Introspection is a series in which my current nineteen-year-old self has imaginary interactions with my fifteen-year-old self. For more information, click here.
I pour the last drop from a pot of peppermint tea into my mug, taking a long sip. On the table sits my sunglasses, my notebook, the novel I’m currently reading and my phone. They all sit untouched, I’m too distracted to write, read or check social media.
I’m in the lobby of a hotel in Kilmuckridge, the village where I attended school. It’s so strange to sit here again, in the place where I used to often meet my friends, none of whom I’ve spoken to in a very long time.
I remember the day that I skipped afterschool study to get dinner here with my friend, only for my Dad to collect me and announce that we were going for dinner in the same place. I spent the whole dinner feeling extremely tense and concerned that the waitress would make a comment about me being there for the second time that day.
I’m feeling quite on edge as I sit alone and stare out the window. I have so many memories of this area that make me feel a range of different intense emotions. I enjoyed myself so much here, it’s just such a shame that all those happy times have been somewhat overshadowed by my final year here.
My smile is shaky as I take the last sip from my tea, thinking about my final year. Thinking about losing my group of friends because of one significant thing. Thinking about the intense depression that I slid into, struggling to see the light side of life.
The sun streams in through the large window, warming my face. I tilt my chin up and rest my head against the back of the squashy chair. On a sunny day like this, it’s easy to see the light. It’s easy to forget the days that I’ve struggled to feel content or relaxed in the way that I do now. My heart swells with a rush of gratitude as I sit in the large, modern lobby, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and reflecting on a number of different things.
This is the mind-set I’m in when he arrives, looking quite perplexed as he stares into my eyes from beneath his fringe. He looks somewhat shy, as though he’s interrupted something.
I remind myself that he’s not as used to these intense feelings as I am. He gets them, exactly the same way that I do, but he mostly suppresses them. He even suppresses the happy ones. He think it’s foolish to feel extreme joy in a simple moment.
I invite him to sit but he shakes his head, gesturing towards the window. “It’s a nice day,” he declares, “we should walk.” I try to remain composed as I gather up my stuff and put it into my bag. Remaining composed takes an effort for two reasons.
The first is that I want to raise my eyebrows at his suggestion to go outside. I’m well aware that he has no real desire to be out in the direct sunlight, because we both have a fear of the ageing effect that the sun has on our skin. And because he’s not dressed for the weather at all, donning a heavy purple hoody and a thick pair of black jeans. The reason he wants to walk around is to have a chance encounter with someone he knows, something that’s inevitable in this tiny village.
The second reason that I’m finding it difficult is because walking around this village is not something I really want to do. Although I knew that I probably wouldn’t have much choice when I came here.
As we emerge into the sunny day, he shields his eyes. I take a case from my handbag and give it to him. “I thought you’d like to borrow these for today, but you have to give them back when I’m leaving,” I warn him. He turns the sunglasses case over in his hands.
“Ted Baker,” he inhales, his eyes lighting up. I roll my eyes and begin strutting back towards the village in my pink boots. “How are you not rich if you have two pairs of designer sunglasses?” He calls, running to catch up with me.
“I know how to save my money,” I smirk “and I also bought this pair in a sale. Anyway, that shit doesn’t matter. Just because you buy designer doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.
“That’s easy for you to say when you actually own designer items,” he retorts and I shake my head. “Don’t be annoying,” I command and he stops smiling.
“Why are you so tense?” He sounds irritated, he can’t possibly understand feeling uncomfortable here. “I’m fine,” I say flatly, giving him a look that tells him to leave me alone.
“What were you up to today,” I ask after we’ve been walking in silence for a few moments. He lights up at the question. “We were hanging out by the pitches today. Everyone was out. It was actually really fun. The boys were playing football and I even joined in for a few minutes.”
I resist the urge to scoff. He hates football but he plays it sometimes when he feels as though he needs to break the divide between the boys and the girls. He often takes on the role of being that bridge between the sexes, and he’s quite good at it. Making funny comments and starting conversations between people. In fact, once, one of his friends told him that she only feels comfortable around boys when he’s there. She said that his funny comments are really good at breaking any tension.
He’s just sat his junior cert exams and in the past few weeks, some of the boys began to hang out with his group of girlfriends more than usual. His popularity is very important to him and having the boys on side will only make things easier for him.
I glance at him out of the side of my eye. My heart all but breaks as I watch the smile on the corners of his lips. The excitement radiating from him when he talks about his friends. The trust he has in this group, the blind assurance that things will stay the same.
“So, who’s not in our group anymore? Did anyone have a falling out?” I feel ashamed when I notice the enthusiasm on his face. He’s been slowly becoming less and less interested in drama but he’s certainly not there yet. I can tell he’s thinking about certain tensions in the group. He knows what this group is like. They often drop people out of the blue, suddenly directing their cruelty and attention towards one individual.
By they, I mean the boys in this group. It may be surprising for some people but his girlfriends don’t even come close to the level of bitchiness that the boys are at. They’re pulling the strings of who’s included and who’s not, but to outsiders, it probably doesn’t appear to be the case.
When he notices my hesitation, a sudden flash of insecurity appears on his face before he regains composure. He’s well aware that his position in this group isn’t exactly concrete either. I feel the same pain when I see how much self-worth he gets from his current friends. It will be such a tough adjustment when he’s no longer within their ranks.
He’s silent, waiting for me to speak, but I don’t really know where to begin.
“There have been a couple of spats in recent years,” I begin, thinking about how much of an understatement that is. “And then, since I’ve moved to Dublin, I don’t really know what happened after that.”
He blinks at me in surprise. “You lost touch with them when you moved to Dublin?”
