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One sip of Malibu and Coke and I am eighteen again, hurtling through my first year of university. Sitting in corridors with shiny new friends, laughing and sighing and thinking about writing assignments but drinking instead. Those frosty cloudless nights when we stumbled down Wellington hills in strappy dresses and bare limbs, blue-lipped beneath baby stars. Buying $3 Quick Fucks at The Shot Shack on Manners Mall and waking up with holes in our stockings, knees grazed from drunken tumbles we still can’t recall.
The opening notes of Fall Out Boy’s Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner instantly take me back to that summer in Wellington, to evenings when you and her would kiss in the kitchen as I stood close by, cut and carved, watching as you served your heart up two ways. But there’s never enough love to go around and I was always the one who went hungry.
Those nights when I had to get out of the house, escape the bedrooms where I binged on bad ideas. Exercise myself back to health. Headphones in at full volume, I’ll be your best kept secret and your biggest mistake, pounding through dark twisted streets, running and crying and sweating all the salt out of me.
Winter is nostalgia. I miss places the way others miss lovers. Driving through Southwest London and getting lost in the fog, the city streets lonely like a beautiful bride, hiding secrets behind feathery white veils. Reaching out the window and turning my palm to the sky, scooping up all the kisses and whispers and wretchedness.
And I always think of Scotland during that part of the day when the light is getting lost but I am found; when the sad souls are smiling, the sun has just started to sink and for a moment the world hovers between afternoon and evening, between happiness and sadness, whole and heartbroken.
The longest relationship I’ve had was with a boy I met in a club that had chandeliers on the ceiling and broken bottles on the floor. I liked the way he smelt. He owned all the Joop colognes. When I first started seeing him I would press my face to his neck and just breathe. He would laugh and test me – which one am I wearing today? – and I’d say the blue one, or the green one, or my favourite one. He wore my favourite one a lot.
I’d just broken up with one boy and I didn’t want another. But he asked me out every day until I said yes. I’ll never be able to smell Joop and not recall that sweet dull disaster of a relationship.
There’s a certain sort of toothpaste that reminds me of Manchester. I left my Macleans in London. His Colgate was sitting on the marble sink. There were mirrors on three walls of the bathroom and I was seeing too much of myself. The back of my teeth were raw; the acidity and agony of a cocaine come-down eroded away all smoothness. I felt fragile around the edges and sandpapery in the centre.
I brushed my teeth and wondered whether I should tell him I was using it. We’d been kissing and fucking and crossing all our limbs, lying in each other’s arms and lying to ourselves, but using his toothpaste felt oddly intimate.
I guess it says a lot about a relationship when something as silly as that feels more personal than having his head between your legs.
But drinking Guinness transports me to murky Dublin, forlorn and content, single and sleepy-eyed and satisfied, sitting in a pub almost too dark to see clearly, listening to accents almost too thick to understand, drinking beer almost too bitter to be as beautiful as it is.
I remember the exact lingerie I was wearing the first night we got together. The way he slipped his finger under the string and pulled it away from my skin, held a moment, then let it snap back. His smirk and the taste of his laugh and the arch of my back and the kissing in the elevator as we went up. The room with the floor-to-ceiling window looking out over Auckland, all the big city lights spread out down below. After, I searched for my clothes in the sheets before realising they’d fallen onto the floor.
They are always pulling away, holding -
and I am always snapping back, bitter and beautiful, deathly and dreaming, salty and sad,
staring out at all the big cities I write about but don’t live in.