The light at the end of the tunnel
Monday morning, 10:45am:
A quiet morning at work. My phone buzzed.
I read the message and set my phone down on my desk.
I cried a little.
I was fourteen. I had just broken up with my first boyfriend of eighteen months, and I had a crush on a boy eighteen months younger than me. It was ludicrously embarrassing and I was the laughingstock of the school. I would sit with him at lunch time and we would bond over music, cricket and each other’s quirks.
Shortly before the apparent two weeks we “dated” (we didn’t, and I wouldn’t call him an ex-boyfriend), I moved my blog from LiveJournal to a niche, semi-private location on the now-defunct MSN Spaces. It was an odd place to blog, very structured, not very unique, and basically a silly little mess to blog on, but it was a change from the rubbish I wrote on LiveJournal, which was mostly in chatspeak. My blogs were often three thousand words long and I would post twice a month at most.
I moved on quickly; he liked someone else, and wanted to focus on his band. A short time later, I met my ex-boyfriend Kiah, who was two-and-a-half years younger than me. We worked together on the school newsletter until I developed a crush on him and somehow, we ended up together. I was an even bigger laughingstock.
In between this odd bullying and mess, I had troubles at home, and I was still trying to find my place as a skinny, short, long-haired, shy ballet and jazz dancer in a school full of similarly intelligent-minded students. I developed an interest in web and graphic design, and it made me wake up at 3:00am because I loved the way it made my brainwaves dance.
Someone commented on my blog. One of my ridiculous long blog posts full of nonsense. It wasn’t my best friend Lilian, nor my friend Lucy or my classmate Jake. It wasn’t anyone I knew from school. I was only aware of people from school reading my blog, so when this person named Zack commented on my blog post, consoling me about how horrible things were at home and how strangely I felt for someone so much younger than me — I felt like someone actually understood me for once.
I don’t remember the first time we actually talked.
I started self-harming around fourteen. Everything was difficult and friendships were always hard to maintain. At this stage, I had no one I could call my best friend. I felt very alone at times.
My blog was named Consolation in a Jar, because it became this notion for me that one day, when I attempted suicide, people would bring me consolation in plastic or glass jars. Every time I cut myself, it only hurt even more. I hoped that someone would give me a little bit of consolation, tell me that everything would get better. At home, it just seemed to get worse, and harder to deal with. I felt very alone at school. I cried a lot.
The only person who ever left a jar was Zack. There would be blog posts where I would pour my heart out completely, and I would return two weeks later to find that Zack left a comment.
I fell in mid-2006; Kiah broke up with me and I was devastated. (He humiliated me by breaking up with me before I was supposed to go on stage for a vocal group performance. In a nutshell, I cried under the stars and never made it to the stage.) We were very on-off, and I would write soppy shit about how I wanted him back, and I tried, and it worked sometimes, until we broke up completely by the end of 2006. I know, Zack only left comments, but to me they were everything. Eventually, I guess, he became my rock, though I don’t think he ever knew. I don’t think I ever knew. Or if I did, I couldn’t admit it. Someone a fair distance away in the next major city, several years older than me, who I never met, was my rock. Maybe I felt lame saying that, because at fifteen, anyone could judge you for anything you said. And I was done with being a laughingstock.
Zack never judged me for who I was, what I did, or what I said. He cared about me and I found myself rambling to him a lot about random things. I found myself talking to him when I was on the verge of tears. I found myself laughing at his randomness (it hasn’t changed), admiring his art, for my ability to draw was terrible as toads. I don’t think we had very much in common, but we chatted about a lot of things. I think at some point I wondered if I’d ever go to Melbourne or if we’d ever meet.
The gaps between our conversations became larger. Our conversations began to consist of catchups and life updates, which progressed from “I bought a doughnut” to “I just started university”, “I found a new game” to “I have my school formal”. Or something like that.
Some time during my first years of university, among my dozens of email address changes and moving my blog from place to place, Zack and I didn’t talk. I guess we just lost touch.
It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that Dominik mentioned zombies at work, and a switch immediately went off in my brain and I remembered Zack. My hands escaped to my email client and I put the cursor in the To: field, but I couldn’t remember. I’d deleted my previous emails and I had to rely on my memory to delve into what was there. My alter ego asked all the questions. Would he remember me? Would he give a shit? Is he even alive?
I finally met Zack four days ago. We saw Gold Fields together, and he tagged along and kept me company despite never having heard of the band. We talked random shit over dinner. I only had a salad because my appetite has been fucked lately. I looked through his sketchbook, and there was the dog he’d drawn me a few months ago. On the way out, it rained heavily, and it forced us to squish together under an umbrella. But that was okay.
We had a bit of cider, and on the train we caught up about everything and anything. On the weekend we just bummed around in his hotel room talking. About anything. And everything. And it was then I realised, there were so few silences between us. When we talked, we always had something to talk about. We could laugh about ridiculous things that happened to us in the past. We could be serious about sad things and sad about serious things, or whatever we wanted. I didn’t have to hide a thing from him because he still never judged me.
And in a weekend, we filled in the strange three-year gap in our friendship.
I told myself before he even came to Sydney that I wouldn’t miss him that much.
I lost that bet with myself because I cried.
Something feels empty when I walk through the station after I get off the bus. It feels weird that it’s stopped raining. I can’t look out the window on the train without feeling like my soul has just fallen out of my heart. I can’t walk around the city without the breeze cutting me a little too coldly and the clouds standing out more than they actually do. My eyes are watering and my fingers are shaking because I miss Zack. And however painless that goodbye was, the emotions have still burned into me and set themselves on fire.
Because it’s not every day that you meet someone who has watched you grow up, helped you out of depression, made you smile, laugh, and eventually cry. Zack, ily.