Young Ed Bloom: There’s a time when a man needs to fight and a time when he needs to accept that his destiny’s lost, the ship has sailed and that only a fool will continue. The truth is I’ve always been a fool.
-Big Fish (2003)
The homeless guy had been missing for weeks. I say ‘missing’ but no one had gone searching for him. He simply wasn’t at his usual spot.
“He’s probably dead,” My co-workers would say. “I’m pretty sure that $100 killed him.”
“He’s not dead!” My blindly optimistic self would valiantly argue.
Speaking of blind optimism…
As I’ve mentioned numerous times by now, as time passes your memory of certain things fade. Things that may seem extremely thrilling at the time, that you’re sure you’ll remember in years to come, fade away within a few days. Sometimes however minuscule unimportant things stay cemented there.
I can’t remember that much of my first day of work at the law firm. I can remember going to the floor I was told I would be based on and meeting Heather for the first time. She was the only person who’d shown up to work early on that day.
The rest of the day is fairly fuzzy. Not that Heather made a lasting impression. She is a lovely girl and all, but despite it being the first day at a new job there’s not much I can remember about it. I have vague memories of trying to remember fifty million different things and locations of places I would be making regular deliveries to.
What I can tell you is that on that first day I met Abigail. The first time I saw her I was attracted to her. That was all my mind thought at first glance. She was attractive. She was really attractive.
That was the first day. Nothing too exciting or heart stopping. Just the first day at a new job. Meeting a friendly co-worker for the first time, and thinking another was rather attractive.
The second day was a little clearer, for it was on the second day that changed everything.
To anyone else it was probably an ordinary day. I got into work early (a habit that would NOT become common for the rest of my working life). I waited for the person I was replacing to show up so I could continue my training. She, however, WAS late.
The mail had come in about ten minutes earlier and Abigail walked me down to the mail room to start opening up the mail. She was “Head Of Accounts” at the time. It was normally mine and office manager who had to open the mail, but the office manager too had been late that day.
As we opened mail we talked. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I can remember how it felt.
As we stood in that mail room talking, I was falling for her. Helplessly and hopelessly falling for her.
My imagination went into over drive. This is not uncommon occurrence when I’m nervous. So while I was keeping up with normal conversation on the outside, inside my head I was having random flashes of imaginative scenarios. Kissing her. Her in a wedding dress.
Good God! Did I actually just think that? Her in a WEDDING dress? It was official. I had lost it.
I told myself to snap out of it.
Luckily, the person who I was replacing arrived and my mind purposefully focused on the task at hand. Once again I spent the day trying to remember fifty different places I had to get to and I pushed the insane thoughts that I’d had about Abigail aside in my head.
At first it seemed surprisingly easy because I had lot of other things for my to focus on. The new job; my parents recent separation and pending divorce; moving out of a home for the first time.
Really it was lucky that so much happened in those first few months at the law firm that my imagination and heart had other things to think about.
You see I was refusing to admit to myself at that point that I had actually fallen for Abigail. I knew that even entertaining the thought of getting together with Abigail was a dead end.
After all, she was the head of accounts – I was a glorified delivery boy.
She said she liked to go to bed early and I liked staying up till midnight, if not 2am.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the fact that she was 27 and I was 18?
Yes, you’re welcome to read that last line again and mock me for it. Believe me, in the years to come my friends and housemates would never let me hear the end of it. Come on – a NINE YEAR AGE GAP?!?! It was nuts, it was insane. It was never going to happen.
I knew all of these things. Maybe that was why I tried convincing myself I didn’t have feelings for Abigail during those two months. But I DID have feelings for her. And despite what anyone tells you, fighting what you feel is a terrible thing to do.
24th March 2003.
Heart: 1 Brain: 0
You know there’s almost an exact moment when your heart takes control of your emotions regardless of your mind.
I think that time would have been about 9:45am this morning.
Who am I kidding? I’m crazy about her.
I hate it when that happens.
There hadn’t been anything particularly special about the day I wrote that journal entry. If you asked me anything else about that day I couldn’t tell you. Hell, that week even.
