Over the years, I’ve been at many a gathering around this time of year where the topic of embarrassment has arisen. There’s usually an anecdote about a Christmas party snog. Often someone’s done something hideous at a work do. Occasionally someone’s got a story about being so inebriated they vomited/urinated on public transport etc.
But then I tell this story, which is arguably my most embarrassing festive tale (though there are a few other contenders), and they usually agree that it’s mortifying in the extreme and that urinating in public might be preferable.
I was 18. Living in Vienna. Bored. Lonely. I had a few Austrian friends, but they were still at school, so between working as a nanny and meeting them, there were many long, dark hours to pass in early December. Sometimes I’d walk to the Rathaus and eat toffee apples I’d bought from the Christmas market, sometimes I’d sit at the cafe and write in my diary.
But sometimes, I’d go to the Internet cafe. It is here that my sordid tale really begins. I was, you see, in love. He was mildly keen but really considered our romance to be a trifle, something that was nice when I was there but inconsequential, essentially.
I was of the opposite opinion. I thought he was spectacular. I thought he might be someone I could spend a good few years if not a lifetime loving. I thought he might be persuaded to feel the same one day. Such thoughts made me do crazy things.
We’d been at school together, he and I, and it was in the early days of e-mails, so we’d shared passwords as neither of us ever sent anything remotely private or important – e-mail accounts were just a means to communicate timetables or other such uninteresting schedule information whenever someone’s phone ran out of credit and they could therefore not text.
The knowledge of that password was to prove my undoing. Sitting at the internet cafe, my inbox empty, I willed something to drop into it. I waited a minute, refreshed the browser, but nothing. I did it a second time: again, nothing. After the third time, I decided to take action.
I had five minutes left of online time, and, as this was in the infancy of the internet, and there were few websites on which to dawdle, I logged into his account and decided to write myself an e-mail. My thinking? That I would log on the next day having forgotten I’d done so and be terrifically excited to have an e-mail from my beloved.
If the e-mail was to fool me momentarily, I thought I’d have to type it in his voice (I know: MAD). So I typed this: ‘By the way, I fucking love you.’ What a missile to receive, I thought. How exhilarating it will be, I decided. I was all anticipation. I pressed send.
The next day, I woke to three text messages from him. Having entirely forgotten my insane e-mail, I thought it an auspicious start to the day, something I could write about in my diary later that afternoon in the cafe, perhaps.
But his messages were not there to casually bid me hello. The e-mail had bounced, you see. Not once, oh no. It had bounced multiple times as the school firewall picked up on my profanity, sending the attempted e-mail shooting back into his inbox with an error message to tell him he was a bad student and if he tried to swear on their intranet again that trouble would follow.
You see now? MORTIFICATION.
This incident heralded the year of being called crazy in his circle of friends and probably by him, too. I had to behave excessively normally (not my forte) in order to convince him and his pals that I could be trusted with normal social interaction after the incident.
But in keeping with the redemptive theme of the season, I’m going to offer some hope. Whatever you’ve done over the past month, or whatever befalls you tomorrow night, take succour from this: he forgave me. Not only forgave me, but actively loved me.
And, as it transpires, I was right when guessing at his preferred syntax: the word ‘love’ when it tumbled from his mouth was prefixed with the word ‘fucking.’