It was Christmas Day and I—like many other twenty-somethings—was spending the holidays sleeping in my childhood bedroom, awkwardly straddling the line between “adult” and “child”. I had to continually remind myself: you are not a teenager anymore.
Still, I found myself drinking on a bench with my childhood best friend—the woman with whom I’d survived over a decade of bad boyfriends and mean girls. We sipped from cans smuggled from our parents’ fridges and swapped life updates. As she reached for her phone to read sweet nothings from her beau, I reached for my own to see if he had texted back.
He hadn’t. I rolled my eyes and opened Instagram where I noticed a new message. “Long time no see! How’s life treating you in the big city?”
I gasped. “No fucking way!” I said, grabbing my best friend by the shoulder. It was my ex-boyfriend, my sixth-form sweetheart, the boy that I broke up with over the phone part-way through my first year at university when our attempt to make it work long-distance failed—Newcastle to Oxford is an expensive relationship. We hadn’t spoken in three years.
Knowing that my time at home was fleeting, I popped the question: “Are you… about in the next 24 hours?” He was. I rushed home, frantically reapplied my makeup and pulled the best outfit that I could from my sparsely packed suitcase.
And I backslid, right into my 2017 self.
As the populace of Matlock—my small hometown, oft-referred to as the “gateway to the Peak District” or (more generously) the “Switzerland of the UK”—gave into a post-roast food coma, I stormed up the hill, ignoring the sloshing of cheese and prosecco in my own stomach.
He welcomed me into a house loaded with memories of parties, BBQs and family dinners—all charged with the restless intensity of adolescence. I pushed past him into the kitchen, and shook my head in disbelief at the cupboards, at the kitchen table, at the nook where their washing machine and dishwasher live. He watched (bemused) as I let his typically suburban, middle-class family home wash over me. And, like the nervous teens of bygone times, we snuck around his parents’ house, considering every footstep—every breath—as though our lives depended on it.
We had a beer and “caught up” (as promised in our messages). He said he was going to the gym more; I said that I was writing more. We were both living up to our potential, one way or another.
I struggled to contextualise my “new”, “grown-up” self with this person who—until that moment—had existed purely as a memory, as a story (“oh, the guy who said he loved dentistry more than he did you”). I couldn’t bring my usual first-date bravado to someone who already knew a less polished, unrefined, neurotic version of me. I burped loudly—unapologetically, even. I silently shrugged my shoulders whenever I ran out of witticisms or interesting things to say about myself.
We talked and laughed as though we already knew each other (which we did)—and as though no time had passed (which it had). I kissed him and felt the weight of three years’ worth of sexual partners pressed against me as I was thrust back in time, into a teenage relationship.
When I woke up the next morning, I realised I had missed our hometown’s annual raft race, guiltily texting my mum “I’m not going to make it”.
“Turned into a large night then x”
I didn’t dignify that with a response. My ex-boyfriend dutifully went downstairs and forewarned his parents—“yes, so—uh—Alice (you remember her?) stayed over last night… we caught up.”
I made my grand (re)entrance downstairs, mascara encrusted on my face. “Hi!” I said in my most casual tone, as though I were bumping into his parents in the dairy aisle of our local Sainsbury’s.