This story is by Karen McCandless and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Barcelona: a love story
The two of us aren’t ready to be in love with each other. Yet. We aren’t ready to fall.
Our story started intensely. Slowly. And it hasn’t reach an end.
Day one. In bed in my hotel room, wanting to be with you, but not sure if I’m ready. A thunderstorm so intense it knocks the electricity out. Fear. So much to do. The newness of it all. Keeping the tears inside as I try to tick everything off my list. Identity card. Nope. Phone. Yes. Flat. Progress. Eating ice cream. Yes. Boasting to friends on Facebook about how special you are. Yes, yes and yes. Hiding the reality of the situation. I think you know the answer to that one.
Day two. To-do list. But first, loneliness. Just being with you isn’t enough to make me happy. No identity card yet so no work. It will just be me and you for the foreseeable future. Will it be enough? Strolling along the beach, I yearn for someone else to share this with. Fresh cherries cheer me up, as I take the metro back to the hotel. Dinner alone, then bed.
Day three. Finding that apartment for me to live. Branching out on my own. A time of firsts. The light streams in, and I know it’s real love. Before the doubts set in and I wonder if it is too expensive. Fire off messages for confirmation of my decision. Looking back, I realise this is how we will always be together.
One week. Crying my eyes out in a café, throwing away my British reserve, and hate for making a scene. Notebook open in front of my. Blank. Coffee – cold. You were supposed to heal me, to make me whole again. Instead here I am suffering, scared, alone. Why are you doing this to me? I can’t cope. I want to go home. Things were supposed to be different. And it’s raining. Again. I don’t want to eat alone. Again.
Two weeks. Our love will be a complicated one. Love and hate will live in tandem. Pleasure and pain. Dark and light. Good and Bad. Not like it was the first time. When I first met you, it was love at first sight. I thought I couldn’t leave you. That perfect weekend, two days of mountains, sun, buses, paella with frankfurt, sangria, walking, buying chorizo for the way home, photographs and rum. Now all these years later, I thought this was fate. Coming back to be with you.
One month. Fear. I sit in my perfect flat, trying to work up the energy to go out and make friends. I’ve been eating too many chips and watching too much TV. The sun rises every day, and it stays there. All day. But it means nothing to me. It’s been five years since we first met. I dreamt of you. I talked of you incessantly. You are so beautiful, your light makes everything seem better. Everyone who knows you falls. Just like I did. Another one of your conquests. At the start everything seems wonderful; but long term is different. You put up barriers, you won’t let me in – not to the true you. But every time I feel like this, you surprise me with a moment so beautiful, so unique, I never want to leave. I want to be with you, always. I think.
Three months. At the airport. Excitement. New experiences. Not for me. Early morning alcoholic drinks for the holidaymakers. Strong coffee for the travellers. Gates called. Luggage stowed. I’m going back to you even though I don’t want to. I gave up everything for you. But I’m still not happy, still envious, still lonely, angry, and frustrated. I did this for you, because I loved you. Yes, that’s past tense. When I came back to you after all those years apart, I was scared, anxious, but ready. What have you done to me?
Six months: Will everyone think I’m a failure? Sitting at my desk, staring at the screen. People packing up their things. Will I be one of them? Firing off those messages to get reassurance. Skype interviews. Dreams of a new life. Maybe me and you were never meant to be.
Nine months: Family visit. A chance to show you off. Pistachio ice cream overlooking the city. Walks in the park. Greek food at the cafe on the corner. No jackets needed. Where shall we eat? What shall we do? There are so many choices. You have never looked more beautiful reflected in the eyes of my loved ones. Photos. Selfies. Memories made.
One year: Going running in the early morning sun. Warm enough for short sleeve t-shirts even though it’s just turned into March. Talk of boys, of dates, of food, of life. Playing at being deep and meaningful is enough meaning for now. Brunching all over the city. Taking the metro with arms open for new experiences. I can’t bear to spend even two days away from you. You have transformed me.
15 months. I’ve found my tribe. Smashing the shuttlecock. Nailing that short story. Inspecting the tan lines on my shoulder. You have opened your heart and I’ve fallen straight in. Other men look at me with desire. I look good AND I’m interesting. The conversation flows. The fun is never ending. Energy at a high.
18 months. Running through the rain. Through the pain. Poetry? Eating pasta in the safety of my family’s home. Watching Saturday night TV. An early night. The heat, the beach, all gone. I’ve left you and i’m never going back. I can’t bear to even see your face. Just the thought of you makes me so anxious.
Two years. I’m back. Friends are thin on the ground. Life has moved on. Even for you. Are we still right for each other? Fear and anxiety come at me from all angles. Pushing through it in the shops and eating in cafes. Nachos and reality TV shows soothe my troubled mind.
Two and a half years. Rushing out the door to get to my date on time. New flat, (potential) new job. Frantically catching up on WhatsApp messages. Plans and platitudes. Plenty of emojis. Put my lipstick on while riding the metro. My blonde hair swishes healthily around my face. And here we are again, back in love, renewing our vows, committing to being together, if not forever then for now. Smoothies, badminton, pottery, hobbies, friends, parties, drinking, boys, experiences. All that I want, I have.
Three years. Waking up after two hours sleep. Covered in sweat. Tired. Tired. Tired. Tired. Aching bones. Anxiety. New flat has equaled new life. Unfortunately. New sheets. More pillows. Room smells great. No change. I’m getting desperate. I want to leave you, but I can’t. Open Facebook. Smiling faces of friends who ask me every time “how is it over there?” “Great. Such an amazing city. There are so many opportunities,” I always reply. You are all about hedonistic highs then crashing lows. You sparkle with life for other people, so why not for me?
Now: Sitting in a cafe with a mocha and granola. To ease my wellness-obsessed mind, I’ve added a smoothie. Aftermath of big fight lurking at the back of my mind. The same one that always happens after two weeks. This time with the parents. Back with my family to test the waters. Not working out like I hoped. Breakout of spots. Energy at an all time low. Need to check my phone to resolve this but don’t want to. I thought I could trade you for someone else. How naive. Trying to write about you, but none of it feels real. My shoulders are sore. Oasis’s Songbird comes on the radio, and I wonder what happened to my dreams. I’ve chosen this course, and I’m too old to change it now. Playing the song on repeat to make me feel. Something
This story hasn’t ended; it feels like it never will. Not in the cliched hopeful way where I become a famous writer, lose ten pounds, meet that special person, and get over all of my issues. I can’t return to my family, but I feel like going back to you is perpetuating a cycle that will repeat itself endlessly. I run away, miss you badly, and then turn and go back. Again. Again. One more try.