Sushi, Sex and the Boy Who Broke My Heart
“You’d be more attractive if you smoked and were less of a feminist,” he slurs, sloppily, arm slung like a dead weight over my shoulder as I walk him home after yet another drunken escapade.
These words were not those of a nemesis nay, not even an acquaintance. No, instead these words came from someone I fell in love with.
Truly, unbearably, desperately in love.
He was my first love, so for the sake of this story let’s call him Adam, being the first man and all. And because, just like the biblical Adam, this man was also a World Class Prick. No, maybe that’s unfair. He was perhaps just misguided. Adam had a reputation you see. He had a weakness for overindulging in booze, women and the forbidden fruit. However, unlike plucking an apple from a tree this forbidden fruit was consumed by Adam snorting it up his nostrils in a Wetherspoons toilet at 3am.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I had a reputation too, except mine was for studying, working hard and not having any sex at all. Back then, I was an asexual virgin with glasses, braces and straight-A grades, and he was everything that I was not: cool.
C – Charismatic.
When he turned it on, the boy could charm the knickers right off a nun.
O – an Opportunist.
He knew what he wanted, and he took it.
O – Openly admitting of his flaws.
“What happened with your last girlfriend?” I asked him once.
“I cheated on her.” He replied.
L – Loveless.
He told me his younger sister was unique. “She is the only person I care about more than myself.”
If Adam was cool, that left me simply a fool because while his forbidden fruit was cocaine, mine was him. To help you understand why, try putting yourself in my shoes (size three Converse, to be precise).
Chapter 1: Sushi for Beginners
It all started three years ago in my hometown. I love it like only someone who’s lived there all their life can. It is an insignificant but cosy city in rural England where, apart from getting drunk, there’s little to do.
The only girl working in a kitchen full of men, far from Eden, my place of employment is a mediocre, westernised Japanese restaurant which has a frightening amount of mould growing in it for a place that declares “4/5 Hygiene Rating!” on the door. We’ll refer to it fondly as ‘The Sushi Shithole’. I am 17: bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and desperate to impress my boss, an angry Romanian chef.
“Welcome to the team!” I hear as I’m slapped roughly on the back by one of the boys in the kitchen, nearly barrelling headfirst into the stainless-steel counter from the force.
After a couple of months, I begin to settle in. The sushi I’m making is subpar at best, but that seems to be the company standard. Occasionally, the Head Chef makes suggestive comments such as, “While you’re down there…” when I kneel to reach the lower fridge, but life is otherwise fine. It isn’t long before he gets the sack.
His replacement considers a Berocca, a Red Bull and 5-7 cigarette breaks during the morning service a “healthy breakfast”. Oh, and he throws squid when he’s angry, but we develop a bond, nevertheless. He constantly complains about an affliction called Chef’s Arsehole, which he is an acute sufferer of. He also mentions the fact that he “likes a finger up the bum” from time to time. I feel sorry for his girlfriend.
Before I know it, a year has passed. I’m 18 at last. Finally, part of the team despite remaining a terrible chef. My knife skills are still so clumsy that, “Got your best spoon out for these onions?” has become my tagline, but the combination of being a pretty-enough girl and having a disgustingly male sense of humour seems to override my lack of skill, making me a hit among the kitchen boys. Even though I have a serpentine banshee masquerading as my blonde 5’1” Assistant Manager, the Sushi Shithole starts to feel like home.
2 weeks later, I meet him.
It’s the Tuesday lunch rush. I’m in the downstairs kitchen, which smells like something had died down there, and it probably had (we had a terrible rodent infestation). I call the downstairs kitchen simply The Dungeon. Hurriedly I’m going about washing a new batch of rice.
One, two, three, I chanted internally. Knead, rinse, repeat.
“RICE, SCUTTLES!” the chef’s voice booms from upstairs.
Scuttles is me, by the way.
“COMING!” I yell back.
One, two, three. Knead, rinse, repeat.
Quicker now, I turn the tap too violently. The water spurts out, drenching my jeans and making it look like I’ve had an accident. My glasses are also in the splash zone and I’m momentarily blinded.
In my panic, the rice net slips, tears and breaks. I’m flustered now, as well as in a rush.
“WHERES THE FUCKING RICE, SCUTTLES?” Chef screams.
Close to tears, I fumble, wiping my glasses on my apron before remembering it’s covered in squid from one of Chef’s livelier outbursts. In doing so, I drop the rice jug with a loud CRASH. Crouching to pick it up, I’m in the middle of an outrageously rude chain of expletives when I see someone else’s hand reaching for it too. Glasses askew and covered in squid juice, I meet his dark brown eyes for the first time.
“Nice to meet you,” I say.
Squelch goes the squid juice as I shake his hand.
Chapter 2: Sushi Virgin
Wearing a faded green hoodie, a rolled cigarette rests jauntily behind his left ear. He walks with a swagger he’s not earned and instead of fig leaves he uses a façade of aggrandized bravado and dick jokes to hide behind. He’s 20 and, like me, has lived in this town all his life; unlike me, he’s a pretty decent chef.
