The weekend my daughter turned three I was at loose ends - she wanted to hang out with her grandparents, leaving me stranded in a small college town without any idea of how to entertain myself.
School was closed, there were no shows on, and I didn't want to see what was playing at the dollar theatre. I was bored, lonely, angry, and twenty-two years old. Without any discernible thought or planning I did something reckless and completely normal: I hooked up with an ex-housemate.
It didn't mean anything, I didn't like him; in fact, I had evicted him from the house we shared. But he was the perfect candidate for a one-night stand for all the same reasons he was a terrible housemate (fyi: sleeping with the girlfriends of the people who control the phone bill is never a good idea in a shared housing situation), and I didn't need any complications. I had an official boyfriend somewhere around. Not to mention the husband I had misplaced but not divorced.
Messy, but logical - and I never wasted time on sentiment.
The small detail I had somehow missed was the fact that the awful ex-housemate imagined he was in love with me. How was I to know? I was clueless and busy, completely overbooked, working three jobs and going to grad school and taking care of a fleet-footed toddler. And I was so young I had not yet learned that some people flirt by lurking around looking wistful.
Besides, what is love? What does that word mean, and does it matter anyway? My life had been trenchantly difficult. I had barely survived, and I was marked - physically scarred and emotionally distorted - and in my experience, anyone who fell for that was at best a freak. I didn't want to be a symbol, or inspirational, I didn't want to know anyone who fetishised pain. I didn't need or want to be taken care of. I had tried that, and the relationship ended with a loaded gun at my temple.
I've always done whatever I liked, whenever I wished, acting on the principle that you aren't breaking rules if you don't make promises. Along the way twelve people have declared undying love. Six have proposed marriage. Four have stuck to me like barnacles on a rotted pier. I married two, though strictly for access to health insurance. Emotions? That is another matter entirely.
I've always said true love is discipline and hard work. In my life, precisely one person has turned up every day, everywhere, no matter how difficult or sad the situation. One person has helped me raise my kids. One person has had the tolerance and conviction to care, even when caring is dangerous and frightening. One person has done the hard work to help me keep this family together and raise us out of poverty. One person has the ability to make me laugh even in the midst of chaos.
In forty years of turmoil and trauma, mistakes and misadventure, I've been tangled up with and looked after hundreds of people. I've been a daughter, a mother, a friend, but never a girlfriend or wife - because those roles do not suit my character.
I treated all of my dating relationships as a sort of pantomime, something to ponder and write notes about. I scribbled in my little black books when people were enamoured with me, but I was not especially interested, unless it was an amusing diversion. Imagine my surprise then to watch the years accumulate and learn that I actually do love, really love, passionately love, heart thumping hard in my chest love, precisely one person. The same person who wandered in eighteen years ago and just never left.
I still view marriage as an economic contract, but in my old age I have mysteriously developed maudlin and sentimental notions - to the extent that I started wearing a ring a few months ago.
Life is difficult for everyone, and mine has been quite colourful. I never choose the easy option or the shortest path. I'm not faithful or forgiving, and though I am reasonable I am not rooted. I'm forty now but my priorities are the same, and this is a tricky way to live, especially when you mix in the madness of politics and immigration.
I often feel like I have not made any choices at all, but that isn't true. I chose this life, I made this life. This is what I know: eighteen years ago I spent a lost weekend with some punk kid, never guessing that he would become a world-class research scientist, excellent life partner, and awesome father. Eighteen years ago I did not believe in love, but now I know that love is not only real, it is an improbable and mighty force of invention.
Eighteen years ago I did not expect to live to see the new century, but here I am, here we are, in an extraordinary muddle of a life, so very far from home.