I’m old enough to remember how stories used to start with once upon a time and they all had happy endings. I’m wise enough to know that real life isn’t like that at all.
Most of the old stories finish on the big grand wedding as that’s what you used to drum into little girls as being the primary goal of their life. You will go and get into some strife and then a noble prince will ride in on a stallion to save the day. You will promptly fall madly in love with him even though you don’t actually know his name or where he’s from. Then your happy ending will be being taken to a castle and becoming a baby making machine. Birthing the next generation of helpless girls that will need rescuing or, even better, brave princes to do said rescuing.
All I’m saying is I don't believe in astrology or any of that horseshit but I’d like to at least know what star sign a bloke is before I ride off into the sunset with him. I mean we tell the kids all of these stories but then we also tell them not to speak to strangers, I just want a bit of consistency in my life.
I was an amazingly boring child. I sort of floated through school. Both clever enough to not get picked on for being dumb and dumb enough to not get singled out for being a know all at the same time. I was never picked first for netball but I was never picked last. I was deliciously average.
I never liked ponies, dolls, skipping, country dancing, cooking, needlework or any of the other pink frilly activities deemed appropriate for our delicate little girly brains. But I wasn’t a tomboy either so I never roughhoused with the boys only for them to find me stunningly attractive one hot summer’s day when I shook my ponytail loose during a dusty game of baseball.
I stayed home and read. A lot. I devoured books as fast as I could get my hands on them and got to thinking of the people trapped in the pages as my friends. And I still do I guess. It was through reading that I thought I knew about the world and how it worked.
I thought I had experienced and learned all about both racism and sexism from Scout and Jem Finch. Lenny and George taught me about how cruel the world could be if you were different. Holden Caulfield taught me that... well, I was never really sure what it actually was he was trying to teach me but it always came across as vaguely important anyway. I knew what horrors awaited me in room 101. I cried for Piggy and knew that four legs were better than two. What I didn’t know was anything about the really real world.
The summer after I left school I ended up taking a part-time job in the local library. Helping with the summer reading programmes for young kids, putting the returns away, occasionally I was even trusted enough to read the afternoon fairy tale to the gathered crowd of future damsels in distress and prince charming's. And then somehow I just sort of never left.
My prince charming never came to rescue me from peril as I was never did anything that caused me any bother. He wasn’t riding a tremendous stallion either. The first time I saw him he was pushing a shopping trolley.
If this was a movie I’d have been in the store buying cat food for my feline army to really hammer it home that I was a lonely spinster in need of a man but the truth is I was buying wine as I was re-reading The Three Musketeers and that is obviously a pinot noir type of read.
I’d like to tell you that something fittingly cliched happened, that our hands brushed together as we both reached for the last jar of pesto and there was a spark. Or that maybe I reversed into his car in the carpark and while we exchanged numbers for insurance purposes he was secretly smitten with me and offered to take me out on a date instead of destroying my no claims bonus. But nothing like that happened at all. The first time I saw him, we didn’t even speak. He doesn’t even remember me being in the store that day. To him, it was just another uneventful shopping trip.
The second time I saw him was at work. I had just finished reading The Ugly Duckling to a group of disinterested preschoolers and he had come to collect one of them. If this was a movie he would have been a widower struggling with losing the love of his life. The child in question would have been a devastatingly cute brat with freckles, ginger hair, a lisp and no resemblance to either of its parents. But this isn’t a romcom so he had just come to pick up his sisters fat and slightly grubby looking child and looked thoroughly awkward while doing so. Safeguarding procedures meant that I already knew that someone new called Uncle Matt was collecting Briony, he never asked me who I was.
The third time was in the pub. I was out with people from work as someone was retiring. He was out with his friends seemingly just because it was a Friday night. I was at the bar getting ignored by the barman and Matt kindly pointed out that I was before him in the queue when he was asked what he wanted. I thanked him as I was always told to be courteous, he recognised me from storytime and we got talking. His mates moved onto the club, my workmates slowly drifted off home and we stayed in the pub until it closed.
I went home with him that night. I’m not ashamed of it, it wasn’t really out of character, he wasn’t my first and it certainly wasn’t magical or anything like that. We were just two adults who had met and hit it off. It wasn’t a whirlwind romance, there were no wild declarations of undying love, elaborate dates, picnics in the park or a comedy plot where I fell pregnant and we were thrown together. We just sort of ended up as a couple.
Matt had followed his brothers into the family trade of painting and decorating. At first, I hoped that this meant that he was artistic or at least had a yearning to paint still life that he would slowly realise and then go on to be the next big thing. Or that maybe the family business was a front for them being a secretive graffiti collective. He never asked me to pose for him and I never found any stencils in his van or the garage.
In the end, I found out he worked for his dad because it was easy money. He never once came home with an exciting story about something that had happened at work. When I asked him about it he told me his favourite thing about his job was how he didn't really have to think about it at all.
If we’re being honest that was the day I started to fall out of love with him. After that, I never quite looked at him the same way again. I always knew he wasn’t a big reader but he liked going to the cinema and never really moaned about the films I picked. Or at least he didn’t moan about them all that much. I used to think he was joking when he said he prefers films with car chases in them.
Our break up wasn’t terrible. No plates were smashed. There was no screaming. There wasn’t even another woman for me to hate. It was all amicable. We just sort of drifted apart. We still see each other from time to time and while it’s all very pleasant and I’m happy for him, all I can ever think is that he used to be my happy ending. Once upon a time.