No one ever seems to remember, life is a game we play

“Landed in Australia three years ago today. They say time flies when you’re having fun, but I had no idea just how much fun it would be.”

***

You remember catching the tube to Heathrow by yourself, your heavy blue suitcase rocking gently at your feet. Your family offered to come with you but you declined because you thought you might cry, and no adventure should start with tears.

You remember the pilot telling the cabin crew to prepare themselves for landing, and wondering if you’d made a mistake; you remember waiting for a train to Central station, running your tongue round unfamiliar place names; you remember heaving that heavy blue suitcase up to your AirBnB room and thinking: what now?

***

You travel that same train line every day now; on your way to work, to the gym, to see friends. You own a bed, a bookshelf, a white wooden coffee table; too many clothes for one blue suitcase. Those unfamiliar places have become your home. 

***

You remember the number of people who told you how difficult it was to find a job in Sydney, how hard it was to make friends, to earn enough money to pay rent. 

You remember one friend regaling you with horror stories about life overseas, precisely twelve days before you dragged that heavy blue suitcase to the end of the Piccadilly line.

You remember thinking that you would be fine, that everything would work out exactly the way it was supposed to; this, easy to say in hindsight, when it has. But so clearly you remember thinking: this is right. This is right.  

***

Life in the sunshine is easy; languid waltzing from beaches to BBQs to parks to house parties to boats on the harbour to ciders in your backyard as the sun sets on another lazy weekend. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself: is this real life?

***

At work you study mindfulness as part of your leadership training. 

“The secret to happiness is letting every situation be what it is, rather than what you think it should be,” the facilitator says. “If you can solve your problem, there’s no need to worry. And if you can’t solve your problem – well, there’s no need to worry either.”

You worry a lot less in Australia; about the future, about what people think of you, about the milestones you’re hitting, or not. 

***

Not everything has been perfect. There have been break ups and bad days at work and arguments with friends; waves of homesickness, mild panic as your ties with your friends in the UK loosen imperceptibly. But mostly you are content. This is right, you think. This is right.

***

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

***

Three days before your 31st birthday, you fly to Tasmania for a long weekend with some friends. You spend the days wandering around Salamanca Markets, screaming with childish delight when snow starts to fall; you drink hot spiced cider by open fireplaces; you sleep late; you laugh, long and loudly, until your stomach hurts.

One night, you accidentally gate crash someone else’s birthday, and you turn 31 in a fairy-lit bus at the bottom of a West Hobart pub garden, arm in arm with strangers singing Bonnie Tyler at the top of your voice.

This isn’t how life was meant to turn out, you think. 

***

You were meant to be married at 31, of course. You were meant to own a house, head up a charity comms team. Who knew that those dreams would turn out to be right for so many people, but not for you?

***

You love so much about Sydney; it has stolen your heart, captured your imagination. You love its magnificent sunsets that light up the sky in pink flames; its rolling coastlines, from Port Macquarie in the north to Wollongong in the south; you love walking under that majestic bridge. 

You love the weather; a summer baby through and through. You love the smell of the ocean, the shade of a palm tree; you love conquering those rolling coastlines on foot. You love the vast scale of Australia, the long car journeys driving through mountainous roads, where you meet no one and end up on untouched sand. 

You love things that you could have done in the UK, but didn’t; you love starting your day at 5am, feeling as if you’ve stolen a march on time. You love the way your colleagues laugh at your accent, the way you say ‘yoghurt’, and ‘Poland’. You love the person you’re becoming: more relaxed, more accepting; someone who says yes, who doesn’t take life too seriously, who gives things a go. 

You love jacaranda trees in blossom, the phrase ‘Too easy”, sunlight dancing across Centennial Park; the way pubs are called hotels and the bus drivers who wait for you and the sense of excitement when winter ticks over into six long months of sunshine. But most of all, you love this: the sense of freedom, of adventure; the joy in not knowing where you’ll be three years from now; the feeling that your future is unfurling in front of you, glittering with opportunity. 

***

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This world ain’t exactly what my heart expected

“How do you feel about turning 30?” a friend asks.

