The boy from The Internet

Google Translate has no idea what it says either. Outside Nomad coffee house, Barcelona

He was a boy from The Internet. Or rather, a man from The Internet, with a full Stoke Newington beard, and the reassuringly all-black wardrobe of his Hackney-via-Melbourne clan. I’d found him because he’d had a bike accident, and he had told The Internet how it felt to crash. How it felt for bones to break, for lycra to tear and for carbon to smack tarmac. As I read it, I could feel how it felt to crash. Because I’d crashed, eighteen months earlier. My whole world had imploded as I lay broken on the pavement, legs tangled amongst my bike, being cut out of my lycra by paramedics as the sun rose on that cold January morning.

In his play The History Boys, Alan Bennett made an observation of literature:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” — Hector, The History Boys.

As I read about his crash — about the sudden absence of speed, of time slowed down and stretched impossibly — I felt his hand, this boy from The Internet, come out and take mine.

Eighteen months of silence, of not talking to anyone about my crash. I didn’t talk to myself about my bike accident. I didn’t know how. Just quietly spasming as flashbacks and memories cut across conversations and thoughts, and without sign of abating. Sounds of a helmet smacking the tarmac conjured themselves repeatedly from thin air, and of dazzling lights, from street lamps and head lamps, interrupted my sentences on even the most mundane of subjects. I worked harder, I slept less, I played music louder.

The boy from The Internet did not know that he held my hand, and agreed with me: yes, he said, we are not unbreakable.

I picked up my pen. It was time to tell myself the story of how it felt to crash.

It’s one year on. I met the boy from The Internet yesterday, with his beard, and his black clothes, and his bright eyes, and his stories that leave me laughing like I’m going to break two of my ribs (which would be terribly ironic). We smoked cigarettes on his rooftop, me sat cross-legged and running my palms over the fake grass, and talking far too fast with our voices — not our fingertips over messaging apps and different timezones. The boy from The Internet was real. Real enough to touch, close enough to pass me the lighter.

I told myself the story of how it felt to crash, and something inside me loosened, relaxed, exhaled. Over the next year, I told myself other stories I’d been too frightened to tell, and I even told them to other people. The walls around us did not turn to ash as I suspected they might if I should tell my secrets, and the teacups we held did not burn our fingers like lit matches. I started to write again. I noticed I stopped wearing black. And I asked for help. I reached out and took the hands of people who offered them gladly, until this summer I was standing barefoot on a mountaintop in Spain, wearing a glittering dress, with rainbow-coloured hair, watching the sun set and I breathed so freely and so delightedly, and I held onto myself.

The boy from The Internet did not save me. I am no damsel in distress. But a year ago, his hand came out and took mine, and I used it to help me get to my feet. Yes, I crashed, but I did not stay on the tarmac.

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