If I was to say I had the perfect romantic history, I would be a liar. I've made mistakes.
I had to learn somehow.
And in a world where we're inundated with information and self-help, I find tripping over the best way to learn there are obstacles in the path.
But when I see the obstacle and fail to avoid it, shame on me. When I see that same alluring suitor standing in my way, I don't think to walk past, keep moving, and never turn around.
For some reason, I can't find the ability to do anything else but repeat the same mistakes. Fall for the same guy. Become besotted by the same bad news as before.
I'm like a broken record, but for some reason, in my head, I'm hearing a different tune every time.
My fingers clung to the edge of the concrete deck. I watched and waited as the midnight sky coated the curvatures of the skate park with a fairy-like sparkle.
This foreign architecture, this skate park for the brave, has been part of my local landscape for decades.
And I had dismissed it as a space I would never venture into. I didn't belong in a skate park, after all. I wasn't a skater girl. But I was sure as hell waiting for my skater boy.
It was past nine, and in Melbourne's winter, that meant it had been dark for hours. It was freezing too, but knowing he would be there soon kept me warm. Why does the wrong thing keep us warm? Why does a mistake make us feel more alive than ever?
Before I could answer this, a bright light disrupted my thoughts.
There was his car, the beat-up old wagon arriving in the parking lot. I sat there, unable to move, as I watched his baggy trousers and unlaced boots saunter towards me.
Clutched under his arm was a beaten skateboard, with an oversized Snoopy motif covering the underside. When I finally saw his face lift towards mine under the night sky, I felt this unwavering heat.
It should be the heat that causes the flight mode to kick in.
Instead, I stayed.
In that moment, I can't help but love the same uneven grin he used to pretend he wasn't happy to see someone, but secretly was.
I'm captivated by his coy yet effortlessly cool attitude that I could never pry myself away from. It's the same attitude that helped me realise he was a mistake in the first place.
Yet, again, I can't pull away.
At that moment, all I could think was, "What do I do about the lover I'm not allowed to talk about? The guy I'm not meant to know? How do I reconcile being in the arms of The Bad Man, again?"
This is when I can see the obstacles but they look like shiny beacons. How does a person get them so confused?
I was the first out of the venue, retreating to the street in an inebriated flurry. The DJ wasn't very kind when he said it was time to leave and enjoy our Christmas like the bunch of drunken idiots that we were. Some holiday spirit, I thought.
But as my colleagues, some fifty-strong, looked around at each other, we exchanged the knowing look.
This isn't over. We aren't done, yet. No one is telling us to go home yet.
That's what a night full of faux champagne and cocktails made of cheap spirits will do rationality.
It's not like the cinema we worked at didn't have any money to splash out for something more ostentatious. But when a big business can screw its employees, it will.
Yet, that wasn't the screwing I was thinking about that night.
The second to the street was none other than The Bad Man. I knew his silhouette well. I had seen it every day in a suit as we took charge of the hoards of employees under our watch.
Most days we had to play it straight, pretend like we weren't having any fun. Not tonight though. Our flirting had reached a fever pitch and despite the location, we had to have each other.
As he threw his arms around my waist, pulling our bodies together, an ugly aroma of cheap liquor and stale perfume filled the air. There was his smile, the wry grin.
With his embrace, he got what he wanted. And so did I.
As quickly as our lips met, and everything wrong about the moment felt right, the street filled with the rest of our colleagues. Boisterous voices filled the night air, everyone gleefully singing the last song the DJ played.
"You two look very close," said one of our staff. He noted our behaviour right after we pulled away from each other before anyone could see how close we really were.
What a coup that would have been for our fledgling staff member. He was a relative newbie, only working for the company for the past month or so.
And to have one of the biggest pieces of gossip, two managers, one very much not single (yes, me!), having it off in front of the entire Christmas party.
If he had the proof, a picture of us together, for example, it would have been game over.
Part of me wishes he did.
I needed intervention. Someone needed to help me quit this guy.
Whilst the Bad Man probably didn't care if people talked, I was the one with everything to lose.
A boyfriend that everyone knew about.
A boyfriend that everyone liked.
A reputation for being kind, loyal, truth worthy on the line.
It would only take a woman like me to make one slip up and she would find herself banished forever.
In hindsight, I could see the future. I should have known what was going to happen when I begged The Bad Man to keep my, wait, our secret,
"No one must know about us. I'm pleading with you."
The forbidden romance was born, right at that moment. And like everything born, it was only a matter of time before death overtook.
When he texted me the address of where to meet him, I didn't know this spot he was talking about. It was a skate park, but I didn't understand what we would be doing there.
Nor did I know why after three months of complete silence, why now was the right time for him to seem suddenly interested in my well-being. "Meet me at this address," the message read.
"I need to talk to you."
I wished I had deleted his number from my phone at this point, too. But there was the dreaded relationship n-word, "need".
Why did he say need? Why does he need me right now? What good can come from him needing me now, when I needed him back when it all happened?
But if I wanted any answers, I knew asking these questions wouldn't serve me. And asking myself, and not him, wouldn't get me the answers I was dying to know. The only hope I had of getting my why answered was to do what he said.
And, like what should have happened the first time, tell no one.
I guess you could have said I was learning at this point. Don't tell a soul and everything should be alright. Yet, I should've learned more than this. Don't meet him, don't get involved again, and walk away before you have to run away.
Not that I had any plans to tell anyone I was meeting up with The Bad Man, by the way. How would that have gone down with my friends? Or my family?
You know that guy who got me fired from my really awesome job? The one we've all spent the last ninety or so days hating? Yeah, that guy. I'm seeing him tonight.
