When I think of you, I am paranoid that strangers can hear the screaming:

I miss you, I love you, I hate you, I hate me,

The mantra of clichés pulsating in my head is so deafening that I’m sure the old woman’s glare is directed at me, she’s thinking: Can’t that girl leave her heart at home? Since I made the decision to leave you, I can feel their eyes on me. They use the same glare I use on buses when a hooded teenager is ignorantly blasting the latest nonsense from their headphones. He doesn’t care if people listen or not, but I do, I don’t want my secrets in surround sound.

I miss you,

Perhaps the old woman thinks I marvel in the attention the way that teenagers do. She must hear the embarrassing refrain of longing and she must see my contracted heart like an exhibit to be judged. I am so paranoid on the walk to work that I wonder, as bicycles rush past and children curiously linger, if every maudlin thought is drawn on my face with bold felt-tip pens. It occurs to me that if I did have something on my face, or drops of coffee on my shirt, or untied shoelaces, that there would be no one to notice anymore.

I love you,

The day will pass in insignificance once I step through the door of work. The red doorframe dutifully instructs, ACT NORMAL, every morning and to every employee. I can feel the mask slip firmly in place like sealant on a factory line, covering the thoughts with a sheet of Things To Do.

Work keeps our secrets safe between nine-to-five and I am grateful for the numbing agent until the door closes behind me at sunset and I struggle to keep the mask in place. It’s the smallest things that remind me that you are no longer mine. It will happen in queues at supermarkets and while counting change for the bus. I have to stop –

The world is reduced to deafening white noise and unknown shapes with blurry edges, my knees wobble in heartache and my hands shake in jealousy, my throat swallows the nausea and I wait until the weight behind ribcages subsides and a stranger picks up the twenty pence that I have dropped.

I hate you,

The screaming is back and it is louder than ever before; I must have splattered the words on every heart in town like a dropped bucket of paint.

I hate me,

It’s ok, I tell myself, no one’s heart is clean. The strangers in the town must also scream for lost people. I’ll just keep their problems with mine, in penance, until the stain has faded.

Meanwhile, a man in a suit has picked up my change. I cringe, knowing I must have frozen, and I can feel the man’s judgement. Maybe he heard it or saw it or felt it… But even if he did, maybe he understands the paradox of hating you for making me weak, but loving you for everything else entirely. The man smiles flirtatiously, hands me the coin as if nothing is wrong, and if he speaks I cannot hear over the echo of three word sentences.