Trigger Warning

“If Bridget were God, she would have made it against the law for you to feel that way about someone without them having to feel it for you right back.”
- Girls in Pants, the Third Summer of the Sisterhood

The back of my right hand smells like his neck. I do not know why, and that troubles me.

I wondered if it was the wet wipes I had been using, or my new Crabtree hand cream. I resisted an overwhelming urge to dunk both items into the bin. I headed to the bathroom to wash my hands, but a good scrub later, it was still there. Maybe I’ll just have to chop off my hand.

It has been two months, and things like this still get to me.

The last time we had seen each other, we had been sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean in Kennedy Town. The same bench, and yet we were not touching. Throughout the course of our turbulent relationship, there was but one consistency: we always had difficulty keeping our hands off each other. Which made the four months that I was away in Glasgow all the more unbearable. The day before I boarded a plane home, I had told him, “I don’t care what we’re doing tomorrow, so long as at any given moment one part of my body is touching one part of yours.”

That last day, I had put on my favourite dress. I wanted to look good, and I wanted to break his heart just a little. He was wearing a black tshirt and jeans. He loved wearing jeans; his dad, an old-fashioned Indian man with the manners and attire of someone out of Kingsmen, preferred stuffing him into miniature suits that he outgrew less than a year later. Jeans was forbidden wear.

He started crying the moment he saw me. I held the tears in until he sat down properly and he was close enough so that I could get a whiff of him.

Things like that are triggers now. The woman who is a client at the human rights law firm I’m interning for over the summer is a trigger, because in her arms is always a cute Chindian baby that makes my mind wander off to all the what-ifs in the parallel universes of relationships. The trailer for that new Mark Ruffalo movie is a trigger, because the protagonist is bipolar, and polar bear had been my pet name for him. Alt-j is a trigger. Everything space-related is a trigger, because it reminds me of when we’d cuddle up and watch Cosmos together in bed. Doctor Who is a trigger; it was his favourite show, and we hadn’t even made it to Matt Smith before the relationship ended. There are restaurants I don’t walk pass anymore, even though it means taking a 10-minute detour. I avoid coming across images of or actual stuffed animals, because we had adopted three together: Pan, a pug, named after Pantalaimon from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials; Lancelot, a panda we picked up at the Space Museum after watching a documentary about pandas at the planetorium; and Sir Humbert, a turtle he had got for me from a zoo in England, just a week before we broke up. Even Pokemon is a trigger because the kiss that changed everything for both of us happened right after a conversation of us arguing about what the best original starter was.

When things ended between us, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand because when we found each other, it had been like hitting jackpot. It had never felt right with anyone I had met, or been with, or dated. This was the first time I was ever sure of how I felt about someone. And when you experience that, when you’ve met the, drumroll, the one, or so I had believed — I’ve been brought up to believe that stories that begin like this are supposed to end with a happily ever after.

And because of that, I had ignored all the warning signs. I pushed out of my mind all the times I asked him if he loved me and he said he wasn’t sure. I tried to act like it was normal that we never once spoke about our future together. Because of the aura of uncertainty he constantly emanated, I lived in the perpetual fear of losing him. At the same time, for reasons beyond my own comprehension, I behaved like we were going to be together forever, which made the separation even harder. I had stored half of my book collection at his place when I moved to a smaller flat, and they are still there now. I had been a pretty skeptical person by nature, but I very much believed in us. What hurt the most was that when it was over, he said that he had been lying to me and misleading me the whole time into thinking that what we had was going to last. When I had completely let my guard down and allowed myself to trust him completely, he now suggested that never once did.

This thing called love — I don’t know what it is anymore.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with my flatmate that sounded like it could have come out of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. She told me she has been in almost 20 relationships from the age of 16–22, the longest of which was 2 years long, but she wasn’t sure if she’s ever been in loved. I told her about the time my friend asked me if I have ever had an orgasm, and I said I didn’t know, and he told me if I didn’t know then I probably never had one. I explained to her that it was pretty much the same thing — once you are in love, you’ll know it for sure, and if you aren’t sure, then you’ve probably never been in love.

The only overwhelming evidence of love I had in my life was not romantic in nature; it was the unrequited love my grandmother had shown towards all her children and grandchildren. My parents’ marriage had not been a happy one, and I did not know what a healthy relationship should look like. I grew up to become a very independent person, because I never had anyone to rely on. When that someone I thought I could rely on finally presented itself in the form of him, I went the other extreme, digging my claws into his soul and sucking him dry every opportunity I could. I didn’t care that in retrospect, we spent 8 months walking on eggshells, tiptoeing round each other. I was miserable, but I had rather be miserable and loved than not loved at all.

The pain of having him, and then losing him, was so great that I rather not have met him at all. At first I did not understand. I wrote him letters that I never sent. Eventually, exactly a month after we broke up, I wrote one that I did send, a long, florid piece that detailed everything I had missed about him. I told him I wanted to continue to be part of his life and be proud of him. I thought that if he loved me, there was no way he would not be moved by this. After all, what we had was more real and beautiful than anything we ever had. Right?

I was in denial, the way the whole world is still in denial about Jon Snow’s death. Despite what happened right in front of my eyes, I still desperately clung on to signs that it wasn’t over.

If I were Clem from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I would have had him deleted too. He was a drug; very intense and great, but also with terrible consequences. When you were in it, it felt like the only reality you know, and when that was taken from you, you craved and you starved. Once you’ve had your first taste of it, you couldn’t go back anymore. I wish people came with trigger warnings; if he did, maybe I would have stayed away, maybe if I hadn’t tried that first time and gotten hooked, it wouldn’t have left me so broken. From the moment I started using my life had become a series of bouts of euphoria, followed closely by the agony of withdrawal. But you can’t blame the drug; you only have yourself to blame for using.

Everything in the air still reeks of his scent, but scents will fade with time. And one day, I won’t need trigger warnings anymore.

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