It’s 2019 and I’m living in Sydney. I live in this tiny apartment with my boyfriend at the time, and it’s so small that it’s probably going to fit in this whole room. Things aren’t going super well with my boyfriend, but I do have this fancy job in the arts which I thought was going to be amazing and it’s quickly turned out to be probably the worst job of my whole life. I am so miserable and Sydney is such a tough city, like it’s so hard to make friends and meet people and I’m just super lonely. And in the middle of my life miserable existence in my awfully small apartment, I get this notification on LinkedIn and it’s from my primary-school crush Ben Wilson who I haven’t seen or heard from in 15 years.
Ben and I grew up in Townsville together and we did year 6 and 7 together. And Ben was like the kid in primary school that everyone wanted to be. He just got primary school. He was like tall and had sandy-brown hair and really pale blue eyes and he was like super confident and sporty but, you know, he was sensitive too and he read and I had the most enormous crush on him. He was so everything that I wasn’t. I was so tiny in primary school and like really shy and so quiet that people just struggled to hear me and I had this full-on fantasy that if Ben and I just happened that everything in primary school would be good.
But sadly, I wasn’t living in a romantic comedy – yet – and Ben wasn’t really noticing everything that I had to offer over here. He had this bland, white, brunette girlfriend called Ashley – I know, it’s a terrible name (sorry if your name is Ashley) – and yeah he just never saw me in the way that I really thought that I deserved to be seen. And then we moved.
We moved all the way across the country to this place called Geraldton. And Geraldton’s like this strange place where the trees grow sideways and you can tell you’re getting close to town because things start tilting. My first year there we did family trees in school and so many people in my class discovered that they were related, it was so disturbing and 12 year-old me was like, “What is wrong with this place, like this is not normal.” And if primary school, you know, if I hadn’t got primary school, I just really wasn’t getting high school. Like Geraldton was super white and it was there for the first time that I really noticed I was brown in a way that mattered to other people. And it was like Geraldton was this special version of Hell that was designed just for me and I was so miserable and so to pass the time I just thought about Ben…a lot. Like crush prospects were super low in Geraldton and so I just held on to like my 12 year-old crush and I would daydream about like, “What if Ben Wilson was here in Geraldton?” Like life would be so much better, like I would be just transformed into the kind of person that Geraldton required – which was probably not a great person but it was so bad that I was like willing to be them.
But, you know, surprisingly Ben never actually came to Geraldton and my whole transformation fantasy never happened. And like when I finished high school and we moved to Perth, and I was so sure that I was going to get this next bit. I started working in the arts, I got a boyfriend, like I got this fancy arts job in Sydney and I’m like, “Yes! Life is finally going to happen for me.” And when I got to Sydney it was like not what I expected at all and I realised that I’d actually packed about like a decade’s worth of insecurities and they’d all come with me to Sydney and they were living with us in our tiny apartment and my like loneliness was just starting to feel quite oppressive.
And so when I got this like notification from Ben I was like, “Yes! It’s going to happen! Ben’s here, it’s finally going to work out 15 years later!” Twelve-year-old me would be so ecstatic. And so, of course, Ben and I agreed to meet (on a weekend when my boyfriend also happens to be out of town) and we meet in this small bar in the Rocks that Ben chooses. And the Rocks is sort of this like bland mix of heritage mixed with tourism and like Sydney corporate. And I get to this bar, I’m sitting there with my book like waiting for Ben and I get a message saying that he’s just going to be a bit late and I’m like, “It’s all good.”
And ten minutes passes. And then 20 minutes passes. And the bar is just like filling up with like the worst kind of corporate crowds and they’re just getting louder and louder, and I’m starting to feel so uncomfortable like sitting here with my book and I’m so hangry at this point that I can like barely read the words on the page and it hits 30 minutes and I’m just like, “That’s enough.” I’m going to leave while I still have my dignity and I can just shelve this little experiment of mine of like meeting my primary school crush in a really dark closet and just like never think about it again.
And as I get up to leave, and I’m about to walk out the door, and Ben walks in. And he’s not the confident 13 year-old that I remember and he’s apologising for being 30 minutes late, but it’s sort of too late at this point. Like, my hanger has like grown into this whole other person who will be spending the entire evening with us. And I pull an apple from my bag and start eating it really aggressively as Ben promises he’ll get us food and drinks. And he comes back from the bar and he’s carrying these two blue cocktails. They’re in these like really large glasses and they’re this vivid blue and there’s like this single petal floating in the centre of the glass. And I’m just looking at these drinks and I’m just like, “What movie does Ben think we’re in?” Like, this is all wrong. Like, you can’t make a secret love confession over a blue drink, like it just doesn’t happen.
And Ben starts reminiscing about people we went to primary school with and I’m like completely blanking on every name he brings up. He asked my opinion on the Hong Kong riots, which are happening at the time, and I’m in such a shitty mood that I accuse him of racism and remind him that I’m part of the British Empire and maybe he’d like to know my opinions on Brexit. It’s just, it’s not going well and this like special confession that I thought, you know, we’d be spending the evening happening, isn’t happening. And maybe it’s my like glowing personality that I’m clearly bringing out tonight, but, you know, it’s been five hours, we go through a bottle of wine, the bartender brings out these awful candy-coloured shots: like, it’s just not happening.
And I resolve to myself that I’m not going to be the one to tell him that I thought about him for years. And Ben is not the Ben of my fantasy. Like, he’s not this confident 13 year-old who’s just getting life. He’s lost and sad and lonely and I don’t even know like how he came to find me on LinkedIn. Ben’s an accountant and I work in an art gallery and those sort of professional recommendations just don’t really come up. And I realise that he’s looking for something that I’m just not able to give him and this person that I imagined him to be, the person who was going to fix me in this way that I seem to think that I’m broken, who was going to save me, just isn’t there. And I think five hours is probably enough for this little experiment of mine. And so I thank Ben, and I stand up, and this time I save myself.