Sunday, 10 November 2013

Broken hearted in Berlin

Sometimes, the biggest moments in your life - the ones that change you irreparably, happen in a matter of seconds. You stand there, time slowing down like you are in one of those awful rom-coms, and you know, you fucking know, that you won't ever be the same again.

One of my most defining moments happened on Sep 10th 1990, in a Berlin airport.

I stood, in a sweaty cramped room in the departures gate, waiting to board a flight to London, with tears streaming down my face. I could hardly breathe I was so heartbroken. I gave up trying to dab my eyes with a small sodden tissue, or hide the fact I was openly weeping. A tall handsome man with wavy brown hair strode over to me and offered me a cigarette. My hands shook as he lit it, and he smiled gently as he asked, 'So, did you throw the flat at him, or just pack and walk out?' He carried on, 'Sometimes it doesn't have to be over, it just feels like it is.'

But it was over. It was never going the same again. I was never going to be the same again.

I'd spent 10 glorious days in Berlin, living with my boyfriend, my first love. I'd flown in on a Friday, to be met by him and his brother, then taken to a bar where his mother greeted me with a rose between her teeth. She gave me champagne and cigarettes and asked me what contraceptive I used. This was her opening question. I kid ye not. She went on to say that the first time she had sex, he'd given her VD and got her pregnant (whoever 'he' was) and a doctor had given her an injection that had 'killed both.' She laughed, smoked and re-filled my champagne glass. I nervously drank it in one gulp.

His Mother lived on Brandenburgische - a small walk from the Brandenburg gate. Her sprawling, slightly run down flat was next door to his brother's - and we hung out in both. I watched endless MTV (the only English speaking channel) and played Tracey Chapman's Fast Car over and over. His Father's flat (where we stayed) was a lengthy 2 bus, 2 subway ride across town - in a dull suburban suburb.

By day we slept and by night we drank frothy beers, got stoned and kissed our way across the city. I was blindingly in love - playing at being a grown-up: cooking him meals and shopping for groceries. His step-mother kept some English language books, so I read Riders and The Secret Garden. The latter being a book on sexual fantasies, and I would lie in the bath and read aloud the craziest ones. We watched Polanski's Rosemary's baby in German, and I still loved it.  Every morning I would wake and feel momentarily gutted - another day had passed. A day nearer to flying home.

My trip there was 6 months into our relationship. My first, real proper relationship. One filled with dates and phone calls and hand holding in public. He had stayed at my house - separate rooms of course - and eventually, I'd given him my virginity. It felt right.

He taught me German phrases and took me on a tour of the East side of the city - this was shortly after the wall had come down. We shopped at flea markets and drank coffees in cafes, ate steaks in a wooden bistro called 'The Woodworm' and he watched as I danced alone, at a club called Far Out where an 80 year old guru skated around the floor. He took me to his Grandmother's 70th birthday party and not one person spoke English. They appraised me and decided we should be married. He paled. I blushed.

Eventually it was time to go. I stood in his sloppy navy sweater and refused to return it. It smelt of him. I shoved a crumpled love letter into his hands. Then complained about the traffic on route to the airport. He replied his usual phrase, 'If you don't like it, you can always go home...'

Then we stood in the busy airport terminal, teeming with people bumping into us and said goodbye. He was headed to Manchester Uni, me to rainy Belfast and A- Levels. It felt like my pretend life was over. The crazy Mother who ordered us out of her flat as her lover was visiting that day, the Baileys he would pour me at night, the kisses he woke me with... All gone. He promised we would stay in touch, but I knew this was it. That it was over - we wouldn't sustain over a stretch of sea and an entire year apart... Me, headed no doubt to a London Uni the following year.

He kissed me goodbye and I turned and fled, lest he see me cry. There had already been too many tears. Too much discussion over how to 'make it work.'

So I stood in that humid airport and knew that I wasn't the girl who had touched down 10 days prior. I'd left my mundane school life, my small little world of school and tennis and the Empire pub, and I'd felt really, truly alive. I'd been smitten with love. How could I go back, and be the person in the school uniform, trudging up that hill, knowing he had gone?

I spent that night in Gatwick airport - which is somewhere unholy to try and bed down. I chain smoked cigarettes and cried down the phone to any friend who would talk to me, whilst my coins ran out. I listened to crappy music on a prehistoric Walkman and finished reading Riders...

Looking back over my life, over those boys that I have loved (for there only have been 3), that was one of the moments that defined me. Defined what I knew love could be - the pain of it all. The seemingly unending heartbreak - that stayed with me for at least two years after that day... But I wouldn't change a second of it. I wouldn't go back and tell my 17 year old self to do anything different.

It brought me here, eventually. It taught me (trite thought this may sound) that you could love, you could lose, but you could still get up and do it all over again...


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