You laugh.

Many more things worry you than turning 30; a phone call in the middle of the night, an air hostess running the length of the plane, an extraordinary company meeting called in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

You never thought you’d turn 30 in Australia; a winter baby, now.

***

When you were 15, you remember asking your dad what you should do when you were older. “I want a career that makes me a lot of money but that doesn’t require a lot of work,” you said.

“There’s always prostitution,” Dad replied.

You wanted to be a writer, a policewoman, a lawyer, something in the City that required a suit – this, when you were 16, and nothing seemed more adult than wearing a two-piece and catching the tube to Bank each morning – an economist, a teacher, an editor, a publicist, an events manager.

You never imagined that it would be the not-for-profit sector that captured your heart, that in ten years’ time you would think nothing of stopping a stranger at a party to ask if he’s on the bone marrow register.

***

In Australia, the never-ending summer finally turns into autumn, and with it comes grey skies and day after day of rain. You start wearing tights and your red winter coat, and you count down the days until your trip back to the UK in June.

And then one grey April Tuesday you come into work to a high priority email, asking all staff to attend an extraordinary company meeting at 4pm. The day passes slowly, edgily.

***

A few months later, you bump into an old university friend on a night out. He makes approximately five times your salary, which you learn when he presses you again and again for your earning ability, eager to share his.

“But why do you do it?” he spits into your ear, blurry with beer and tequila.

“Because I believe in trying to make a difference,” you reply.

“And presumably the smug bragging rights on social media,” he counters. “No one volunteers on the quiet these days; as soon as anyone does anything vaguely ‘good’, it’s up on Facebook for everyone else to see.”

“That doesn’t detract from the good that’s being done.”

***

“She’s been diagnosed with cancer. She’ll be taking extended leave while she receives treatment. We’ll be appointing an Acting CEO in the interim.”

You stare out of the window, watching the rain hammer the glass. They said it never rained in Sydney, you think.

***

Later, your university friend corners you again; he’s drunker, angrier.

“You’re mad to think you can make a difference,” he says. “You house one homeless person; there’ll be another ten taking his place on the streets. You save one person with cancer; there’ll be others who die. It’s pointless. You can’t really help.”

“You may be right,” you reply. “But it’d be a depressing world to live in if someone didn’t at least try.”

***

In June you watch one of your best friends marry the kindest man; the day is so full of love and laughter and joy, and you barely stop smiling all day. This is what we live for, you think; moments just like these.

At the reception, you chat to another wedding guest as you wait at the bar, and he tells you that he’s a pilot.

“I never used to be scared of flying,” you tell him, tongue loosened by champagne. “But I seem to worry about it a lot more as I get older.”

“A lot of people tell me the same thing,” he agrees. “But the vast majority of accidents happen in the first three minutes of any flight. Once you get through that, you’ll be fine.”

It’s this conversation you remember one month later, when you are precisely seven minutes into a flight to Melbourne; a girls’ weekend away to celebrate your 30th birthday. The plane strains around you as it makes its ascent above the clouds, and in your head you check off the noises: the hydraulics, the engines, the landing gear. All is fine, you think, until without warning the noises stop, an alarm sounds, and an air hostess races to the back of the plane.

But it’s been more than three minutes, you say to yourself over and over again, as your stomach clenches with terror.

***

You do cry, later, once you’re out of the boardroom and far away from your colleagues. You cry for your CEO, and for all the others; for the friend’s father who suffered a heart attack earlier this year, the younger brother hit by a car, the mother who fell and hit her head, the boyfriend diagnosed with cancer, the wife of a friend who has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage.

There has been too much death this year, you think; too much sadness. Too many phone calls in the middle of the night, bringing only bad news.

***

The alarm stops almost as soon as it starts, and though the seat belt sign remains lit for the duration of the flight, ninety minutes later you land in Melbourne.

As you watch the city flash past the windows of the taxi, you wonder what your air hostess is thinking, what story she’ll tell her friends tonight.

***

One day your younger brother emails you out of the blue. “I’m worried about you,” he says. “Your last blog post was so sad.”

