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  • Grace Wayne

The Ways of the World

I’d been looking forward to seeing Dee for a while. My horoscope had told me to ‘do’ nostalgia that day, so seeing her felt rather fitting. We’d known each other since we were three but we hadn’t spoken in around a year. The whole thing was rather adult, fitting her into my schedule and vice versa. We were mature. I assumed the absence would give us a natural jumping off point, a year’s worth of things to talk about. But after the usual hellos we found ourselves sitting in complete silence, quietly chewing as ‘New York, New York,’ played in the background. Around the halfway point the track got louder, the staff turning it up to mask the lack of chatter.

It was bordering on unbearable. I couldn’t stand the silence, the awful small talk we would exchange every so often. It’s cruel but it made me remember why I hadn’t seen her in a year. It shouldn’t be so hard to talk to someone you’ve known your entire life. Social niceties demanded patience. We were supposed to ask each other questions until one of us was willing to divulge something interesting. That hadn’t happened. So, in an attempt to spark change, or at least spark something, I asked her:

Hey, do you want me to interview you?

The concept was funny to both of us, the sudden jump from silence to intimacy. Even if it went terribly, at least we’d have a funny story to tell the people we were going home to.

I told her to think of a moment that changed her life. I promised her that I would tell her about the moment my life changed as well, so she wouldn’t feel alone in all of this. She nodded, then she said:

‘I’ve thought of one, but I don’t want to talk about it in here.’

This was intriguing. We went out to her car and sat in the dimly lit cinema carpark.

So, Dee, tell me, what moment changed your life?

We both giggled, childishly and loudly.

‘The moment that changed my life was a conversation I had with a man I was with at the time.’

(We agreed to refer to him as Matthew throughout).

Okay, can you give some context first? Describe this man to me, what was his personality

like? What did he look like? How old was he?

‘He was thirty-three, he was quite thin, he wasn’t tall but he wasn’t short either. Five eleven I think? He always said he was six foot but you know how men get about height.’ She laughed; I rolled my eyes. ‘He had nice bone structure though, nice style as well. He wore a lot of button-down shirts.’ By the end of her sentence her demeanour had completely changed. I could feel the car get colder from her words alone.

We can stop if you want, don’t feel that you have to talk about this if it makes you uncomfortable.

Her smile came back, retreating out of her memory, back into the real world.

‘No, no, it’s fine.’

Okay, can you describe your appearance at the time please?

‘I looked pretty much the same,’ Then, realising that only I knew how she looked, she continued, ‘I’m five three, I’m not gonna tell you my weight.’ She laughed. ‘I had red hair at the time, this took place in the spring so I was wearing a lot of dresses.’

Was this last spring? How old were you?

‘Yeah last April, I’d just turned nineteen but I’d been seeing him when I was eighteen as well.’

Thirty-three and eighteen. One of those sentences that you can’t help but frown at.

Okay, if you’re comfortable, tell me about this conversation.

She was silent for a moment, then she stuttered twice, beginning the sentence but not quite being able to finish it. When thoughts have been piling up in your head for months, it’s difficult to put them into words, difficult to truly express all that you feel.

‘So, I’d been seeing Matthew for about four months but I hadn’t met anyone in his life yet, like friends and family and stuff. I didn’t know if this was normal, because the only other relationship I’d ever had was with Henry, and we went to the same school and had the same friend group, so it was never something I had to think about. But it felt weird, I even Googled ‘when’s the normal point to meet your boyfriend's friends?’ Anyway, I brought this all up to him, not the Googling part, I just casually mentioned it. He became very tense, like, extremely tense, and he wasn’t really the serious type so I got worried. He told me that he couldn’t let me meet his friends because they’d all make fun of him for dating someone younger than him. I told him if they were real friends they wouldn’t care, they’d just be happy for him. Obviously, now I don’t think that’s the case but at the time I did. He started getting all stroppy and telling me that I just didn’t get it, and I guess I didn’t because then I started apologising. It’s so embarrassing but I told him that I wanted to play a game and I asked him: if he were a stranger, how old would he think I was?’

As she spoke, she began mimicking his voice, bordering on making fun. I smiled but I didn’t laugh.

‘You look your age.’

‘Okay, what’s the oldest you think I could be? Like, if I told you that age you’d be shocked but you’d still believe it?

(then he said) Twenty-three?

Okay, now add a year to that. That’s how old I am.

Are you being serious?

Yeah, tell your friends I’m twenty-four. They’ll believe you.’

‘I thought he’d laugh, but he got weirdly into the idea. He even asked me to come up with a fake job so it’d be believable. Joked about me playing nurse for them. This all freaked me out: I’m not stupid, I know when men are being weird but usually they’re just strangers on the street, not a man I’m lying next to. I’d never registered that there was something wrong with him. I saw a TikTok once, talking about age-gap dating, and they said that they wanted a man to feel conflicted about being with her, like…he wants to be with you because he loves you, and not because you're a young. You want the age thing to be a hurdle, not the attraction. Does that make sense?’

I nodded, completely understanding. It was a tough pill to swallow: he viewed her for exactly what she was, a teenager.

So, how would you say that changed your life?

‘Well, it ended my relationship for one. I know in the grand scheme of things I wasn’t with him for that long but it was quite intense, so it felt like a big loss. He spoke a lot about the future. That’s another thing I found weird. He spoke a lot about wanting kids in the next few years. I didn’t want to be pregnant at twenty but I figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. But yeah, I had been staying with him a lot, almost every day of the week, so I was suddenly spending a lot more time with my parents.’

And do you think this situation changed your perspective in any way? Specifically, in regards to love or men?

‘Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, I’d say I’m more nervous about people’s intentions, but it’s kind of too soon to tell. Like, I haven’t been with anyone else since, so maybe in five years down the line I’ll feel differently. It was one of those moments where you clearly see someone else but also yourself. I didn’t like being the type of person who would lie about myself to make someone else feel better about using me.’

Would you say that in itself is a consequence of the relationship? Have you actively been avoiding having another relationship?

‘Yeah, though I think I’m still in the grieving period. Even if it was a more normal relationship that ended, I think I’d still be single.’

Can you tell me about his living situation?

‘He had a house. It was a two-bedroom house close to town. It was very modern, he owned it.’

So, how did you feel about this? You were living with your parents as most people our age do, and he owns a house. A house he let you stay at.

‘I did feel pretty dependent on him. Now I can see the implications of the whole thing, but back then it was more of a convenience thing: I didn’t think it was that deep or anything. Having to go back home did definitely make the whole thing harder.’

Would you describe him as a clean person?

‘Absolutely not! He’d never clean up after himself. If I went out on Monday, by Tuesday the house was ruined.’

So you had to clean?

‘Yeah or I could just sit in the filth with him.’

I find that strange: here’s this thirty-three-year-old man with a girl who’s not even out of her teen years, and you’re the one doing the cleaning.

‘Yeah, yeah. I think he just did everything to avoid feeling like my father.’

We both fell silent: that was the sentence that there’s no coming back from. All you can do is look at each other. Though I had promised to tell her a moment at which my life changed, it felt inappropriate. Some pain needs to be sat with. So, I took her hand and turned the tape recorder off. To each other, we will always be children. There is a sweetness in knowing that despite those out there who want to take your innocence and claim it as your own, there’ll always be someone out there who views you as a girl. Not a girl who needs to be taught the ways of the world. Just a girl.


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