He needs me.
From the colleagues I lost in my unceremonious sacking, to the friends who disapproved of my actions, I couldn't afford to alienate the people left.
Hurting people was something I was proficient at. It was best to stop practicing now I had it mastered.
The Bad Man dropped the skateboard from under his arm onto the concrete pavement, mounted it, and moved towards me. I thought he might be as apprehensive as me, but the gravity of the moment hadn't taken any physical effect on him.
I kept wiping the sweat from my palms onto my black jeans, hoping he wouldn't notice.
Please let the low light hide my anxiety.
The Bad Man climbed the hill and sat next to me. He let his board roll away into the desolate night. He clutched my side, pulling me tight into his body.
"I've missed you."
And with a kiss that transported me back to the sounds of drunken colleagues, every question I had to ask vanished from my mind.
I rarely caught taxis to and from work. In Melbourne, it wasn't cheap to get around like this. The trip takes longer than people without the big money can justify, and the amounts quickly add up.
Today was different. Yet, if kept up this habit, I wouldn't have anything left of my paycheque left by the end of the week.
Yet, this wasn't a day I could face the judging eyes of fellow commuters. With my boss cementing my fate, firing me before the morning had even begun, I wanted to return to my sanctuary.
I needed my bed, my sheets, my pillow, my comforts, where I planned to stay until my remorse subsided.
When I returned home, I hung up my suit for the last time, my blazer and pleated skirt returned to their hanger in my closet. The stench of stale popcorn filled my wardrobe, but I couldn't care less at that point. Some weeks later I donated all my old suits to a charity bin.
But it was my badge I wore every day, the notebook I carried, that sat neatly piled on my dresser.
I could hide my uniform. I could repurpose it had I needed to. But the reminder of everything I achieved mocked me. In a fit of rage, I threw the pile against the bedroom wall, pages ripping as the pin of the badge tore through the paper.
How dare he? How dare he ruin my life? All he had to do was keep his mouth shut. The Bad Man promised me. Our union, our affair, wasn't public knowledge.
He promised not to tell anyone, so I could keep my job.
Yeah, it was a selfish promise.
But it wasn't like he wasn't getting anything out of the arrangement. He got everything he wanted and broke an easy-to-keep promise in this process. Why? For what reason?
And here was what was annoying me more; what are we if we can't keep our promises?
As I collapsed into bed, I retrieved my phone from the charger. The battery was now dead after everyone called to see how I was.
There was nothing from the Bad Man, though.
He knew why I was there, he put me in that position. Now wasn't the time to pretend he cared.
And as he carried on working, keeping his job, I mourned everything we had. Goodbye to our momentary relationship. Farewell to a civilised friendship.
The good, the bad, the secret, vanished.
I couldn't trust him anymore. With one slip of his tongue, he destroyed everything needed to carry on any type of relationship. Trust. And it was all gone.
I vowed, at that moment, to never let another person break my heart, or destroy my life ever again. That was a superficial vow from the anger of blaming someone else. Pain makes you do irrational things.
When my mind sobered, and I stopped being morose, I vowed never to put myself into a situation where I could stuff up my entire life so easily. It wasn't worth it.
I wouldn't make the same mistake again.
Mistake #23 Continued
"How many times are we going to meet here? Everyone is going to think we're starting some weird gang."
These were the moments when I couldn't believe I was speaking to him like this, so casual, so familiar, so intensely affectionate.
We had come so far in the mistake.
You see, one night of forgiveness had turned into six months of passionate affection. Most of the time at the skate park, but more recently at the home he shared with his mother.
I couldn't believe the day she cooked for us. I had never had corned beef before, but the way she made it, with love for him, it tasted wonderful.
I couldn't believe he let me into his life like this. Nor could I fathom what was a secret was soon becoming something I wanted to scream for the rooftops.
Yet today was different. The Bad Man didn't wear his smile. He wasn't dressed the same.
He didn't have a skateboard under his arm. And, my heart sank when I realised he shared no affection for me.
"The locals will get their reprieve," he said.
I could see it in his definitive expression this was it.
"Where are you going?"
Why bother trying to pretend I didn't know?
Rumours had swirled that the man responsible for my losing my job had quit, and was moving north. To Queensland, some three days away by car. He couldn't stand city life anymore, he told my former employer. He needed the fresh air and quiet nights.
I wish he had said he couldn't stand me anymore. It would've been the truth, right?
And despite the park surroundings, and hundreds of houses lining the outskirts, the silence was deafening. I watched as he couldn't answer me. He wasn't able to bring words to his mouth.
It didn't matter anyway. I didn't need his reasons, because they would never be enough to remedy my heartache.
"Don't tell me," I said, interrupting the silence. "I know where you're going. If you wanted to end this, you didn't need to run away. But I guess you can't get me fired twice."
The day he left, the day he packed up all his belongings into his beaten-up old car, I didn't see him.
I wanted to be there at the big farewell. I wanted to stand by the rose bush at his mother's place and sob like her. I thought I had earned the honour to watch him drive away into the sunset, never to return.
Yet, I wasn't invited to the big moment. He was happy to send me a text message goodbye instead. That was it. That's what our relationship had boiled down to.
But if I had of showed up, had he invited me and insisted I be there, this would have been one more time. One more re-entry into the world of The Bad Man.
One more mistake. And one more step in the wrong direction.
I knew at that point I couldn't keep living with the 'one more time' mentality, hoping everything will change. Hoping the outcome will be different.
Where will I end up if I can't learn the consequences of one more time? Where will we all end up if we don't learn from our mistakes?
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