You reassure him that you’re fine; that the blog post he’s referring to is nearly a year old, written in the approach to your first Christmas away from your family, that the reason your blog posts have been so few and far between is because happiness is not conducive to creativity.

“But feeling homesick is a natural part of living abroad,” you add, “and I think it’s important to be honest about that. If even one person reads that post and feels reassured that the way they’re feeling is normal, then it’s done its job. We spend too much time pretending that everything is perfect when it’s not. Life is hard, and it’s messy.”

***

Life is hard, and it is messy; this year has been so full of sadness, and endings, and change. But it has also been a year where you’ve watched your best friend marry her best friend, where you’ve seen them stare at each other with such love and happiness that it’s made your own heart sing.

It’s been a year where you’ve danced and laughed and drunk and celebrated and sung along to Florence with thousands of strangers outside the Sydney Opera House. It’s been a year where you’ve jumped into a fresh ocean pool on a hot day, where you’ve turned up the radio as you set off on road trips; where you’ve caught the ferry across the Harbour as the sun sets over a long weekend.

You’ve grabbed your friends in sweaty hugs at live gigs and raves and birthday drinks; you’ve been to impromptu barbecues and surprise brunches and long-awaited weekends away; you’ve tasted chocolate after a month off sugar.

You’ve watched the sun rise over Bondi because you’ve woken up early and because you’ve stayed up late; you’ve watched it rise high over the Tasman Sea, heralding the start of a new day, and you’ve thought: this is it. These are the moments that we live for.

And when you look in the mirror now, and see the wrinkles that are starting to line your face, etching themselves across your forehead and around your eyes like tiny rivers, you no longer worry about getting older; rather a sense of gratitude for everything that has gone before, and a sense of privilege for everything that is yet to come.

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Fear not this light 

Afterwards, people will ask if you saw it coming. 

No, you will say. No. How could I?

But some will look at you as if you were the problem, not him. 

***

It’s true that you couldn’t settle that day, though. You remember the overcast skies, the humidity in the air; the sense that something was about to splinter and crack. 

***

You couldn’t decide what to wear that day, that grey Sunday in the middle of May; you tried and discarded six different outfits before settling on jeans and a white shirt. You remember the buses being full, and not stopping; you remember texting your friend to say that you were running late, a dribble of sweat slowly spiralling down your back. You remember catching sight of your reflection in a shop window, and wondering if the red lipstick was a mistake. 

***

A Surry Hills pub for Candice’s post-marathon drinks; another, three streets away, for Jules’ birthday. “I can’t stay long,” you say. “I’ve got to be at XX’s for dinner tonight.” But you stay long enough to drink another glass of sparkling wine, and another one, and another one; and it’s not until you glance at your phone and register the five missed calls that you realise you’re an hour late.

You barely say goodbye as you grab your bag and run outside to hail a cab. “I’m so sorry,” you say breathlessly when you call him en route, trying to cover up how drunk you are. “We got carried away; all the football boys were there and they insisted on birthday Sambucas, and I hadn’t seen Nicole for ages so we were chatting and…”

“It’s fine,” he says. 

It’s not fine, you think. 

***

He told you once that he hated how much you talked. You thought he was joking, of course, in the same way that you refused to take him seriously when he told you off for peeling eggs incorrectly, or turning the taps off too tightly, or drinking water too loudly. 

But occasionally you would glance up mid-conversation and catch him looking at you – not with hatred, but something close. 

***

You can’t stop talking when you get there, words tumbling nervously over each other as you apologise and explain and ask him how his day’s been. 

“Fine,” he says.

The tension makes your skin itch.

***

He’s cooked your favourite meal: sausages and sweet potato mash.

“This is delicious,” you enthuse.

“You’re so drunk you probably can’t even taste it,” he replies.

***

You don’t see it coming, when it happens. When he finally loses his temper and throws you off the couch, when he drags you along the floor by your neck, when he bangs your head into his bookcase. When he finally dumps you like rubbish by his front door, curled up into a small ball in case he kicks you.