All I can remember is watching Abigail put together an office trolley, one that in the years to come I would use on numerous occasions.
She looked up from where she was kneeling on the floor and made some comment to the office manager with a smile on her face.
Then it dawned on me, the memory of my second day on the job came flooding back. The feelings I’d attempted, and to some extent succeeded, to suppress back then suddenly exploded in both my heart and head simultaneously.
Thoughts and feelings that over the next three years would drive me to the brink of insanity, while also keeping me going in what were some of my darkest hours.
I had fallen for Abigail and I had fallen hard.
Looking back, there were two reasons I never said anything to her.
The first was the age gap.
The second, and the most important, was that she was my superior, and if I put my heart on my sleeve and declared what I felt and it went badly, which I suspected it would, I could very well be out of a job.
And I needed a job to eat. And pay the rent. And bills. And pretty much the general cost of living.
I wanted to tell her more than anything.
That first year was the hardest. Constantly having these feelings and being torn between having an income to survive on and telling her everything.
I would imagine scenarios where I would quit my job and tell her how I feel and we’d live happily ever after.
I would imagine scenarios where I would quit my job and tell her how I feel and get completely shot down.
I imagined everything.
Some could argue if I wasn’t willing to put my job on the line then maybe I didn’t care about her enough. Or that I wasn’t romantic enough.
Maybe you’re right but at that time I was afraid of losing my job. Afraid of not having any money. I was on minimum wage and managing to stay afloat. The fear not being able to stay afloat was very real to me, and with that and the age gap together I felt I couldn’t sanely make a move without at least another job lined up. So while I still harboured these feelings, I never told her about them.
Three years later, and what seemed like a million and one job applications, I’d finally secured myself another job. In what seemed like history repeating itself the law firm managed to hire my replacement two days before I was set to leave, just as they had when I’d taken over the position in the first place.
By that stage Abigail had been promoted to office manager, so in an interesting twist of fate, Matt – my replacement – found himself opening up the mail with Abigail on the second day of his job.
To completely compliment history repeating itself, I was late – just as the person I’d replaced had been on my second day.
I walked into the mail room and having nothing to do because Matt was doing my job, I sat back and watched the two of them open the mail.
It seemed like it had been a long time since I’d even thought about these feelings I had for Abigail. In the three years that had passed there were other girls that caught my attention (see Lana and Emily). If this book has so far taught me anything is that time changes people. I still had feelings for Abigail, but three years is a long time.
Back in that first year it definitely would have come as a shock to her if I’d quit and professed my feelings. She would have only known me for a few months at best.
Three years is very different. Still having some sort of feelings for someone after three years is kind of creepy and she would be well within her right to think so if I had said anything.
Watching Matt and her open the mail seemed to create some sort of conflict inside me.
There was the rational side of me that was being logical and saying that telling someone how you feel after three years of knowing them is a bad idea.
Then there was the other side of me that still thought like the guy I had been when I’d started working there.
I eventually decided I couldn’t make the decision entirely on my own and needed some outside input. I quickly sent a message from my phone to Cat asking if she thought I should say anything.
Cat told me she thought it was a bad idea. And that was that. A calm swept over me, content that I was making the right choice.
I didn’t tell Abigail how I felt but fate had a little surprise for me that afternoon.
At my farewell lunch I’d had a bit to drink. Okay, at my farewell lunch I’d had a LOT to drink. So much so that Matt, after only a day and a half’s training, decided he could do the rest of the day’s rounds on his own and he’d call me if he needed my help with anything.
Grateful for this, and finding myself with an afternoon to killat work I stumbled into my friend Robyn’s office and spent the afternoon talking to her while I sobered up. Robyn worked in accounts and had become good friends with Abigail in the year and a half since she started..
So in my drunken state when I let slip how I felt about Abigail, as I sobered up it began to dawn on me that I’d just done something rather stupid.
Robyn was amused, if for no other reason than she’d suspected it herself for quite some time (which lead me to believe that Abigail had probably figured it out as well). And the fact that Abigail was nine years older than me gave her a whole afternoon of amusement and paying me out for it.
