When I was young, I fell in love. As most of us do.
I was a still at school, but old enough to wait tables in a burger bar at the weekends. It was busy, because it was the kind of place people wanted to go. You could have your burger anyway you wanted it. With a strong cocktail that was shaken to order behind the polished brass bar. It had low lights and loud music. Pin ball machines and a pool table. It stayed open late. It had red leather booths and wooden tables scratched with the names of friends and lovers.
This person would come in and always sat on one of my tables. Often alone, sometimes with a book, in the rare times there was a lull. They were soft spoken. Dark haired and quietly good-looking. So unlike like the rest of the loudmouths who would leer and chat and force their numbers on you.
I started to think about them when they weren’t there, watched for them to come in. I didn’t tell anyone that I thought about them. I kept it to myself, because to give words to my thoughts would take them of my head and make them real. This way, my feelings stayed mine, and mine alone. My secret.
One day they came in and asked me to out dinner. To a proper restaurant with tablecloths and bottles of wine from places I hadn’t heard of. I thought this was funny, because no one had asked me out to dinner before. I found it weirdly grown-up. But then they were a fair bit older than me.
I said I’d have to think about it. Because I knew that to go out with them would mean crossing a boundary within myself and I’d be out of my depth.
Maybe that is why they call it ‘falling’ in love. Because once done, it can’t be undone. But of course, I accepted.
I’d never stayed the night with anyone. Never been intimate with anyone. To be honest, the idea terrified me as I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. I mean I knew what people did, but not how they went about it, as it were.
And so when it eventually happened between us, I was gauche and awkward.
Especially as they lived in a beautiful house on a leafy crescent that belonged to their wealthy parents. And I just had a grotty box room in my mum’s rented flat on the poor side of town.
But they were gentle and patient with me.
I lay in the dying candle light of their room afterwards watching them sleep, and I knew my feelings had become entwined around them.
Love. I loved their smell, the sound of their voice. I longed for their touch. I grew to trust them. Trust that they would always be there. Trust that they were my person and I was theirs.
Then one day they came into the burger bar and told me that they were going away.
‘I’m going on tour…’ They said ‘… To America.’
‘On tour?’ I queried. ‘To America?’ It sounded impossibly far away. Across an ocean. I’d never been across the Channel.
‘Yes – with the band.’
The band. I’d thought it was a hobby. But now it was a job.
They left, and got famous.
I didn’t hear from them again, and yet they were everywhere.
They were on the telly, and in the papers and on the radio. Their picture was on the cover of magazines. They were linked romantically with the singer in their band, and had been for a long time, even for the time when they had been with me.
I tried to ignore it all, but I couldn’t.
I cried solitary bitter tears. I couldn’t believe it was possible to feel such anguish.
I never told anyone I felt this way. I felt ashamed. Foolish. Blindsided. It was my painful secret, and, again, I kept it to myself.
But the pain cracked open a chasm inside of me.
And I fell into the void.
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t keep up with my job, let alone with school.
I still couldn’t eat. And this not eating became a problem. My body was disappearing under my skin. I skipped a period. Then another.
My mother took me to the doctor, but still I couldn’t eat.
Then there was the hospital and the Treatment…
Pain and needles and blood and talking, talking, talking.
Then came the eating again, and then the not eating again.
Finally the Treatment wore me down and I topped resisting. I ‘got better’. My body grew back into itself. I was expected to be whole once more.
But I wasn’t.
Eventually I met another person. And I came to feel about this person as I had felt about them. I never told them what had happened to my heart before. Or about the not eating and Treatment I’d had. I kept it to myself.
But because I had secrets, my new person felt shut out. They went elsewhere for the intimacy they craved which I couldn’t give them. And I couldn’t bear that, so I ran away.
I ran away to places I’d never heard of. To the sun and the sea. To hillsides with vineyards and cobbled towns. To coral islands and rain forests.
But finally I had stop running, because something was calling me home.
I found myself standing outside the place where the burger bar had once been, looking in at its dusty windows. The place was long derelict, for no venture had fared well there after it had gone.
I sensed someone beside me.
‘It was quite a place, wasn’t it?’ It was them.
‘It was just a place.’ I replied. But I knew they were right. Places like that didn’t exist much anymore in a world of bubble tea and smart phones and vape shops.
They asked me to dinner. A smart place with table cloths and bottles of wines from places I had now been to.
They were no longer famous, the singer and the band were long gone. As was the person with whom they’d had a family. They were somewhat lonely and thoughtful about the past.
‘I’d always thought you were a missed opportunity,’ they said, as they invited me into their life once again. ‘I often wondered what might have happened with us, had things been different.’
Had you not left me and broken my heart, I thought. Had you not been two-timing me the whole time, hedging your bets.
But I didn’t say anything.
I was never going to tell them how it had been with me, how it had nearly ended me.
Things progressed, they asked me to live with them. Their house wasn’t as opulent as the one where they’d lived when we were young, but it was still a grander home than I’d ever known.
I said I’d have to think about it. But of course, I accepted.
At night I’d lie watching them sleep. But my thoughts were not about love. They were about revenge.
‘I’ll make you feel what I felt,’ I’d whisper, and they’d stir.
‘What was that?’ they’d murmur, half asleep.
‘Nothing,’ I’d reply, and turn away from them.
I was going to make them love me so much. I was going to make them think they could trust me. I was going to take make them believe that they couldn’t live without me and then I was going to -
I waited for a day when I knew they were feeling particularly safe. Particularly loved. I’d been planning for weeks. I’d quietly packed my bags and had them ready inside the wardrobe.
It was a beautiful sunny morning, but it had the feel of autumn on the air.
I kissed them goodbye as they went to walk the dog.
I lingered over that kiss, and nearly backed out of my secret plan altogether. But as I watched out the window for them to turn the corner in the road out of view, I roused myself.
I took my bags out to my little car, and I drove to the airport.
I blocked them on my phone, and deleted my social media. I cut ties with any mutual friends. I changed my name.
I moved to a country on the other side of the world, where the sun always shines and the sea is nearby.
I opened a burger bar, similar to the one from all that time ago. It’s a success. Because it’s the kind of place people like to come to. You can have your burger anyway you want it. With a strong cocktail mixed up behind the polished brass bar. It has low lights and loud music. Pinball machines and a pool table. And you can scratch your name on the table of the red leather booths.
You may catch sight of me as you sit there with your friends or your lover.
You may find yourself wondering about the secret look on my face.
For I’ll be thinking of the person I once loved and left behind without a trace.
Sam Faith @iamsamfaith is a writer and filmmaker. She likes to time travel.