***

Later, you will quickly tire of explaining why you don’t leave his house immediately. How to explain that when you have loved someone, when you know their past as intimately as you know your own, it’s their wellbeing you put first, not yours. That there’s no blueprint to follow when something like this happens, when you are shocked and scared and disorientated; that no one has the right to judge because they are not you and they were not there. 

***

Instead, you pick yourself up and slowly work your way round your body, noting your injuries: the cuts to your hands and arms and head, the bruises on your neck, the long weeping carpet burn down the right side of your back. You don’t know it yet, but though tomorrow you will go to the hospital and a nurse will properly clean and dress the burn, it will leave a faint scar the size of an apple just to the right of your shoulder blade; a constant reminder of something you’d rather forget. 

You knock on his bedroom door and ask him if he’s okay. “Get out of my house,” he shouts, “or I’ll call the police.” And suddenly it hits you what’s happened and you sense danger, that he’s much larger than you, and violent, so you turn and run.

Later, you can’t sleep; it is too warm, and your back is painful to lie on. 

***

The next day the police come; they take your statement and photograph your injuries and discuss whether you should press charges. 

“You’ll have to give evidence,” they say, and you think about standing opposite a man you have loved, giving evidence that may condemn him to an assault conviction, explaining to strangers that you were late, and drunk.

***

You don’t press charges, and you don’t hear from him ever again. 

“Good riddance,” a friend says. 

Yes, you say. Yes. 

But how often is someone close to you torn from your life so viciously, with so little warning? It is a loss like any other, and so you grieve, silently, privately, for fear of more judgment. 

***

You cry for three days, and then you go back to work. “Just a bad cold,” you tell colleagues. “I’m feeling much better now.”

You tell very few people; your housemate, your brothers, your best friends in the UK. And then you stop talking about it; partly because it’s time to move on, partly because you are tired of explaining, again and again, that there are mental health issues and past suicide attempts and residual affection and loyalty; you are tired of justifying your actions to people who are not you and who were not there. 

***

Five months pass. 

“How are you feeling about it now?” your housemate asks you as you sit together and watch the sun go down over a heat-seared long weekend that has been full of sunshine and laughter and sparkling wine and ocean swims. 

Well, you think. You are still very faintly scarred, there on your back, just to the right of your shoulder blade. Your stomach still occasionally pinches with disgust if someone mentions his name, and it has taken you a long time to start dating people again. 

But mostly you are fine, and stronger than before. 

***

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All this could be yours

In July last year, I signed up to 30 Days Clean, a program run by a gym called Flow Athletic. The principle is simple: forgo all caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods for 30 days, while simultaneously exercising five times a week, split between yoga, strength and cardio.

“But why?” asks Caroline, as we work our way through a mountain of chorizo and wine one evening. “Cider is fun. Coffee is fun. CHOCOLATE IS FUN.”

“It’s unclear,” I reply. And ten days later, on Monday 4th August, the challenge starts.

***

I won’t go into detail about the challenge itself, except to say that there were some good days, there were some bad days, and there was one Saturday night where I literally locked myself in my bedroom to prevent myself from running to the nearest pub and guzzling the first drink I could get my hands on.

***

What did I get out of it? Well, I lost weight and toned up. I had more energy during the day, and I slept like a tiny exhausted log each night. My skin was so clear I received daily compliments. I was so fit that I knocked two minutes off my 5k time without even trying. I never had a hangover; I never wasted a day.

In the longer term, my relationship with food and alcohol has improved; I know when I am eating and drinking because of stress or boredom or unhappiness, rather than because I’m hungry or thirsty. I haven’t had any caffeine in six months. I practice yoga three or four times a week, and that habit alone has made me calmer, happier, more positive. I can do a full minute of kettlebell press ups without getting tired. I get a great deal of pleasure from knowing that I am fit and strong, and that I’m fuelling my body with the foods that it needs.

“Most people have no idea how good their body is supposed to feel,” says the sign outside Flow, and, for the month of August, I felt phenomenal. Which is why, tomorrow, I start all over again.