I’d never told anyone at the office about it for fear of Abigail finding out. I’d certainly never told Robyn because I knew at the first available opportunity she would tell Abigail all about it.
So when I’d completely sobered up and left the law firm I knew that if Robyn hadn’t already told her, she would have come Monday.
Luckily, by Monday I had a new job to keep my thoughts occupied. While I knew that Abigail probably now knew how I’d felt about her, it was the last thing on my mind.
Until six months later when my subconscious decided to take matters into its own hands.
I woke up in the morning to the drone of my alarm clock. I’d had a strange vivid dream which seemed to have ended in me typing an email to Abigail telling her everything. Thank God that was just a just a dream. I thought to myself as I crawled out of bed.
I stopped dead when I glanced at my computer. The screen was on. The screen was never when I was asleep. It was always, without fail, the last thing I switched off before going to sleep. Why THE HELL was the SCREEN ON?!?!?! My mind screamed.
I suddenly had a very unsettling feeling that last night’s dream in which I’d poured my heart out to Abigail in an email may have actually been my mind interpreting my sleep walking. Or sleep typing.
Now the logical thing to do would be to check my email outbox and see whether I’d sent any emails last night.
The problem with this is that it was a weekday on which I had to work. And I was already late for work. Even more irritating – I couldn’t access my personal email from work. On top of that, I had plans I couldn’t cancel that night, which were right after work, so I still wouldn’t get to check my bloody email until LATE that night.
Begrudgingly I drove to work, and managed to convince myself that it HAD just been a dream and I’d just casually left my screen on when I went to bed the night before.
What kind of person sends emails in their sleep anyway? Even if I had sent it – it probably wouldn’t be coherent enough for her to understand.
When I finally got home at midnight that night I sat down in front of my computer, brought up my email and checked my outbox. It turned out I was very, very wrong.
The email stared back at me mockingly. Sure enough, plain as the day it had been sent at 3:42am the previous morning. To my annoyance it was probably more coherent than emails I’d sent when awake.
I did consider putting the entirety of the email in this book – but decided some things were better left between Abigail and myself.
I will tell you that it contained a complete outpouring of my heart. It contained every feeling that I’d harboured for the last three years. Even the drunken confession in Robyn’s office got a mention.
It wasn’t a plea for a date. There was no mention of asking her if she felt the same way.
It was simply a declaration of feelings, and thanking her for getting me through some tough times, even if she didn’t know she was.
I will also admit that after it had settled in that there was mild curiosity on what her response would be.
When 24 hours later there was no response, I messaged my friend Sare saying:
“No response. Which is a response in itself.”
Sare had of course responded with:
“You’re reading way too much into this.”
I didn’t think I was though, because I honestly thought I was not going to get a response.
A week passed.
I got home from work late (I was doing a lot of overtime back then). I grabbed something to eat and sat down on the chair in my room to watch some tv.
The chair was right in front of the computer, so while I waited for my dinner to cool down to a point where I could eat it and not burn my mouth, I checked my email. It was good thing I hadn’t attempted to eat dinner at this time, because if it hadn’t exploded half eaten out of my mouth when an email from Abigail arrived, it would probably have made a return trip after I’d finished reading.
Once again I won’t say the exact response. Just that she was flattered by how I felt about her, but that we both knew it would never go anywhere, cause we both knew she didn’t feel the same way. She was also nice enough to say that she hoped I found someone who felt the same way about me as I did about her.
No matter how nicely the rejection is delivered, the initial feel of it will always leave a bitter taste in your mouth. You feel like crap for a few days, but it passes. I knew the entire time of course, that out of all the ways she could have responded, that it was best. As time passed Abigail finally drifted from my mind, and a calmness passed over me, as it does when you get closure.
I visited the law firm a few times since that fateful exchange, every time having the good fortune to NOT bump into her. It was for the best, because bumping her into now would just be awkward.
