Something a bit different today. I actually wrote a draft of this post a long time ago and am only just ready to share it. This is the true story of the girl I call my firework.
“You are the reason that I breathe…” I hear our song, quietly playing on the office radio all these years later, and I am transported back. I don’t remember her birthday or what her favourite colour was any more, but I do remember the important things. The way she grabbed me for that first kiss, the one where I thought my heart would stop. How she was so tiny I had to bend to kiss her, yet I still felt so protected when I was in her arms.
For months, she was only words on a screen. We typed, typed, typed our words, back and forth, night after long night, but it was never quite enough. It was a long time before I even saw her face. I didn’t need to. Just her name, just those three little ellipses to indicate her typing, was enough to send my foolish teenage heart into a tailspin. She was the first person I ever knew who I could be completely myself with. With her words, she reached through the screen across the miles separating us and wrested my truth from my fingertips.
I was only eighteen; she, twenty-five. The first moment I saw her, 3D flesh-and-blood, real and alive and right in front of me on the platform at New Street Station, I knew I was lost. I knew that, whether she was with me for a decade or walked out of my life tomorrow, she would always linger like a brand upon my skin.
She taught me how to make love to a woman. But much more than that, she taught me how to say yes when something I desperately want, but am afraid to want, is offered to me. She taught me how to love unreservedly, how to give of my whole self and then more. With her, I dared to hold hands in public and kiss in front of people who might not approve.
“To hell with what they think,” she told me. Her bravery made me brave, too. We only got abuse shouted at us in the street once.
Of course she broke my heart. We broke each others’. I fell too hard, too quickly. She withdrew. We were both too young, too afraid. We didn’t know how to communicate. There was the built-in inequality, right from the beginning, of age and experience – of the fact that she was my first love, and I was not hers. We didn’t know what we wanted. With her, I entered a second rush of adolescence, when I was barely through my first.
It was only later, when I’d finished crying into bottles of strong alcohol and convincing myself she was the only great love that would ever come along in my life, that I realised a fundamental truth: I will never love anyone else in the same way I loved her. And that is okay. That is even good.
What we had, though beautiful for its brief time, was neither comfortable nor sustainable over the long term. She was not the gentle, comforting fire of long-term companionship. She was a firework; beautiful and dazzling and then… gone. And fireworks are precious, but there is a reason we don’t set them off in our homes to keep ourselves warm.
We will never be friends. Of that I am absolutely certain. On the one occasion in the last ten years that I’ve seen her face – Facebook is a curse – I found the longing still there. Dulled, yes – dulled by time, by the memory of how things ended, by the more real and present and immediate affection for the person I love now – but still there. Indelible. She is indelible, a handprint in the book of my life.
It took me a long time to get over that heartbreak, and longer still to get over the anger that I manufactured to protect myself from the pain. But now? Now I am thankful for those brief, fleeting, perfectly imperfect three months.
She, my firework, taught me to be proud to be a queer woman, and for that I will always love her.
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