My life is a Reductress headline: Theatre Kid Now Data Entry Grownup. I have come of age, I have lived out the intoxicating, dramatic years of my life, and now I spend my days editing databases, and my evenings trying to muster the energy to write my Master’s dissertation. I have retired from my role as Main Character. If you’ve been around long enough to read the blogs I have now removed in a Reputation-era Taylor Swift-style deleting rampage, you will know that I once had a flare for the dramatic. I was the narrator-protagonist of an epic coming of age saga, and I dissected my trials and tribulations in written form, allowing my readers an insight into my psyche. There isn’t one reason why I stopped writing blogs, there many. But I miss writing for an audience, connecting with people through my words and my experiences. I miss being a Main Character; I need to be one, now more than ever. So allow this narrator-protagonist to come out of retirement. Main Character Eliza has returned, and she’s here to tell you the story of the most Main Character thing that has ever happened to her. Spoiler alert: it’s a love story.
April started with a bang. Four months into the year, and the slow deterioration of the life I had built for myself had begun to speed up. In the space of a few days, I’d found out my flatmate was moving out, I’d been publicly ridiculed for my writing, and essay deadlines were fast approaching. I lay in bed late at night, listening to voice messages with earphones in, a conversation with a friend that turned from in-jokes and codewords to talk of platonic love, and where you draw the line between friendship and more. We said “I love you” a few too many times, and the words hung in the air like a spell I couldn’t cast away. Our friendship had started a little over a year earlier, when we were in a play together. We bonded quickly. He followed my cat’s Instagram; I did his makeup the night of the show; we took turns doing dramatic renditions of cringy quotes from 50 Shades of Grey in the middle of a pub to embarrass our friend; I read him my poetry at 4am, and he vomited over the side of a bridge.
A few weeks later, the world was frozen in time.
I don’t know when we got back in touch. But we eased into a routine of fortnightly walks, meandering around the West End, sitting on a bench in the university campus late at night as light rain drizzled down. He walked me home at 1am and we took turns reading each other poetry and joked about getting a tattoo of Putin’s face captioned “Put in” in a questionable location. Talk often turned to the authoritarian regime we would establish together. He would be the charismatic leader, and I the master schemer behind the operation.
In late November, I moved across the city to my exile in the East End. I felt more isolated there than I ever did in the first lockdown, where I’d at least had a flatmate I was close with, and a cat to ease the touch-starvation. My walks with R were the one spark of light in my bleak world. Winter was punctuated with walks and companionship, traipsing around the city in the rain and snow, buying each other falafel and confiding our secrets. We were the same, in many ways; we understood each other. I viewed him as a younger brother. Now, I can’t say that without imagining Freud sitting in an armchair somewhere deep inside my brain, taking notes and laughing to himself.
We became closer after R broke up with his girlfriend. I sent him videos of Ukrainian politicians punching each other in parliament to cheer him up. We went for a long walk in the snow, and when we hugged goodbye, he stood on the footpath and I on the pavement, so he was taller than me. My head rested against his chest, and it feels so good to be held like this flashed through my mind for the briefest moment. Our hugs got longer as the weeks went by. One day we went for a walk in the South Side. As we crossed back over the Clyde, we stopped on the bridge and watched the setting sun. We talked about the future, how we both want to become lecturers at the university. I said I could picture us in our 40s, mad academics wandering side-by-side through Kelvingrove Park, still plotting our authoritarian regime half a lifetime from now. We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment longer than necessary (or at least, that’s how I remember it now), and I said it was comforting to know we’d be in each other’s lives for so long. As we parted ways, it occurred to me that if this had been anyone else, I would have considered it a romantic moment.
In March I had a short-lived crush on someone who seemed good for me on paper. I was silly and giddy, and when I told R he was so happy to see me happy. I told him the reason I was able to trust men again was because of him. We sat on a bench outside the library, and he nuzzled his head against my shoulder like an affectionate puppy. Again, the thought of oh, this feels nice that I didn’t know what to do with. We didn’t see each other for three weeks. My crush on the other person disappeared. When R and I met again, something had shifted between us.