Weeks go by and we become fast friends despite our blatant differences. He tells me he loves playing the piano, but is out of practice. We make sushi together, joke and laugh so often that the gruelling 15-hour shifts fly by. He wants to travel, to Australia or New Zealand, perhaps? He’s not sure yet. I find out his parents are divorced: his dad’s an adulterer and his mum used to be an alcoholic; he’s had to shoulder the burden from his younger sibling. Maybe we’re more similar than I thought.
We also get drunk together. A lot.
One night out after drinking heavily together we lose each other. Out of 3G I don’t see his messages until I’ve stumbled home.
Ahah lol, I type, rat-arsed.
Lol as in ‘Lol I ignored all ur calls and left u to die’ or Lol as in ‘I wish I’d stayed at urs, cause we could be having amazing sex right now?’ he replies.
The next day at work, neither of us mention it, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Suddenly all our little jokes have hidden connotations. When his hand brushes past mine to get a fresh nori sheet it’s not so innocent. His face is expressionless, but I know he feels it too.
The next day I leave for Newcastle for a university open day.
Newcastle isn’t that far away from home is it? he writes.
Only 3 – 4 hours, I reply.
That’s so far away. If I gotta visit that’s far. Not that it’s not worth the effort mind you x.
Chapter 3: A Sticky Soy Mess
Age 20, one year on. He’s the Kitchen Manager now and I’m the Front of House equivalent, meaning our jobs are increasingly interconnected. We’ve both progressed quickly, considering how young we are. No one from work knows we’re sleeping together.
We’re lying in bed together in my childhood bedroom.
“I’m thinking of cutting my hair short” I muse.
He twirls a wanton strand around his finger. “Please don’t” he says, “I love your hair long.”
It’s thrilling and simultaneously devastating, keeping us a secret. He tells me it’s best to, people knowing would make things complicated at work. I believe him. Our relationship, if you can even call it that, is like the broken light in the deep freeze: on, then off, and then on again and off again.
It’s getting ridiculous, so eventually I arrange a time to talk about what is going on with him, but at the last minute he stands me up. That very same night, I start smoking. At a waitress’ leaving drinks, I get drunk and scream at him before ending up tearing his clothes off 2am in the park. The sexual tension is still palpable the next day as we lock eyes on shift at the restaurant.
Then, one day, out of the blue, he is done with me. No longer interested. He stops liking my photos on Instagram. He stops replying to my texts. My work skirts get shorter and shorter and my laugh is shrill now, my smile unnaturally wide.
“Table for two?” I ask hysterically slamming down menus.
Work becomes a nightmare for me. Seeing him every day makes me feel the pain of his indifference anew. The only solution is to keep smoking. I feel like I have a wound that won’t heal, but instead weeps and bleeds more violently as I stand there for 15 hours a day, feet aching, teeth gritted, rolling sushi as I hear him gloat about the other girls he’s fucked that week.
In bed that night I re-read through our messages. Anything to prove what we had was real.
That’s so far away if I gotta visit. Not that it’s not worth the effort mind you x
I light another cigarette with shaking fingers, tears trickling down my face. Once I’ve smoked it with trembling fingers, I reach for the kitchen scissors.
Please don’t, I love your hair long.
Chop, chop, chop. I hack angrily. Hopelessly, I watch the pieces of my hair collect at the bottom of the bathroom sink. I look at my reflection, bloodshot eyes framed by a mess of wonky uneven locks. Disgusting.
All the pieces start slotting together. The fact that he’d sleep with me, but not cuddle after. The secrecy at work. I try and reconcile myself. That’s just him, I think, he could never commit to anyone. Slowly, tortuously I become his friend again, pushing my love deep down inside where it can’t be seen. We joke and smile and smoke like old times. It’s still painful, but it’s bearable.
Shortly after, there’s a new girl in the kitchen. She’s gorgeous, has a nose piercing and a black hoodie that says Thrasher. I run her trial shift. She’s nice; I like her a lot. One day, Adam comes into work as I’m closing.
“Can’t get enough of this place eh? What are you doing here this late?” I ask, confused.
Adam has come in to pick up the new girl, to take her out to dinner. Let’s call her Eve. After that, they’re dating, publicly.
I take cocaine at the work Christmas drinks and tell Eve that Adam has a small penis before I hand in my notice to the job that has kept me afloat for the last three years.
Chapter 4: There’s More to Life Than Mediocre Sushi
I never told him I was in love with him. I was too proud. I still have the love letters I wrote him: sealed, but never sent.
My current boyfriend is nothing like Adam. I met him at The Sushi Shithole too, but was too blind to notice he liked me at the time. He loves my short hair. And that waitress whose leaving drinks I went to? After she graduated, she moved in with me. I’ve lived with her for six months now. I love her like a sister.
There is still a part of my heart that belongs to him. That helpless boy, the hopeless boy, the boy who lead me on and the boy who, in the end, loved cocaine more than me. But I’ve moved on now. At last.
Cover by Louis Hansel