Letter to an ex

You never forget the first you fall in love with. 

That’s what people always used to say to me.

I had no idea what they meant. At the age of 28, I’d almost relinquished any expectations of knowing what that felt like. 

Of experiencing that strange pang just under the top of your rib cage that seems to permanently ache. The butterflies when you’re not even nervous or you’re suddenly overcome with nerves for no reason. And that slightly nauseous feeling when you don’t even feel sick. 

As I wander the streets of this sun-swathed city, draped in golden hues while it stretches its arms and arches its back, awakening from its slumber for summer, I’m constantly stumbling into madeleine moments. 

Those Proustian reminders that hit you there, right in that delicate spot below the rib cage and bring all the memories flooding back. 

You never did get my references, so you probably won’t know what I’m on about. Suffice to say it hurts. But it’s more than self-indulgent of me to complain about that now. To be honest, I don’t even know if I’ll send you this for that very reason. 

But if I could define a madeline moment it would be something like this:

Standing on the metro, alone, and sensing the strong grip of your hand into the small of my back. You pull me in close while everyone else in the carriage sways against the slamming of breaks. Your bright, animated eyes piercing right through me before your warm body presses reassuringly against mine. 

Your grin. Running my fingers through your bouncy hair. The line of your lips, like they’d been sketched by a painter. Feeling the firmness of your sternum beneath my chin as my hair tumbles over your chest and weekend mornings roll into afternoons. 

Chocolate mousse. Having eyes bigger than our belly.

Slipping down cobbled streets with no fingers to link through and contrast my ghostly-white hand. Walking past the square that leads to Topo Chiado, where we first met, and noticing my chest tighten. Or wondering if you need one of those protein bars. 

Gazing out at Guincho, the crash of waves echoing in my ears and thinking it’s cold but no arms entwine around me and no lips meet mine. There’s no short-clad body to cavort about with in the sand and set my heart racing in an accidental remake of From Here to Eternity. By the way, that sand is still a bastard to get out your bag.

The Big O’s Pretty Woman coming on the radio and transporting me to outside Ao26, dancing as you throw your head back and laugh, your arms tight around my waist. 

Whenever I go past Cais, my eyes are drawn to the water lapping at the stone steps. I think of two young people from different sides of the world who were jigsaw pieces rattling about the bottom of a box. For one fleeting summer they fit together. Arms and legs slipping effortlessly into place to complete the puzzle.

I know we’re not good for each other. I know you’ve moved on. And that’s healthy. Dwelling on the past does no good. (Yeah, I’m a fucking hypocrite…)

Rather than seeing this as something embarrassing or a desperate attempt to goad you back, I hope you’ll accept this as a thank you.

For being the first I loved.

For being the one I’ll never forget. 

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