When I started writing this book I knew that inevitably I was going to have to interview her. It wouldn’t be right not to interview her. I did know that I was going to wait as long as possible. As long as I did the interviews in chronological order and hoped that when I did eventually contact her enough time would have passed.
Which brings me to now…..
I’ll be honest. In the weeks building up to contacting Abigail I got it into my head that she was going to be a turning point. After all, after Danielle the crushes were becoming more and more recent, which added a whole different level of awkward.
As the history was fairly recent, the awkwardness factor would still be there. I guess you could say the wound was still recent. But I was determined to contact every girl I’d had a crush on, even if it meant risking landing myself in a rather nasty situation.
I also knew that, of all the crushes, Abigail would be one of the harder ones to contact and I told myself and my friends over and over again that if I could get an interview with Abigail I could face the rest of them with no problems.
Three days after I’d met Danielle I typed up an email to Abigail, which I proceeded to rewrite several times before settling on the final product. I attached a copy of what I’d written so far to the email and hit send. And waited.
And also… I found myself killing time by working out. I would use the exercise bike at every bike opportunity. I would do weights while watching tv. I would walk to the local shops instead of driving.
Though there was no solid conscious decision, I knew what was happening. I knew why I was working out more. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.
Maybe it was because this was one of the first girls that had been in the more recent past, maybe there in fact unresolved feelings and I wanted her to see me in a different light.
Way back in sixth grade I’d tried to win over Paige with my writing. Even though I didn’t want to admit it, I think a small part of me was hoping Abigail would read what I’d written of the book so far, see that funny side of me she couldn’t when we worked together, and at least consider me a friend if nothing else.
For two weeks every time an email arrived I would jump, rushing to see if it was from her. As the two week period came to a close, it slowly dwindled down to hoping an email would arrive from her when I got into work in the morning. No such luck.
Finally, after two weeks, I decided to call
I was having a bad day. I was having a really bad day. Three days before hand, a Valuer had shown up to our house at the landlord’s request to inspect the property for insurance purposes. The valuer had taken one look at the house and had then proceeded to tell the landlord that the house was “the worst he’d seen in years.”
This had prompted a phone call to myself from a very angry landlord demanding an inspection the following Sunday. We had about a week to get the house back to a pristine condition. On the same day my housemate Stu had told me he was moving out with his girlfriend, which meant we were also looking for a new housemate. I suspected the landlord was planning to sell the house and, on top of all of this, I’d been placed back on Help Desk at work (remember that job, that I’d said on Page One I certainly did not want to repeat?).
All this had managed to happen on a single day. But I had made a firm decision that I was going to call the law firm that afternoon and see if Abigail wanted to be involved with the book or not.
Praying that I was not about to land myself in a very bad situation, I picked up the phone and dialled. The friendly receptionist greeted me and told me Abigail was on another call and that I’d have to wait. So I waited. About ten minutes later the reception came back on the line to tell me she was putting me through.
My stomach was churning as the hold music came back on……. for an unusually long amount of time.
Then I was greeted by the receptionist again who told me Abigail had gone home for the day. I’d said I’d try her another time and got off the phone.
The numbers on the clock burned into my eyes. The clock was telling me that Abigail wouldn’t finish work for another twenty minutes. Abigail religiously worked till the same time every day. She felt bad for sneaking out ten minutes early. And here it was, twenty minutes before she would be going home.
I had a sneaking suspicion that she’d just dodged my phone call.
Luckily, it was finishing time for me, so I grabbed my jacket and went home where another flurry of problems presented themselves, but that’s another story entirely.
As the previous evening had been about as bad as the previous day, when I got into work the next morning I was in a foul mood. Little did I know it was about to get worse.
As my email program opened up I was surprised to see an email from Abigail waiting for me, sent from her work address, ten minutes after I called her yesterday. This is what the email said:
From: Abigail Beckett
To: Liam Smith
I don’t want to be involved with any part of this and that includes the use of any part of my name.
