. And she told me that she looked forward to when this would pass and we’d see each other again.

And just like that, two very important people had vanished in a span of less than 12 hours. And the most important one was yet to come.

We got into the car and began the short drive to the airport. Never a happy drive, but again, this one was worse.

A song started to play on the radio. And once we heard the lyrics, we both silently reached for our respective phones to try to record as many of them as we could so that we could listen to the song later.

It perfectly encapsulated the situation.

At the airport, I said goodbye to her dad. I’m not sure how aware he was of the situation. He certainly didn’t show any signs of feeling particularly emotional. I didn’t really get emotional either – no more than I already was anyhow.

We walked into the airport. The line for baggage drop was longer than usual in the normally-empty Cardiff airport, leaving less time for us to say goodbye. Sod’s law.

Off went my luggage. We climbed the stairs to the departures lounge and sat in an empty part of the airport near the gate.

How can I possibly describe the twenty minutes that followed?

There just aren’t any words to convey the depth of emotion that both of us felt in those moments. Our sadness was infinite.

How many times did we tell each other we loved each other? How many different ways did each of us say it?

“I love you.”
“You’re my best friend”
“I’m really glad you came over.”
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

If you eliminate the context and just look at what was said, any outside observer would conclude that these were two people deeply in love. And they would be right.

It felt like madness to me. How could two people this devoted to one another even contemplate this course of action, much less carry it out? What benefit could come from depriving ourselves of the best part of each other’s lives? I asked her one last time if she really wanted to do this. She maintained that she couldn’t see any other way.

I told her numerous times that I had to treat this as if I would never see her again. And every time I said that, she told me that although she recognized I had to think that way for my own self-preservation, she wasn’t going into this break with that mentality. To underscore the point, she gave me a ticket from one of the game centres on Barry Island. This was an old tradition of ours, where I’m meant to keep that ticket until the next time we see each other, whereupon I redeem it in exchange for permission to share a bed with her again.

And then it was time to go. But I didn’t want to. We hugged. We kissed. We cried. We smelled each other. And then we did it all again. Over and over. We couldn’t pull apart. Not for a second.

She said that if she changed her mind at any point, she would be on the next flight over.

She walked with me right to the gate. I turned to walk through.

And I couldn’t do it. I took two steps, and then my feet turned into lead, my knees started to tremble, and I couldn’t take another step away from her. I turned back toward her and hugged her again.

I told her there was no way I could walk through that gate. She would have to go down the stairs. It was selfish of me to make her be the one to walk away, but I just couldn’t do it.

And so finally she walked toward the stairs. She blew a kiss. I blew one back. She mouthed “I love you so much”. I mouthed “I love you too. So much.” She put her hands in front of her chest in the shape of a heart. I did the same.

And then she walked down the stairs and out of sight.

I considered running after her. If this was a movie, I would have. But in real life, what would it have accomplished other than to delay the inevitable by another three minutes? She had made it clear that she felt that this was necessary, and nothing I could do at this point would change that.

Even still, I stood in front of that gate for a moment, hoping beyond hope that this wasn’t the end. Hoping beyond hope that she would reappear, and run toward me, and tell me not to go, and tell me that all of this was a huge mistake, and tell me she’s sorry for taking so long to realize what she wanted was right there in front of her all along, and tell me that she wants to be with me.

And I…

I’m still standing at the top of those stairs, waiting.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

Ten

Whenever I finish playing a video game, I give it a rating in my head from 1-10.

Very few games end up in the 1-4 range. To end up below 5, a game pretty much has to be unplayable for one reason or another. Game-breaking bugs, serious control issues, and crashes are the sort of thing that would put a game in the 1-4 range.

If I give a game a 5, that means that the game works, but is just no fun at all. It might suffer from frequent minor bugs, it might be boring, it might just be a frustrating slog all the way through. I probably won’t have played the game to its conclusion, and I probably will have forgotten about the game almost immediately. A 5 indicates that I’ve made a serious error in my choice of game to play, and that doesn’t happen very often.

A 6 indicates that a game is mildly disappointing. It will have been fun in parts, and there might be a memorable character or a catchy tune in there somewhere, but overall it will have left me feeling a little empty by the end. Games that get a 6 are typically forgettable, and don’t merit much future reflection.

A 7 for me is a satisfying game. Generally enjoyable throughout, a good soundtrack, a good cast of characters, etc. There will be disappointing bits, but nonetheless I’ll arrive at the end of the game feeling as if my time and money were well spent. 7 is sort of the default score – when I pick up any game, I go in expecting a 7 unless there’s some reason for my expectations to be higher or lower. The majority of games I’ve played in my life have been 7s, and whenever I look back at them I recall them with fondness.