I met him at the train station. We collapsed into each other’s arms, and our faces were so close together that I felt his cheek squished against mine, sparse stubble pressing into my skin. We whispered “I missed you so much!” over and over, as if surprised by that discovery, and hugged each other again mere seconds after letting go. I don’t remember much from that day, but the relief of seeing him again is imprinted in my mind. We crossed the bridge from the city centre to Tradeston. I told him I was convinced no one would ever love me. He said “you are loved”, and I knew he loved me so fiercely. I didn’t read anything into it.
I had a bad week. Life had me under siege. One day I ventured into the toilets in the main building of the university. Beside the mirror was a wooden love heart, with the number 222 carved into it. Beneath the number, written in blue ballpoint pen, were the words “you are loved!” It felt like a sign. Of what, I don’t know, but next time I saw it, I took it home. It now holds a place of honour on my bookshelf.
It was April 4th and I was losing my mind. I was deep in the midst of ego death, having the worst crisis of faith I’d had in my writing in years. Glasgow felt like a prison. I lay in bed, not wanting to get up or go outside. R asked if I’d like a phone call. I told him I was sad, and all I wanted was for someone to hold me close and stroke my hair. Talking to him eased my anguish. He told me he needs to be around people all the time, but “I can sustain myself off just your company for a long time”. I recounted a story of something an old love-interest-turned-antagonist said to me years before that had made me sad. He offered to punch him for me. The idea of him defending my honour sent a strange thrill through me. He told me that in the Regime, we would have an arena in which my suitors would fight to the death. I pointed out that I had no suitors, and doubted I ever would. A little voice in the back of my head wondered: if he was talking about fighting someone for me, did that make him my suitor? A little while later he said, out of nowhere, “I think people do find you desirable”. I laughed it off and negated the sentiment. He repeated “I think people do find you desirable”. I wondered if he was the “people” in question.
He asked if I wanted to escape from the city. I said yes, knowing it would change everything, for better or worse.
I was nervous as I took the train to Ayr. I listened to Taylor Swift, and lines like “say my name and everything just stops, I don’t want you like a best friend” lodged themselves in the corners of my mind. I told myself not to get my hopes up, or read anything into comments like “you are loved” and “I think people do find you desirable” or the way he had supported my writing more after three weeks of knowing me than people who had known me for three years, or how he was the only person I’d hugged in almost a year, or any number of thoughts that now flashed in my mind like a neon warning sign.
I paced back and forth in the train station carpark, the wind blowing through my hair and the flowing fabric of my green floral culottes. I was nervous. He didn’t normally make me nervous.
When he gets out the car, I know something has changed between us. We look into each other’s eyes, and where I had only ever seen my friend, I am now met with blue electricity, a pull that I don’t want to look away from. I fall into his arms, and we hug for a long time. I sit behind him in the car, and have the persistent urge to touch his shoulder as we talk. I resist it. What I can’t resist, is the urge to flirt. It seems I am not the only one. When I joke to his mother that my maternal instincts specifically extend to young men, R tells me “You should put that in your tinder profile.” I blush and barely manage to splutter out a response.
His mum drops us off near Culzean Castle, and when we’re alone we hug again. Each hug barely ends before the next begins. I feel his hand on my hair, patting it like a toddler trying to gently stroke a puppy, a little too rough but sweet in intention. “You remembered,” I whisper. My heart skips a beat. He keeps patting my hair, and I tell him he’s doing it wrong. “It needs to be more gentle,” I say. “Like this.” I reach out and softly stroke his hair, brushing over the ginger curls that frame his face. We walk closer to the castle, and hug again. I make a joke about locking him in the dungeons. He gets flustered. We hug. I search the grass for my purple teddy bear earring that had fallen in the midst of the hugs. We walk so close that our arms and legs brush against each other with every step we take as we head down the hill to the beach.