***

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It’s not my fault, I’m happy

It starts with the realisation that you won’t see your youngest brother for two and a half years, if all goes to plan. You are due back in the UK in June, a full year since you last visited, but Ricco will be away travelling, a final foreign fling before buckling down and finding a graduate role in London. After that, you have no plans to return until Christmas 2016 at the earliest, because you want to spend your savings and your annual leave on the places you haven’t been: Indonesia and Malaysia and New Caledonia and New Zealand and the Philippines.

How strange, you think. You were 28 when you last saw Ricco; you’ll be 31 the next time you set eyes on him. A lot of time to pass, when time is the only thing we all wish we had more of.

***

Your parents visit at the end of November. They see a play at the Opera House, wander through the Botanical Gardens, take photos of the Harbour Bridge, catch a ferry to Manly, people watch at Bondi. Together you travel to the Whitsundays, where you spend a week on boats and sun loungers, surrounded by improbably perfect scenery.

One morning, you meet them for breakfast at Bronte, your favourite beach. You sit under the shade of a palm eating bacon and egg rolls, watching families playing in the surf under a perfect blue sky. When you finish, you wander along the coastal path back to Bondi. At its highest point you stop and sit down, the vast stretch of Bondi to your left, the coves of Tama and Bronte to your right, the rolling waves of the Tasman Sea out in front. It’s blustery up here, high above the rocks; Dad holds onto his hat to prevent it blowing away. “I can see why you moved here,” he says. “The lifestyle…it’s something else.”

***

When you came to Australia last September, you had a defined plan. You would be here for one year and then you would return home; your lengthy visa documents told you so. And then came sponsorship, and with it an extension until 2018 and the possibility of permanent residency and citizenship, and suddenly you don’t have a plan anymore; you’re winging it.

***

The sense of melancholy grows as Christmas approaches, your first without your family, only your second away from your family home. Traditionally your three brothers and you return home for at least a week, tired and puffy and hungover from a month of excess. You barely get out of your pyjamas; you sit and eat and drink and laugh, and by the time you return to London a week later, in time for New Years, you are a fully functioning human again, soothed by the balm of your family.

This year, you and nine other orphans are going to Abi’s for roast pork and salads and Secret Santa and $700 worth of alcohol. “It should be fun,” you tell Matt. “I mean, I’m terrified for Boxing Day Ellen, but it should be fun.”

“You’ll have as much fun as you want to,” he replies.

“I know,” you nod. “And I will have fun. I’m just a bit sad, I guess.”

***

“What do you want to do about your flat?” asks Dad, at dinner on your final night in the Whitsundays.

“I’m not really sure,” you reply. “I hadn’t really thought about it. As long as the rent keeps covering the mortgage, I guess it’s fine for now.”

“Well, every week you hang onto it, it goes up in value, so I’d probably only suggest selling if you wanted a cash injection so you could put down a deposit over here.”

Buying somewhere in Sydney? you think. That would be quite a statement.

***

A few weeks after you move to Australia, you have a drunken Whatsapp conversation with Cressida and you tell her that you’re slightly homesick. “Just think of it as having two homes,” she says. “And you have people who love you in both, so you’ll always be at home, wherever you are. Don’t be sad, little one.”

And you take her advice, and you commit to your new life in Australia; you meet people and you make friends and you move to Bondi and you take up yoga and you sleep deeply and on more mornings than not you watch the sun rise over the ocean as you run along the beach, and you’ve never been happier.

***

But slowly it becomes harder to mesh your two lives together; you spend so little time at home that you find it hard to find the time to FaceTime your friends and family, and before you know it, it’s been one week, four weeks, two months since you spoke to them for any longer than a rushed Whatsapp conversation on the way to work.

A friend tells you that they’re upset that you’re not making more of an effort, so you try harder. “I know I’ve been lame,” you say, “but I’ve got a plan. I’m going to call you on my way to work and if you can pick up, great. If you can’t, no worries – I’ll just try again the next day.”

And that plan works for a little while, until life gets in the way, and you know, deep down, that these relationships will never be the same until you return to the UK for good.