(I should mention now that Abigail Beckett isn’t her real name….. I may have done some stupid things in the past but taking on a girl with arsenal of lawyers at her side is not one of them. -Liam)
(2017 addendum – I did in fact put this quote on the back of the hardcopy of the book)
I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to crawl under a rock. My subconscious had made this rejection ten times as worse by hoping we could at least be friends and this had been the worst response so far. This far out weighed the long pause and radio silence from Summer and the bizarre email from Paige. I tried forwarding the email to a few of my friends trying to put a humorous spin on it, but I couldn’t. My heart wasn’t in it.
I’d put so much emphasis on Abigail being a turning point that her being completely against it really hit me hard. I found myself falling into a depressed slump.
At lunchtime someone mentioned the homeless guy I gave money to when I was trying to get karma on my side when I was going to contact Summer. He’d been gone from his regular spot for almost three weeks. There were people at work insisting I’d given him drug money and that he’d overdosed.
“Aren’t you going to say ‘He’s not dead’?” Karly asked looking at me with mild concern.
I wasn’t up to arguing. In fact, I was beginning to think they were right. I mumbled a response and excused myself.
That night I got home from work and looked at my computer screen. At this point I’d normally work on the book, since that day there’d been a major development. But it wasn’t a development I particularly wanted to document.
My housemates convinced me to go to the local club to get a few beers to celebrate Stu moving, I went for a bit, but my heart wasn’t in it. I came home early and crawled into bed early. I went to bed early. Stop and read that sentence again. I never sleep, I get maybe a total of five hours sleep a night. I crash at 2am and then get up for work at 7:30am. I normally sleep as little as possible yet I’d gotten home and gone to bed at 11pm.
The mood hung around the following day at work, and that night I went to bed early again.
I wasn’t giving up on the book, but I knew the next few crushes were going to be harder to contact and, given my recent history, I didn’t feel as confident as I had previously.
For the first time since starting to write it the book actually felt like it made my life worse. The worse was the little voice inside of me was saying that maybe Abigail had been right to react so harshly.
After all… I had started working out more in the build up to meeting up with her. A small part of me was maybe, just maybe hoping she’d seen me in a different light. Had I somehow conveyed that?
Every worst thought about myself and about writing this book invaded my every thought. Every joke about it being a “stalker book” and the people in my life who found out about it describing as “a little bit creepy” all ran through my head ten fold.
I avoided my friends and my housemates. I got home from work, ate dinner in my room and crawled into bed early once again, much earlier than the night before.
I preferred to let sleep claim me and hope that it was dreamless.
My phone was beeping.
As I was pulled away from sleep I came to realise I was receiving an sms. Blinking through blurry sleep-addled vision I looked at the clock. It read 7:16am.
Who the hell was smsing me this early in the morning?
A message from Karly, my friend from work, was waiting for me.
“He has returned.”
I tried to figure out who she was talking about. Jason had been the sick the previous day from work, but it didn’t really seem worth noting that he was in today. Confused. I sent a response asking her to be more specific.
I sat bolt upright in bed.
The bum I’d given the money to, he wasn’t dead!
I leapt out of bed and threw on the first work clothes I could see. I then proceeded to sprint out the front door to my car and I sped into the city, my eyes noting that this detour was going to make me late for work.
I was always late for work, so I doubted anyone would notice.
I parked as quickly as possible and sprinted a block, running past the building the law firm was located in, my brain in no way registering that the girl who had shattered my confidence might see me. My mind was focused on other thing. My mind was focused on the small string of hope I needed to survive.
It sounds strange but the previous few days had been nothing but a miserable fog. I needed Camille asking me to dance in tenth grade. I needed Danielle smiling at me that fateful moment I found out I’d gotten one lousy point lower than I needed to get into university.
Finally coming to a stop on a street corner just a short distance away from where I could see the homeless guy I’d given money to sitting with all his belongings in the world surrounding him.
The homeless guy was alive. ALIVE!
I was almost ready to go up and hug him, but I chose not to. Instead I walked back to my, humming to myself and filled with enthusiasm. The darkness of the last few days gone and light shining out from inside me, filled with confidence and hope for the future.
Which was good – because if Abigail was anything to go by then the next few crushes were going to be tough.