When I first came out to my family more than a decade ago, my mother shrieked then promptly blamed the serious blow to the head that I’d received when I was just fourteen:
‘You’re confused!’ she’d cried. ‘And you’re vulnerable because of all the traumas you’ve had in your life. And it’s not doing you any favours hanging around with all those gay people.’
She swiftly followed this up by asking if I’d now slept with women as well as men, and when I didn’t answer (largely due to embarrassment, because sex was something we’d never talked about), she decided to take this as a no, and therefore proof that I was going through ‘a phase’.
Even now, at the age of thirty-six and a quarter, I find it difficult to discuss my romantic relationships with her, and as a result I’ve experienced a wall of barely concealed resentment gradually piling up between us. Of course, she was right about one thing: it’s quite normal to have emotional and social problems after a brain injury; and so it was no surprise that I found myself regarded with suspicion (and sometimes ridicule), by the wonderful and mysterious lesbian peers that I set out to know.
Frankly, I was desperate to find a girl and fall in love – I wanted moonlight-and-roses, candlelit dinners, fireworks, serenades, and one of those kiss-in-the-rain-endings that you see in old movies; I didn’t just want a romance, no, I wanted a full-blown courtship, but for some reason the girls I met found flowers on a first date inappropriate, and were expecting cunnilingus by at least the second. I wore the term ‘romantic’ like a shiny gold star badge; and in my head, sex was supposed to equal love, and love meant wooing and waiting until they told you that you were ‘the one’, before sweeping them off their feet and into bed. In saying that, a night spent nauseously in a gay bar, jaded with alcohol, and loneliness, and the frustration that I was somehow detached from everyone else and was looking for something that did not exist, was enough for me to temporarily throw chastity to the wind.
When I broke up with the partner I was with before I met Antonia, my whole romantic reverie fell apart spectacularly; and I spent nine months feeling like I wanted to rip my own stupid pulsating heart from my chest and hurl it full force into a spiral slipstream. Every ballad I heard, every dreamy handholding couple I glimpsed on the street, made my insides jerk and my eyes sting. Because even though it was me who had ended the relationship with my ex – I’ll call her Fanny Adams because sweet FA was precisely what I got out of that relationship, and because it softens the blow a little to give her a ridiculous name – I could not stop thinking about her.
I had finally realized that love – albeit it wonderful and warm and fuzzy, like a cotton blanket you want to stay wrapped up in forever – could also be a viper that squeezes and constricts and then turns on you with sharp plunging teeth.
If there had been an on-off switch for my emotions, then I would have jammed it permanently, so that I never again felt that tightening of my chest or the dryness in my throat, when I saw her grinning back at me from photographs we’d posed for, or heard a song on the radio that we had allocated as ‘ours’.
And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I poked and prodded at the corpse of our relationship, for I could not erase the lies she’d told or understand exactly how I’d gotten myself so entangled in her mind games in the first place.
Because the truth was I never in love with her. And right from the start I was suspicious of almost everything she said. But I was also blindly optimistic and I was clinging so badly to this stereotype of what I wanted love to be.
I fell in love with Antonia because she was everything Fanny Adams wasn’t: she moved to Scotland for me; she became vegan for me; and once, during a particularly stressful road trip, she told my mother a few belated hometruths for me.
It just goes to show how much your ideas regarding matters of the heart can change.