8 is where we start to get into rarefied air. To get an 8, a game not only has to be exceptional, it also has to change the way I look at video games in one way or another. Perhaps by introducing me to a new genre, perhaps by introducing a new gameplay element, or perhaps by throwing a new challenge at me that I’ve never seen before. As you can imagine, this doesn’t happen all that often; once per year, perhaps. These are the games that I will not put down until I’ve uncovered each and every secret, completed every optional sidequest, and seen absolutely everything there is to be seen. And then once I’m done, I will go onto Wikipedia to see what details I may have missed about certain characters, I’ll listen to the soundtrack on Youtube, I’ll read interviews with the designers; anything to milk a little more from the game. If someone asks about one of these games, my response will simply be “It’s one of the best games I’ve played in the last ___ years”.

And then there are the 9s. These games change not only the way I look at video games, but at life itself. They are, simply, the best games I’ve ever played. If asked about one of these, the person who asked will quickly come to regret asking as I will gush nonstop for hours if allowed to.

There are only three of them: Pokemon Blue, which I first played in 1998. Golden Sun, which I first played between 2001 and 2002, and Chrono Trigger, which I first played around 2007 even though it came out in 1995.

Pokemon Blue was the first video game I owned. I’d played other games before, but this game was the first one I could say was mine. And owning that game changed everything for me. It gave me a world that I could escape to, with the goal of becoming the very best (like no one ever was). It gave me a way to compete with (and dominate) my friends. I played it for hundreds of hours, until the game cartridge itself wore out. And by the time I was done, I was a gamer.

Golden Sun informed one of my most integral traits: the way I try to see things from both perspectives. In this game, your goal is to stop the antagonists from lighting the four lighthouses around the world, lest a great evil be unleashed. And for the entire first act, which takes a solid 25-30 hours to get through, you chase the villains halfway around the world to prevent them from unleashing said evil. You succeed in slaying them, but not before they’ve lit two of the four lighthouses. And then the game shifts perspective. It places you, the player, into the boots of the secondary antagonist. For the next 40 hours, your goal is now to light the two remaining lighthouses, while the protagonists (or are they now antagonists?) chase you around. Over time, you come to realize that lighting the lighthouses is indeed the correct course of action, and that you’d spent the first 25-30 hours of the game carrying out actions that would have doomed the world if successful. This twist blew my 10 year old mind, and made me realize the importance of trying to understand the other person’s point of view, no matter how crazy their actions may seem to you. It’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since.

Chrono Trigger is just a masterpiece in storytelling. It’s a game about trying to prevent a seemingly inevitable apocalypse through time travel. I don’t want to say too much about it here as I’ve got plans to write more about this game in the near future, but for now it suffices to say that this game completely changed the way I feel about things like “destiny”, and “fate”.

A 9 isn’t something that you can ascribe to  a game immediately after playing it. It takes a few years before it’s possible to tell whether a game has had any life-changing impact on me. The one game that may well be upgraded from an 8 to a 9 in a few years is Clannad, which I played this past June. There is no question that it is the most emotionally evocative game I’ve ever played. I’ve never played a game that succeeded in making me laugh as hard – or cry as much – as Clannad. There is also no question that the soundtrack is one of the most memorable I’ve ever heard. The characters were all wonderfully developed, and you couldn’t help but root for them – even the ones I initially found unlikable grew on me by the end of the 75 hour game. As for the impact on my life, this is the game that got me back into studying Japanese. Whether I stick with it remains to be seen, but if I do, there’s a very good chance that Clannad will be the fourth game to get a 9 from me, and the first in nearly a decade.

What about a 10 then?

So far, I haven’t played a game that I would consider a 10. To get a 10, a game would have to be flawless, and I’ve yet to encounter such a game in 20 years of searching for one. Even the games I hold above all others have flaws. Pokemon Blue had tedious cave sections. Golden Sun suffers from some pacing issues in the second act, and also has a tedious cave section. Chrono Trigger leaves something to be desired in the area of character development. Clannad’s ending was somewhat confusing, which took away some of the emotional impact of the previous 75 hours.

Whenever I start a new game, I expect a 7, but a small part of me always hopes for a 10. As much as I treasure the four games I’ve just mentioned, I would love nothing more than to play a game that could surpass them all. A game that I could look back at 10, 20, 30 years later and say “That is the best game I have ever played”.

Realistically, it will probably never happen. 20 hours is a short game relative to what I usually play. I don’t know if it’s possible to maintain perfection for that long, much less the 50-100 hour beasts I usually tackle.

But, as with everything else in life, I live in hope.

 

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.