Knowing it’s the last time you’ll ever sleep next to the person you love is a strange sensation. On the one hand, it’s that agonising, heartbreaking feeling we all have the misfortune of knowing. But on the other, it seems so unbelievable – so far removed from your reality; the one you’ve built and nurtured and known for so many years – that it seems, in a way, almost farcical.
At least, that’s what it was like when the man I loved came home one cold Friday night last year and told me he didn’t love me anymore. I tried to fight for us, for our six years together, and to almost mathematically rationalise his change of heart. It didn’t work. Within a couple of weeks, he found a flat via Spare Room, packed up his belongings from our home, and left. Suddenly, it didn't seem so farcical anymore.
The agony of heartbreak isn’t extraordinary, and it certainly isn’t unique to me – it’s something we all know, or will know at some point during our lives. But what we rarely talk about is how completely it obliterates your sense of self. His enduring loyalty and companionship had torn down my walls, and over the years I trusted him with more and more tiny pieces of myself until my identity was woven so tightly to his, like tough knots of old, strong rope. It made me believe in true love. It made me believe in 'forever'. And that day, he took my forever – all those tiny pieces of who I was – with him.
The agony of heartbreak isn’t extraordinary, and it certainly isn’t unique to me
Over the next few months, I lived in a constant rotation of all the heartbreak clichés. I had sex with strangers to remember what it was to feel wanted. I made food my enemy, starving myself until the smell of meals I used to love turned nauseous knots in my throat. I took drugs until I felt that artificial chemical joy, I drank until I felt absolutely nothing at all. When it was bad, I thought about hurting myself. When it was worse, I did; the physical agony a welcome relief from the emotional.
Yet, despite all of this, I never felt alone. Lonely, yes. Alone, never. Because I was lucky enough to have my friends by my side every single slow, scary step of the way. And to them, I owe the greatest ‘thank you’; the type that and words I utter cannot do justice for.
With every arm looped around my shoulder, every thoughtful gesture and every lovingly-poured glass of wine (so much wine), you made the load a little lighter to bear.
To Blaise, for being the first person I felt able to tell on that Saturday morning. For rushing to my flat, physically – but gently – wrenching me from the front door, telling me I needed to leave, that I couldn’t stay in there with him. For driving with me to my family home, placing me in my mum and dad’s arms. For everything – there is too much – since.
To Sarah, for sleeping by my side for countless nights – it must be well over 100 – just so I didn’t have to feel the cold expanse of nothing next to me. For sharing in my anger, hurt, panic, confusion, not to mention the sporadic highs and manic lows. For lending me your strength.
To Kate, Zara, Talie and Ruth, for being at my family home when I turned up that day, flocking from London, Brighton and Kent; for opening bottles of wine, for feeding me like a baby bird as I tried to find the words to explain what I’d lost, and what I felt. For being my best friends through childhood and adulthood, guiding me through the hurdles along the way.
To Sophie, for being 4,000 miles away, yet somehow still always here.
To Annie, Megan and Jess, for taking it in turns to hold my hand when we had to spend a whole day with him at a mutual friends’ wedding just a few months later, and resisting the urge to punch him in the face (yes, it probably would’ve caused more hassle than it was worth).
To Tom, for making me laugh even when I’d forgotten what laughter felt like.
To Nicole, for always telling me that I’ve ‘got this’, and making me believe you.
To Olivia, for moving in with me, helping me start this new chapter, for forgiving me when I leave toast crumbs in the butter and for letting me keep my cardboard cut-out of Danny Dyer in the living room (don’t ask).
With every arm looped around my shoulder, every thoughtful gesture and every lovingly-poured glass of wine (so much wine), you made the load a little lighter to bear. You made me realise that, when he left, he in fact didn’t take all those tiny pieces of who I was with him – you had been keeping some safe for me all along, for times when I’d need reminding of who I was. You have shown me what true love really is. You are my forever. I will never be able to thank you enough.
Almost Adults by Ali Pantony is available from August 8 2019.