December 6th, 2008.
A year ago today I caught a bus to Brick Lane. My mission was to buy some vintage shoes to complete a Bonnie Tyler costume. It was a beautiful day: that sharp, low light that comes only for a couple of months at the end of each year; snatches of a brass band playing carols in Angel, fit men getting on and off the bus looking, well, really fit; the smell of rotting flesh coming from the tramp chatting to himself behind me... Well, granted, the tramp wasn't one of the good things about the day but it's nonetheless part of a memory that is still so vivid even a year on.
It was one of those days when everything should feel magical; when you are full of plans for festivity and fun and you remember why London is such an awesome place to be at Christmas.
Unfortunately, I felt anything other then magical. I was sitting on the top deck with my face turned into the window so that no one could see that I was crying. I'd been crying on a daily basis for ten long, crappy weeks by this point and I was pretty much exhausted. Pain sat like an elephant on my chest. I felt hopeless, helpless and crashingly, thumpingly miserable.
You may recognise this state of being: it's known as a broken heart. (Don't worry, reader, this tale does pick up - I promise!)
Having had a few lame-arsed relationships throughout my twenties I'd begun to entertain the prospect of never really loving a man. Am I a lesbian, I wondered briefly? (I wondered because my mother had asked me, pretending to be joking but kind of meaning it all the same.)
But then, one Friday night, around the time of my 27th birthday, I found myself falling in love with the man who I was talking to at the bar of The Blue Posts in Soho. He was wearing an ancient leather jacket which he spilled a pint down; his hair was in terrible need of a cut and he had a bad cold and kept making this snorty snuffly noise like a truffle pig. I thought he was the best man I'd ever met and, what's more, the feelings were very clearly mutual. The whole thing was easy, obvious and completely thrilling.
A few weeks later, we were at a gig in Camden and, above the din, he yelled in my ear that he loved me. I tried not to say it back but it was impossible: I was hopelessly, madly in love. It's lucky no-one could see my face except him because my grin was unforgivably goonish.
(Meanwhile, my friends conducted alarmed conversations behind my back. What the hell is she doing, they wondered. Has she lost her mind? This is all going way too fast. I knew what they were thinking but I didn't give a damn, of course. You never do.)
And for a while, they were wrong. We were an awesome couple. I have never been so happy or laughed so much. Neither had he, he said. He woke up every day for months telling me how happy he was.
Time passed. We continued to be awesome.
And then we started not being awesome. A woman always knows... and I knew. It wasn't right. I confronted him one night and he admitted that he wasn't feeling it the way he had. We sat in his room and talked all night. It was bloody awful. But the next day, looking decidedly haggard, we decided to make it work. We went to Berlin. We stayed in some bizarre Eastern Bloc-style apartment, had a full-on disco weekend and came back firmly in love. I thought I was safe. If we can survive a minibreak, we're fine, I told myself. It's all back on! Phewf!
A few days later, we met for a quick drink at the Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho. When I arrived he leapt up to get me a drink and, as he came back from the bar, I suddenly knew what was going to happen. The world started to move very slowly. He was wearing a blue and purple stripey jumper. I thought "I love you so much. I can't lose you." Of course, I said nothing.
He handed me my drink, looked like he was about to be sick and then told me he didn't love me any more.
Ten weeks later, as I went to Brick Lane to get my Bonnie Tyler shoes, I wondered if I would ever stop feeling like this. Everyone said the first two weeks were the worst. Two weeks??? Two weeks my arse. Presumably they tell you two weeks because if they were honest about how long it takes to stop feeling like you've been run over, you'd top yourself. I wandered round Brick Lane; tried to eat a falafel and threw it in the bin. I sat on the curb with my new shoes, watching all the trendy kids mincing by and cried my eyes out.
A year later - today - I sat on another bus, cruising through the same beautiful winter sun. There was no salvation army or tramp today but the Christmas feeling was there. I suddenly realised that it was exactly a year since the day of the Bonnie Tyler shoes. (Which, btw, I never even wore. I was too miserable to go out. My magnificent white jumpsuit and accompanying shoulder pads sat untouched on the chair in my room while I howled blindly at a DVD.)
For today's journey, my facial expression of choice was a smile. There was no obvious reason for the smile; I just felt alive and happy. I have to say, it feels pretty awesome to feel like a person after so many months feeling like an empty Tupperware box.
I moan about being single but really, deep down, I couldn't give an arse about it. Yes, I'd like to meet someone brilliant but just to feel normal, just to be able to get out of bed and feel positive about the day ahead feels pretty amazing. And what's more, I wouldn't swap my annus horribilis for anything.
Why? Well, I suppose being mind-numbingly miserable gives you no option but to carry out major maintenance work on your soul. All of the things that aren't working in your life get stripped out, replaced or re-tuned. And actually, several really horrible things happened to me around the time that I got dumped so my Soul MOT became a pretty comprehensive affair. But diabolical though it was, I now realise it's the best thing that ever happened to me.
There's been a million benefits. Getting my confidence back, for one - not the fragile version that I had before but something a lot more stable and grown up. Other things, too, like developing a real understanding of other people's pain that I don't think I had before, or being strong enough to extricate myself calmly from stressful situations, or learning to do basic things like eating healthily and getting enough sleep. Most of all, though, I realised what wonderful, generous friends I have; friends who mopped up tears and snot, friends who prevented me (sometimes physically) from calling him, friends who sent me flowers and bought me dinner, friends who had me to stay for weekends so that they could look after me (and trust me, I was appalling company), friends who, even now, ask how I am about it and genuinely care about my answer.
And one last thing: I've got Christmas back! Last year I was full of dark and gloomy predictions that Christmas would forever be ruined. But I was of course wrong. It's back, better than ever before. I'm looking forward to it with all my festive might. Yo ho ho, people! Yo ho ho.
Anyway. I must go, I have an appointment with a mug of mulled wine. As the Americans say - HAPPY HOLIDAYS!