Three Years of Us in Review, or “The Chokehold”
By Ella Foster

Two mobile phones side by side being recharged

Mobile phones recharging by Steve Johnson from Unsplash

Overall, I consider our romance easy and homely, soft and comforting and safe. You thrill me through the mundane (sorry) every day in a way I once thought I had to seek more radically. At one point in my life, I pine intensely after a woman from a dating app who entices me almost solely by promising to choke me.

“...With my hands around your throat”, she finishes her messages. This invoked fearsome arousal then but leaves me with intense discomfort in remembering.

Now, I invite you to keep me company whilst I sit on the toilet. Dragging you from your seat where you study.

“It’s because I want to spend time with you! We’re in love!”

“It’s because your phone’s dead.”

But you join me anyway, perching on the edge of the bath like a rumpled angel in your stripey t-shirt and stained joggers, taking me through a crossword from my bathroom crossword book.

‘This is just so fucking shit!’ I cried bitterly in Reading train station before one of our eras of distance. I’m not sure I even believed it was worth the dramatics then, but my lower stomach had started to belligerently gnaw at me, so I cut myself some slack.

“Is your period due?”

“Yes, but even if it wasn’t, I’m allowed to be upset.”

“I know.”

I taste the salty snot piling along my upper lip and press my head deeper into your shoulder. You hold me in your big arms, padded out with layers of hoodie and jacket. It’s the stupid time of year where a coat is ridiculous and no coat is ridiculous, so I spend the whole day in and out of a hot/cold sweat, peeling layers off and piling them on. More infuriating yet is your seemingly endless Jamaican-blooded ability to resist sweating in any English terrain, meaning you stay a perfectly sweet clean at all times. I smell it on the pyjama t-shirt you give me when we part, and I’m frustrated remembering that I had considered bringing my own pyjama t-shirt to give you, but decided it wasn’t worth carrying the whole journey.

When you were in Australia, and I was still at home, I realise through my phone screen how much softer you are than I thought I wanted you to be. I feel a bit conned.

“Is she very butch?” A friend asks me when I visit home for the first time after you and I become an us. This is because of your short hair. Now I see you on my screen, fat tears rolling down your face about something like the bird who belligerently taps herself on your window each morning, who hasn’t shown up now for three days. I take time out of my dissertation writing and google Sydney Landmarks. I take a blurry photo you snapped one morning and crop your bird friend onto these landmarks and form it into a postcard. I pay £4.50 for this postcard from your bird friend (she’s on holiday with her family in Sydney to see the opera house, aquarium, etc) to reach your university halls. I feel butter-soft and I can’t wait to see your reaction.

You make similarly romantic gestures, and I cling to them in a way completely contrasting the cluttery crap you love.

“I might keep this see-through bag!” You’ll say after opening a package.

“Why? What will you use it for?”

“I don’t know just something!”

“And where will it live?”

“Well, I don’t know yet-” I’ll pry the item from your hands and push it into the bin before you can finish.

I keep every letter you ever send me and cram them into my broken purse. Every note scrawled down with my name on it, savouring each time you’ve written “Yours” or “I love you.” This is because I love you back, endlessly, and not at all in case you die, and I want to get your handwriting tattooed on me.

In all my bedrooms, (three university houses, at home, and at yours) I make sure to surround myself with us and loves like ours. Paintings of women together, an art-deco-ish print of characters from Ratched embracing, Sarah Paulson’s index finger pushed firmly into Cynthia Nixon’s cheek. Two queer actresses are playing queer women in the show! We had rejoiced. In my parents’ house, perched at the same desk I studied for my school exams, I take online therapy sessions. I forget every time to remove the red painting of a woman, squatting and naked, blu-tacked above my head. In Birmingham, my decorations stretched to the kitchen. A too-large-for-use hot pink dildo was sucker-cupped to my snack cupboard, stood to attention, and ready to be used as a handle. This is once again forgotten, swinging next to my face as I make tea for my housemate’s parents, and then again, the time I have to give a 5 am statement to the police post break-in. Our room at yours is more family-friendly, decorated mainly with photos of us at university, skinny and drunk and excitable. I find it incredibly hard to really see myself, recognise myself in a photo, but I can always find you. On my noticeboard, bedside table, phone background, desk, purse, computer…

I once read something about relationships being like having a thick rope attaching your hearts, which thins as you get further away from each other. We’ve spent about a third of our relationship apart (I worked it out) and the thing that keeps the rope from snapping is usually my phone. Not your phone, I love to remind you, not an Android. When we discuss this, us, my writing, we read through old messages and you make an admission.

“I won’t ever choke you, or anyone. It’s scary, I don’t understand it.”

“That’s okay, everyone’s different,” I reassure you, wisely. You reach for my endlessly ticklish neck and grasp it lightly, and I squirm and roll away from you, almost gagging in discomfort.

When I was younger, say, thirteen, my budding queerness was everything to me. It burst out of my pores, bubbling underneath my skin in a constant sweaty alert. Its urgency made it dramatic, and I saw my destiny as a gay woman as one super-humanly glamorous and interesting to make up for my years of teenage suffering. Things will get better, I’d reassure myself, once I’m living on a yacht with Gillian Anderson. Through you, though, I’ve suitably lowered my expectations (sorry again). I embrace happily the boring, nothing days we spend together. The thrill of being mean to you about your music while you cook for me again.

“Has the song started or is this still a YouTube advert?”

“Fuck off, Ella!

I understand that one day we might break up, that maybe it’s inevitable. I know life-long monogamy is a capitalist, heteronormative trap.

But for now, I can live in this. Sit in it warmly. Bury myself into the sweet predictability of you, me, and us, and feel lucky for the opportunity.