It has been so long since I’ve been near the sea. I always find it comforting – the sea reminds me of my time in Estonia, of the freedom that feels so distant to me now. R tells me the story of how he got a group of Lebanese exchange students lost down here. We reach a stretch of large, black, slippery rocks. I hesitate before them, and he asks if I’ll be okay to walk across them. I pause for a moment, as if considering. He offers me his hand.
We walk across the rocks, and soon I am leading him. Our hands are sweaty, and our wrists are at a weird angle, and it’s not particularly comfortable, but I don’t want to let go. As we cross the final stretch of rocks and reach the sand, I assume he’ll drop my hand. Instead, he holds it tighter, and tells me homoerotic stories from his rugby-playing days. My shoes are filled with sand, and my hand is slippery with sweat, and I’m trying hard to pay attention to his story—he’s so animated and full of life, it’s a joy to listen to him—but all I can think is: oh my god, he’s still holding my hand.
I’m sure he’ll drop my hand when we leave the beach. There’s a wooden staircase up the side of the cliff, too narrow to walk side-by-side. Surely he’ll drop my hand when we have to walk single file. He does not drop my hand. Instead, he casually tells me that two people have told him he’s a bad kisser. An impulsive little voice in my brain has the oh-so-genius idea of asking “so how bad of a kisser are you then?”, to which he says “It sounds like you want to find out.” That shuts me up. I blush so hard I can barely walk straight. I have my best friend’s voice in my head screaming at me that this would have been the perfect opportunity to kiss him. But I am not a brave person when it comes to things like this. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that. R tells me he is an unashamed flirt. I tell him I’m terrible at flirting. He asks for an example. The more I say, the worse I put my foot in it. The hole I dig myself into is deep enough to bury me.
We walk through a forest filled with daffodils; sunlight streams down through the trees. Our hands are intertwined as we traipse up the narrow woodland path. R leads me to a bench at the top of the cliff, overlooking the deep grey sea. Our linked hands rest on the bench between us. He tells me he’s telepathic, and can read my mind.
“Oh, so what am I thinking right now?” I ask.
“I think I know what you’re thinking, but I could be being very oblivious,” R responds.
I assure him that I am an infinitely more oblivious person than he could ever be.
“Prove to me how oblivious you are,” he says.
“I can’t do that without doing something wrong,” I point out. “By definition, proving I’m oblivious means doing the wrong thing. If you’re so telepathic, tell me what I’m thinking.”
I stare him out. I don’t think he’ll do it. Even as I look unblinkingly into his blue eyes, my eyebrows raised in a challenge, I don’t think he’ll actually do it.
“I think you’re thinking this,” R says, and leans in to kiss me. My brain is screaming at me. We kiss, and it’s stilted and awkward and his face is at the wrong angle, and I laugh into his mouth and tell him those people were right, he is indeed a bad kisser. Yet as soon as the kiss ends, all I want to do is kiss him again. He asks to hug me. I ask to kiss him again. It is marginally better this time. When we break apart, he says “Error 404: brain broken”, and we fall into silence as we walk down through the woods. We agree that we need to talk about it at some point, but not right now. I’m scared I’ve ruined our friendship. I’m scared we’ve passed the point of no return, and I’ll lose him forever.
We head back to the car, and I don’t know what to say. I drift into silence, and he talks about history. He talks to me normally, but nothing is normal. My mind is on fire, it feels surreal. I spent so long viewing him as a friend, a brother, a kindred spirit. There was such depth to our friendship, a level of love I have rarely experienced before. He understood me in a way I didn’t know was possible. And now we’ve had an awkward kiss in a scenic location, and it changes everything.
When we get back to his house, I deliberately sit on the opposite end of the sofa to him. I don’t know what to do or say. He shows me a video on his phone, and I edge a little closer. Soon, we sit side-by-side. I say something that makes him sad, and he asks if I want a hug. I curl up against him, with my head resting on his chest and my arms wrapped around him. He sings to me in Russian, and taps out the beat of the song on my shoulders. I don’t have time to think about what the kiss meant; all I know is that it feels so natural to be in his arms like this. It is something I’ve never experienced before. Even though the kiss was awkward, it was still the first time in my life that I’d kissed someone I had feelings for.