***

And where before there was only blind instinct that you were doing the right thing, now there are doubts, about your relationships and your career and life in a country where spiders as big as your hand just appear in your house and it’s up to you, as the ‘practical’ housemate, to dispose of them.

***

“I don’t know,” you say to Matt. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if this is just temporary homesickness because I’m not home for Christmas, or whether it’s time to chalk this up as an amazing experience and come home.”

“Is this the same girl who once told me not to make any rash decisions, because life has a funny old way of working out for the best?”

“Possibly.”

“Then I’d take your own advice on this one.”

And for want of any other options, you do.

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No one’s going to love you

Sometimes it’s your smallest achievements that are your greatest.

***

You meet Matt at work; you warm to each other instantly but it’s only five months later, on Valentines Day and with a new job under his belt, that he emails you to ask you out for a drink.

You drive to his favourite pub, in a quiet suburb overlooking the ocean. You drink cider and share stories – your best ones, the funny ones – and listen to the sound of the surf crashing onto the rocks below you, and by the time he drops you home later that evening, you’re a couple.

***

Life with Matt is easy. You get on well, you have fun, you make an effort for each other; you organise surprises “just because” while he goes an hour out of his way to drive you home so that you don’t get wet catching public transport in the rain. You go for dinners, for drinks, to the cinema, to the beach. One night you stay at his, and find that he’s bought you a toothbrush and make up wipes. He tells you he wants to make his flat more homely, so one weekend you go to Ikea and you help him buy cushions and prints and bedside tables and rugs. You mention that you’ve never been to Melbourne and would like to go; the next day he emails you a booking confirmation for your flights. When you’re ill, he runs you a bath, with candles, your book, and a small folded towel for a pillow.

You fall into a routine; he picks you up from the station after work and drives to his; he cooks and you wash up. He makes you hot chocolate every evening before bed, and Vegemite on toast every morning, just as you get out of the shower. During the week, you wake up early and go to the gym together; at weekends, you lie in, and then wander down to the beach for breakfast. He puts aside a pair of his tracksuit bottoms and two drawers for you; there is always Diet Coke and cider in his fridge.

Two months in, you have an argument. Rather than sending increasingly hurtful or angry texts, as you’ve done in past relationships, you go round to his, you discuss the issue openly and honestly and you resolve it. “You’re the best boyfriend,” you tell him. “I feel so lucky to have you in my life.”

You go back to the UK for a fortnight; each day you see someone new, and they all want to know about Matt. “He’s great,” you say. “We’re very different – he’s a lot quieter than me but he has this amazing personality that you just warm to instantly. He’s very calm and thoughtful and measured – everything I’m not basically.” And you all agree that that’s a good thing, and they ask if you’re in love with him and you laugh and say you don’t know, and somewhere at the back of your mind you remember that every relationship you ever have will have to end except one.

The night after you get back, you go for dinner at a new restaurant down the road from his flat. The night after, still jetlagged, you watch a film on his couch before falling asleep, open-mouthed and dribbling, at 9pm. Life with Matt is so easy, peaceful, content – his flat is warmer than yours, his bed more comfortable; his television and Internet both work. You watch the news every evening and argue gently over politics; he tells you about a problem he’s having at work and you suggest possible solutions; you tell him a funny story about your day and his warm Australian laugh melts your heart. “I love you,” you think fiercely. “I love you and care about you and never want anything to happen to you that might make you sad.”

***

On Tuesday you spend the day in a change management training session. “All change involves loss,” says the facilitator. “So it’s natural to grieve when you experience change, no matter how small that change may seem or how beneficial the eventual outcome.”

***

On Friday, you have a team barbecue at Mel’s house. “I’m so pleased you and Matt are together,” your boss tells you, after a couple of glasses of wine. “I always hoped he’d meet a nice girl.”