“Not exactly,” I respond, we’ve arrived at the village shop now and I’m grateful for the distraction. I have to think about how I’m going to relay this information to him.
“I’d murder a diet coke,” we say simultaneously before smirking at one another. We enter the shop and multiple pairs of eyes watch us walk to the drinks section. However, many people were staring at us in Dun Laoghaire, there’s twice as many in this little country village.
My heart is racing. This shop is owned by the father of the boy I fell in love with, one of my best friends. During my final year here, I used to hate being in this shop, although I’d have to go nearly every day. It just had way too many reminders.
I do what I used to do then. I hold my head high and take a deep breath, always appearing composed even though I feel something close to panic at being here.
My younger self is standing in the same manner of pride. But it’s easier for him to look like this, he’s actually happy and proud to be here.
“Do you want any food,” I ask? He shakes his head. Of course not, I remind myself, feeling foolish. When we get up to the counter I hand him my can. “You’re buying, I bought you ice-cream,” I declare. He smirks at me. I’m relieved to see that my old love isn’t the one serving us. That would be too much awkwardness for me to handle.
We exit the shop and sit down at an empty picnic bench outside. It’s still extremely sunny so I take off my thin cardigan, exposing my should ers in my wine tank top with spaghetti straps.
I see him glance at me, probably feeling slightly confused. I recognise the confusion. When I first wore this top, I felt like it was extremely unflattering. But after staring at my reflection for a while, I realised I just really wasn’t used to seeing my shoulders.
He continues to sit in his hoody, looking only slightly overheated. He appears to be stewing over everything I’ve alluded to so far. His lips are pursed and his eyebrows are somewhat knitted together.
I sigh and tell myself to woman up. Who cares if he doesn’t understand? You couldn’t have helped anything that happened, but you need to put him out of his misery.
“I fell in love with my best friend,” I announce, cracking open my can of diet coke.
His eyebrows shoot up. That was not what he was expecting. I can see him mulling over what I could possibly be talking about. He’s certainly friendly with the boys, but he wouldn’t yet call any of them a best friend. But I know he has the right person in mind. He’s already becoming closer to this boy, beginning to look at him in a different way.
After taking a swig of diet coke I continue. “I spent a long time being secretly in love with him but telling myself that I wasn’t. Denial is an extraordinary thing. But then when he fell in love with my other best friend, I couldn’t deny how I felt anymore.”
“I was upfront with him, and with her. I told them exactly how I felt and it wasn’t easy. This was at the beginning of my final year in school so I had to stop hanging out with all of my friends.”
I look him in the eye for the first time since I spoke and he looks away, clearly uncomfortable with the emotion on my face.
It’s all come rushing back to me. The love, the shame, the fear, the guilt, the butterflies. I haven’t thought about any of it in a while, but I haven’t been so close to the situation in a while.
“Why did you have to stop? Did they not take it well?”
I smile ruefully. “Well I couldn’t very well be around the boy that I loved while he was in love with my best friend, could I?”
He looks at me blankly. He obviously doesn’t think love is a good enough reason to lose your friends. I can’t really blame him. He has no idea.
“How did they react when you told them?” I hesitate, thinking back on it.
“They reacted quite well really. I mean it was incredibly weird, but we all handled it very maturely for our age. I don’t think they really blamed me, which was good. We were all just more disappointed that we couldn’t hang out together anymore.”
“Do you miss them?” He looks upset.
“I miss all of my old friends. But losing people is something that you really have to be okay with when you’re young. Young people’s lives are constantly changing, so it makes a lot of sense that people get lost along the way.”
“My final year was tough when I didn’t have my friends around me. Don’t get me wrong, I always had people to hang out with and people that I cared about, but I had to encounter a number of people that I loved and just turn away from them on a daily basis because of everything that happened. And that was really difficult. You know how important my friends are to me. And to lose a huge chunk at them at once while I also had my heartbroken was the most difficult thing I’d ever dealt with.”
“Are you in touch with any of the girls?” He looks stressed, which is understandable.
I shake my head, my eyes on the ground. “I used to keep a small bit of contact with some of them. But I had to make the difficult decision to cut that contact. It just made me sad because nothing was the same and I realised that we couldn’t really ever get back to where we were. Speaking to them in a way that barely ever resembled our old interactions just made me sad, so I had to just move on.”
A range of emotions are playing out across his face right now. I sit there and let him process everything that I’ve told him, but he doesn’t seem to know what to say next. I decide to make him feel better.
“When I was your age I had some of the best experiences with my friends. Parties, drinking, dancing, it was all so enjoyable. I envy you and all of the fun things you’re going to get to do. It was such a nice time for me to be alive before it ended so tragically. But just because it ended in such a disappointing way doesn’t mean that I regret any of it.”
“In Dublin, I have some of the most amazing friends. I’ve surrounded myself with strong women and decent men who never make me feel anything less than loved and respected. The only worry that I have about my current friend group is when I’m trying to find the time to see all of them.”
He smiles. I’m glad to see that I’ve relieved some of his fear. I didn’t mean to make everything sound so gloomy. Sometimes, when you’re reflecting on the past it can be so easy to just focus on the negative aspects, but I had and continue to have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to my youthful friendships. They taught me an awful lot and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
His eyes light up as he turns his attention back to me. “So, what’s it like to be in love?” He asks in a voice that burns with curiosity.”
“Oh no,” I respond, “if we’re talking about love, we’re doing it over a drink. I stand up from the picnic table, grabbing my handbag and strutting towards the village bar that I used to frequent. This bar is also owned by the family of the boy I was in love with. I think of how appropriate a setting it is for our next conversation.
I turn my head and smile at him as I walk through the door.
This should be interesting.
To read more about the first time I fell in love, click here.