He cooks me dinner, and in the process cuts himself on a knife, burns a pan of garlic, and sets the stove on fire. We take turns choosing songs to listen to, and dance around the kitchen. I begin to feel queasy, and sit on a chair and watch him cook. I try so hard to overthink, but my brain won’t let me. So I watch as he dances to our bizarre playlist of Taylor Swift and Warren Zevon, and I look into his eyes for a little too long every time he stands close to me. I tell myself I don’t know what I want, but I do.
When my queasiness gets too much to bear, we sit outside under the stars. It has been so long since I’ve been in the countryside. I grew up under bright starry skies, and seeing them again feels like home in a way Glasgow’s light pollution could never compete with. Finally, I can’t take it any longer. I strongly hint that I need to know what the kiss meant. He says it was “interesting”. I ask what interesting means. He says interesting means it was interesting. I say “I’m going to overthink about this a lot.” R says he will do the same. What becomes clear is that it isn’t cut and dry. He isn’t going to just write it off as nothing. He is going to think about it, think about me. There is a choice to make. I am a choice; I am someone he might want to be with. He kisses my cheek, and I kiss his. Over and over. It harks back to another experience, nearly 3 years ago, with another male friend, another round of cheek kisses that seemed to mean something and caused me years of confusion. The parallel is not lost on me.
We part ways at Ayr train station at 11pm. He walks me to the platform, and I so desperately want him to kiss me again. He kisses my cheek instead. I am finally alone with my thoughts, and still, I can’t bring myself to overthink. I try to send voice messages to my friends, but my fingers are too cold to hold down the record button. I pace back and forth along the platform, listening to Etta James’ At Last.
The next day, I post a thirst trap on Instagram to get his attention. It works better than I expected. We send each other flirty voice messages and make each other flustered. He asks if I wanted a phone call “so we can make each other flustered at the same time.” Amidst the unabashed flirting, I once again ask what “interesting” means. He can’t give me an answer, so I say the word in a mock-seductive voice until it loses all meaning. I never do learn what interesting means, but by the end of that phone call it is abundantly clear that we aren’t meant to be just friends. I suggest the best way to figure out what we are to each other is to spend more time together.
The day before our date, I am walking home from drinks with my classmates. It turns out R is also in Glasgow that day, and just around the corner from me. I run to meet him, hurtling into his arms like a romcom protagonist running through an airport. This time when we kiss, it isn’t awkward, it is magical. We sit on a bench in George Square and kiss, and any anxieties I had are pushed from my mind.
Even now, there are parts of me that still find it surreal, because he was my friend for so long, but right from the start it felt natural to be with him like this.
2021 has been a horrible year. I have spent much of it wanting to scream at the sky, curse the gods in retaliation for the curses they have laid upon me. I lost faith in my writing, I lost faith in the world at large. I have a tendency to romanticise my life, to sugar-coat painful experiences because they’re part of a greater story. I cannot romanticise the way I have struggled this year, or last year. But falling in love has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. Loving R has healed me in ways I didn’t believe were possible. Every other area of my life may feel like it’s crashing down around me, but loving him is my greatest joy.
Last Sunday, I lay on the sofa with my head resting in his lap. We ate chocolate cookies and listened to Taylor Swift’s song “Mine”, laughing as each lyric became increasingly descriptive of our love story. R said “oh god, we’re in a teen movie.” I asked why that was a bad thing. He said “the plot demands we make out”, and we kissed while listening to my favourite songs. Amidst the burning hellfire that the world is right now, there is one part of my life that is glorious. Loving R is everything I ever dreamed of. In the words of Taylor Swift, “I hate accidents, except when we went from friends to this.”
I’ve shed my old stories. I no longer fit the role I used to play. But I am the protagonist in a new story now. I spent years longing for an epic love story, and I mistook drama and torment as signs that love was within reach. Love isn’t dramatic, it’s peaceful and beautiful, it’s finding home in another person, merging your separate universes, becoming a partnership. Love is so much more than I dreamed of; it is the best story I have lived in.