***

On Saturday, Matt picks you up and you spend the day doing chores; you buy groceries, you drop off his dry cleaning. That evening, you go for Thai and stop for ice cream on your way home. The next morning, you wake up early and set off for an unknown destination, your birthday surprise. Two hours later, you’re in the rainforest south of Sydney, heading to the treetop walk that you’d mentioned you wanted to do a few months previously. The day is perfect; after you finish the walk, you sit and eat fish and chips by the ocean, sharing a cider in the brisk winter sunshine. On the drive home you get stuck in traffic; you sing along to the radio and discuss whether you should get a television for the bedroom. At home, Matt cooks a roast; you watch a film; in bed, you cuddle until you fall asleep.

***

On Monday, you both wake up to the 5am alarm and decide to sack off the gym for another two hours in bed. “Happy five months,” you say sleepily, because it’s your anniversary, and marking the weeks you’ve spent together is an in-joke that won’t die out. You shower, eat breakfast, watch the World Cup final; everything is as it should be. And yet.

In the car on the way to the station, you turn to him. “I’m really sorry to do this when I’m just about to get out of the car. But I think we need to talk.”

That evening, you do the same journey in reverse; when you walk into his flat, everything is exactly where you left it that morning; the plate by the sink, the blanket hanging off the couch. You want to cry for the very ordinariness of it. And then you sit down and you open your mouth and your stomach aches with the knowledge that once you say what you’re about to say, you can never unsay it; you wonder, for a brief panicked moment, if you’re doing the right thing. Life with Matt is so easy.

“But I’d be doing myself a disservice if I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t right just because it was easy and comfortable,” you hear yourself say. “I can’t put my finger on it, but something isn’t right and I’m not happy. I’m sorry.”

You pack your things, throw out your toothbrush, put your track suit bottoms in the wash; you give him a final hug goodbye. On the bus home, you cry openly, loudly, grieving for the end of a relationship that wasn’t wrong but that wasn’t right either. You cry for the loss of your best friend; you cry for the comfort of your life together, as you head back to your cold room and lumpy bed.

“I miss him so much, I can’t do this,” you think briefly, and just as quickly you think, “Yes you can. You’ll be fine.” And somewhere underneath all the hurt is a small surge of pride that you have chosen the more painful path, but the one that was right; you have chosen self-respect over cuddles and dinners and bedtime phone calls. A small achievement; a great one.

***

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It’s only life

“I’m sorry,” says the HR Manager from our parent company who’s been parachuted in to make precisely one quarter of us redundant. I stare at her wordlessly. I can’t believe this is happening; I love my job, I love my team, I love the world of publishing that took me six long months to claw my way into in the first place. I have rent to pay. She pushes a letter across the table to me, and finally the tears come.

“Something will turn up,” my dad says when I call him later that day. “Life has a funny old way of working itself out for the best.”

And less than a week later I’ve secured myself a job at a start-up publishing house, working for someone who turns out to be not only a truly inspirational boss, but who in time also becomes a trusted mentor and friend. I learn a terrifying amount from him in a short space of time, about book design and editing and publicity and scheduling, about 90s indie bands and cricket and world politics and what behaviour I shouldn’t put up with from my boyfriend. When I decide to leave the publishing industry altogether, eighteen months later, it’s Mark who suggests I try Communications as a career path, it’s Mark who coaches me before my interview, and it’s Mark who buys me my first celebratory glass of wine when Anthony Nolan call me to offer me a job as Communications Officer.

Six months in, our director advertises internally for a PA. Our receptionist Robin applies and we all cross our fingers; everyone loves Robin. But he doesn’t get it; our director chooses the Australian girl in our HR team, who none of us know. “I can’t believe you didn’t get the job! They’ve made such a mistake,” I tell Robin when we’re in the pub later that week. But a month later Caroline starts, and a month after that Caroline and I are completely inseparable, and two years after that, I go to stay with her in Australia for a holiday.

It turns out that I’m good at my job; I earn two promotions and three pay rises in quick succession. I start a relationship with a colleague, which drags on for the best part of three years and which ends so painfully that I feel I have no option but to leave. “I have to look at this as an opportunity or I’ll go under,” I tell Jaxx one night a few weeks later, as we drink gin after gin and I try to explain why I’ve decided to move to Australia. “Caroline’s out there, there are always Comms jobs available…and if I don’t like it, I can always come home.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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