This essay was chosen by editors in reponse to the #FirstTime prompt: Have you ever found love online?
We were sitting at the top of the hill in late evening and the air was still so hot that the stone folly burnt your palms. We had always sat there, every summer, overlooking the old steeples and the forest as the sun went down, just gossiping, singing, making out. You had to climb over the fence and the gate that read, Intruders will be prosecuted, but we didn't care. I was 18 and barely out, you so far in the closet you were in Narnia.
We wore hot pants and crop tops and too much lipstick, and did nothing for days over those long summers. You were the most beautiful girl in the world, huge blue eyes and an alcohol problem. We had that kind of teenage romance that sticks with you forever. Up here, on top of the folly and far from small-town disapproval, we were gay, in every sense of the word. Hours of sex and kissing and touching under sun, twilight and stars. No one could see, but we could see everything. I was in love in the way you can only be at 18.
It was there, on that late evening, you told me you had a boyfriend. I forgot his name in my shock. I spat at you, screamed at the top of my lungs, felt my head go light. I hated you, very suddenly, as much as I loved you. It doesn't matter, you explained, I'll still make out with you, I'll still love you. You tried to hold me, stroke my hair, comfort me, but I pushed you away, clutching my stomach to catch the void that was growing there. You'd always been promiscuous, but I'd never thought you would hurt me like this. How long? Two weeks. Does he fuck you? Stop it. No, tell me, does he fuck you, you stupid bitch? You stopped, silent, and suddenly we both knew it was over. I was crying so much my mascara cracked across my cheeks, streaming down my top. I told you to go fuck yourself and ran stumbling down the hill, high heels twisting in the glass, barely able to see or hear above the thump, thump, thump of a heart that no longer served any meaningful purpose.
I've never felt pain quite so keenly in that hour.
And then I was the most alone I'd ever been. There was the heat and sun of days I didn't want to wake to. I retreated into myself, reading in the garden, ignoring my phone and friends or anything that reminded me of you. Eventually, the sorrow changed enough for me to write angry songs and childish tweets about nothing so much as thinly veiled resentment. I imagined you both fucking in the sunset, the hot stones still burning where my flesh had just been. More to spite you than in search of new love, I began a long descent into flirting with anyone I could, staying up late with a vulgarity and ease that I had despised in you. Anyone could see my body, hold me, give me blunt compliments. I hurt as you hurt me, without thought, with a cruelty that still shocks me. I got to the point where I had maybe six, seven men and women on the go at the same time.
One day I saw how hideous I was, foundation cracking, my hair sordidly unwashed and split. I cleaned myself for most of the day, shower after shower, bath after bath. I cut my hair. I wore blazers and suits. I began looking through my university books. I let my ghost pass through your page on Facebook. I no longer felt anger, but sadness for what we once had. The autumn was coming now, the temperatures creeping down. I decided to go to the British Museum on a whim to hear a lecture on some impressionist I don't remember. The air was cool, the sky white, the trees thinner with few leaves. I met him there, for the first time.
He was tall, perhaps 6'2". Short dark hair, like fine black silk threads. A nose he would later laughingly refer to as majestic. Late 30s. I know, this must be sordid, taking advantage of a wounded 18-year-old girl. But it wasn't like that, truly. He didn't tell me he loved me until I was 20. We were friends for so long, from that first cautious email I sent about a Renoir painting to a long satirical poems on the latest elections.I was bisexual, I wrote him. Wasn't everyone? he replied back briskly, telling me the story of a boy he'd had sex with at medical school many years ago. He was a serial monogamist, long term girlfriends he never quite wanted to marry. He told me about how he'd taken many years to get over a woman, and it never got easier until you loved someone else. I learnt from him, I found stillness in him, calm and patience in those long emails back and forth. I'd met him in lust, I loved him online.
He told me a few months past 20 that he didn't want to ruin what we had, but that he loved me. He loved my interest and engagement with the world. He loved my humor and enthusiasm. He loved my trust in him and his ability to trust me. We'd met up a few times in those few years, but only for a quick coffee in between the rush of semesters, but suddenly we needed to see each other regularly, under the branches of Russell Park, giggling like kids as I stole his glasses or he stole my phone. We kissed that summer and for the first time since you.
I still wonder if I would have ever found love again if I'd never sent that first forward email about a painting I can barely recall. But we've been together almost six years now.
I am in love with him and I am over you.
This essay was submitted anonymously.
Like what you read? Submit your own #FirstTime essay in response to our next prompt: How'd you learn to love your body? Instructions here.