High Scores

On being reckless, falling in love, growing up, and eventually moving on.

Like so many others, I revelled in my emotional youth far beyond the years I was supposed to. I indulged in the irresponsibility of impulsive relations — you know: hot nights, staying up until light fringed the bottom of the curtains, birds chirping, the schoolchildren carrying on outside, unaware.

I loved the lost contact, missed texts, explosive break ups that left me shocked, confused, full of hate and high on passion. I lived for those moments because they made me feel alive. My lovers left as quickly and as harshly as the words we hissed, leaving me crushed but so alive, so full of ideas and tears with the inspiration to go on, to find the next great love, my next fling, mistake, my next muse.

Then things changed and I met him.

We worked together while I was at university, and I fell in love with him at a work bowling party shortly after we met. I’d wandered away from the group, walking through the aisles of arcade games and he’d followed me like a lost dog. We tried our hand at an old favourite of mine, Metal Slug 2, but we didn’t really get very far. We were both terrible at it — I was rusty and hadn’t played it since my high school days as an arcade rat, while he chose to blame the machine for his lack of skill.

The next day we shuffled down the dirty stairs of a basement arcade in the middle of the city to play Time Crisis, I can’t remember which one, and with our combined skill in shooting games we beat it in record time. I still remember the unused dollar coins lined up on the front console, our names flashing up on the screen like the initials of young lovers carved into a tree, placed next to each other on the high score charts, a team.

We were great partners, but always fell short of being a team. Over the years together we moved forward, moved in, moved houses, moved countries, and eventually moved on. I’m sure that there are many other stories, but those are for another day. Here’s what no one ever told me about real love:

No one ever told me that I would have to leave someone I was still happy and in love with, someone who I thought I would marry. No one mentioned that one day, three years in, I might wake up next to him with the realisation that we’re just going different ways in life. No one said that once I felt that the first time, it would nag at me like a secret and I would continue to feel that way every other morning, waking up with a knot in my stomach, no appetite, knowing it was over but too afraid to say it.

No one told me there wouldn’t be an explosion, or a fight, or yelling. No one said it would be slow and difficult and sad with no betrayal, no words flying or confessions spilling through the cracks of our broken partnership. No one said that instead we would quietly look at each other with mutual understanding and love, take a deep breath, hug, and try to pick of the pieces and carry on with the rest of our lives without each other.

No one told me what it would feel like to come home to his belongings haphazardly stuffed into bags, some falling out, some still scattered over the floor in mid-pack, duffel bags lined up like drunk soldiers along our hallway. No one told me about the phone calls, the heavy silence as we both tried to stop ourselves from crying, from begging, from taking it all back. No one told me how strong I could be when I knew it was the right thing for both of us.

No one told me how empty I would feel, no words left to think or say, alone in what was once our house, crying on the sofa — that hideous sofa he bought — in front of the PlayStation 4 which he took all of the games for. No one told me that I’d cry on public transport, stare blankly at my screen at work, look at food like it was a foreign object. There are so many things that no one told me.

But you know what everyone has told me? They said it was the right choice, an adult choice. That it would get better. That maybe it would take a week, a month, a year, but one day I would wake up and that weight wouldn’t be there anymore. They said I would come out of it a better woman, a grown person ready for adventure. They said I would be okay.

I’m not sure yet, but I think that they are probably right.

Sometimes I wonder if our names are still on the high score chart in that basement arcade, if we’ve been beaten, or if they’ve just turned off the old machine to make room for another. I wonder if I’m even good at Time Crisis anymore, or if I’d even feel at home in an arcade.

One day I think I’d like to beat Metal Slug with someone — they don’t have to be good at it, just willing to play enough to get better.

Note: more than anything else this is a personal reflection, as the way I process emotions and move on is through writing it down. A close friend told me I should post it, so if you enjoyed it, I guess that’s cool as well. This wasn’t easy to write but after a frustrating loss of words I’m glad I finally got it out.

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