I liked him as soon as we met in a red-lit hostel dorm in springtime Berlin. I was nineteen while he was twenty five, and we spent the day climbing over walls and following crows past the River Spree. “Oh Crowsies, rats of the sky, you are the best tour guides in this golden city,” he roared in his whiskey warm, Australian voice. I laughed all day.
I’d always been too shy to laugh properly before, too shy to open people up into giving their best selves. Jared was different. As he ran after my airport train when I left the next day, waving a white tissue, all mock dismay, I laughed happy tears until they messed up my mascara.
Back in Copenhagen on university exchange, I spent the month of May like every other, hiding from the little Danish family I lived with, in case I’d have to make small talk with them in the hallway.
I spent the month in the university library, studying for my final Law exams and reading warm emails from Jared in the strip-lit computer room, emails so long his friend reading over his shoulder nicknamed him Novella.
After nights out, I did as I always did and went to my new best friend Ri’s shabby apartment, near Ørstedparken, where we’d cuddle into bed. The next morning, with the magic of the night before faded, I’d stumble into the park, quiet in the grey dawn. It wasn’t large or grand, just a simple sweep of water under weeping willows, but, I’d imagine Jared there, with me, smoking roll-ups and sharing stories under a tree.
Exams ended, Ri went home to London and Jared emailed to say he would arrive on the first day of summer.
“I will be wearing a moustache and glasses. I don’t want any paparazzi, so don’t tell anyone who you are going to meet. Actually, tell them you are picking up Billy Zane. I can’t wait to see your smiling face. YOU BETTER BE SMILING.”
I arrived at the airport in my new white dress bought for the occasion, holding a crumpled bag of salmon sandwiches I’d made for him, waiting and afraid, afraid that things might not be the same anymore, that he may no longer like me.
Then Jared was striding towards me, smiling, all dark stubble and Ray Bans and wrinkles from too much drinking and joie de vivre.
We had the keys to Ri’s apartment for two weeks, and spent every day at the park. The flowers had opened up and blossomed round the water, barbecue smoke drifted from friends playing Bob Marley under the hot, Danish sun. It was across the road from one of Copenhagen’s busiest train stations, Nørreport, with traffic all around. Yet I don’t remember the sounds of the city, just Jared, as he kissed the mole besides my right eye and said it’s where beauty spots should always be.
I’d put daisies in his ears and in his wavy hair until he looked like Oscar Wilde’s selfish giant. Memories within memories, it took me back to the happy daisy chains I made in the garden with dad when I was young.
Nostalgia within nostalgia, the willows grazing the water reminded me of visiting Monet’s garden, aged four, where mum and dad gently laughed at the American tourists gushing over the waterlilies, while I slowly realised that I wasn’t actually in Disneyland no matter what dad tried to say.
I gave Jaredmy memories, two decades of stories I’d never told anyone, and spoke the words of a year’s silence until I felt sad with the realisation of just how lonely I’d been.
Each morning I’d slip off to my own apartment, empty during weekdays, to breathe in the old silence, invariably ending up asleep while America’s Next Top Model played on repeat.
Late, always late, each afternoon I’d rush out of the metro towards the park, finding him easily among all the blonde families. Kicking my sandals into the grass, I’d kneel down to hug him.
“Sorry I’m late.”
“You said you were going to be an hour.”
“I was an hour.”
“You think you can fool me because I don’t have a watch?”
I buried into his shoulder, “Alright, I took two hours.”
“Alright, alright, Two and a half.”
“Ails,” he laughed. “I can tell by the sun, by how much I’ve read, by how drunk I am, that you took longer than that.”
One afternoon, I pretended not to notice as he strolled up the hill, timed his DSLR, and captured us with the lake in the background, in matching floral clothes that blossomed in the sun, his strong hand placed on my bare knee.
Copenhagen’s red-roofed buildings were full of art galleries, independent cinemas and cafes, but we left them untouched. It was enough just to know that they were there. In my memories, we only ever left the park when the effects of wine and warmth and touch became too much. “Sky rockets in flight, Boom! Afternoon delight…” He’d sing afterwards, sprawled across the bed while MTV played The Hills on repeat.
On our last night, we sat down in the silent park and looked out at the water while Jared howled made-up tunes into the sweet moonlight. Rubbing his feet that lay in my lap, I asked:
“What are you thinking?”
“Look at the reflections of that pole in the water. It’s like sausages being made in a factory.”
“I was thinking of you.”
It was all I could do.
I knew I’d lost Jared after I visited him in Melbourne at the end of summer. Those last images of him develop unwanted, like spoiled photos in a darkroom, because by then, I’d lost myself to him: could no longer face him without makeup in case I didn’t look pretty enough, could no longer draw pictures or write stories in case they weren’t creative enough, could barely talk in front of his friends because I felt I wasn’t good enough, thought I wasn’t old enough. Then six months later, back at university in Edinburgh, I received the email from him that finally admitted, “You were so different in Australia. I just didn’t feel it.”
I emailed and pleaded with him in sickly desperation. I called and made up a bout of chlamydia so that, at least for a week, he wouldn’t be able to have sex with any other girls while his own unnecessary STD test results came back. His last email was ten words long, “I’m clean. You must have got it from someone else.”
I took down his sweet photos, tried to let the bittersweet memories fade, and developed a fetish for Australians. Australian after Australian in hostel after hostel round Europe in the Summer of No Love. Australians who were dumb and big-muscled and nothing like Jared unless I closed my eyes and pretended their rounded vowels belonged to the man I still loved, the man who thought I sucked.