Is it acceptable to send a message to an ex-partner on their birthday when you are in a new relationship? If so, for how many years after the break-up should you continue this tradition?
There was a time I would send a text message of well-wishes to my ex-girlfriends, all two of them, on their birthdays. The date would inevitably leap from the calendar and leave me with the feeling I had forgotten something; an overdue phone bill or dentists appointment, perhaps. After a brief moment of deep brain-scanning, I would solve the riddle and pen a friendly, but not too friendly message of “Happy Birthday”. A few months ago one of the aforementioned dates rolled by. I began scrolling through my phone when I realised I no longer had her number. “Not a problem”, I thought, attempting to recall the number by heart. It was gone. Have you ever experienced that moment of poignancy? When those ten digits which were once burned into your brain now cease to exist? Trying to remember them was like attempting to finish a Sudoku; difficulty level – expert. I just couldn’t find the fucking numbers. Should I have just joined the other two-hundred acquaintances on Facebook and left a message on her wall? The whole experience left me feeling a little empty as I stared pensively down at my phone humming the melody to that song. What are the words? “Somebody that you used to know?”
On the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, I picked up a young woman who probably wishes she had left but a tiny, insignificant message on her ex-boyfriends wall.
Beep.Beep.Beep. Danielle – 4 Minutes – Manly
Something terrible had spooked the seagulls on Manly Wharf. I could hear the frantic squawking from the Corso. Hundreds of the seaside scavengers flapped wildly above the crowd below, fleeing from whatever it was that had disturbed their sunset supper of fish and chips. Maybe a boisterous puppy had escaped their owner and was snapping away at the orange, webbed feet of the usually immoveable birds. Whatever it was, it was getting closer. I rounded the bend and narrowed my eyes to try and find the source of the commotion. Running through the crowd with the determination of an Olympic sprinter was a young woman in her late twenties wearing a long white-dress. She didn’t dare attempt a side-step in the pair of impossibly high stilettos on her feet, instead choosing to shoulder barge her way through the mass of confused onlookers. She reached the roadside in record time, before desperately looking left and right down the Esplanade for something or someone. I’m not a lip-reader but she unmistakably mouthed the word, “FUCK!”, as she gave up her search and hurriedly retrieved her phone from her black-handbag. I mouthed exactly the same word when my phone started to ring. The disturbance on Manly Wharf was my next passenger, Danielle.
“I can see you across the road Danielle, I’m in the grey Volkswagen.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck! Okay, okay, okay, I’m looking. Yes! Got you! Stay right there, I’ll be over in a sec!”
I turned my head and winced as Danielle bounded across two lanes of traffic while extending her open palm at the approaching cars. She was unperturbed by the honking horns and screeching brakes of the furious motorists she left in her wake.
“You’re not Magneto from X-Men!” I muttered through gritted teeth as my reckless passenger made her way to my car.
“Okay! Head down East Esplanade please!” said a breathless Danielle as she tumbled onto my backseat.
“Did you see a guy walk down this way? Tall, big muscles, black-collared shirt?”
“No, I can’t say I did,” I replied, pulling out from the kerb and making my way down the busy street.
“Just go slowly, okay? He can’t be too far,” said Danielle as she dabbed at droplets of sweat on her forehead with a tissue.
Danielle was dressed to the nines. She had long, brown-hair perfectly curled like ribbons on a fancy gift from David Jones. I had never seen teeth so white, either.
“Who are we looking for?” I asked, intrigued by the preceding madness.
“You won’t believe this. I was at Papi Chulo’s having a cocktail for V-day with my boyfriend, Marcus. I went to the loo and when I came back my phone was out of my bag and was sitting on the table. He had opened a completely harmless happy birthday message I sent to my ex-boyfriend last week. Obviously, he flipped and stormed out. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with texting an ex on their birthday is there? I went out with the guy for three years. You agree with me, right?”
“Yeah, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” I replied nonchalantly.
“Wait! That’s him!” announced Danielle as she lowered my back window.
“Babe!!!! Babe!!!! Come on, don’t be silly. Please, can you get in the car?” pleaded Danielle to the giant silverback gorilla wearing aviators and storming down the street. He was unmoved by the cries of desperation from my car.
“Pleasssssssse! I’m sorry! Can you just get in and we will talk about it on the way to dinner.”
I had slowed to a crawl and the cars behind me were growing impatient. The sounding of a car horn behind me finally stirred a reaction from Marcus. He stopped abruptly before turning and walking to my car, terminator style.
I felt the suspension creak as Marcus sat down on my backseat with his arms folded. I quickly glanced at my rear vision mirror and I’m certain I saw a single tear roll down Marcus’ cheek from beneath his sunglasses.
“Babe! Why did you storm off? Was it because I texted Brett last week for his birthday?”
Marcus didn’t respond, he just sat there staring straight ahead.
It was terribly awkward timing, but Danielle hadn’t entered her destination into the Uber app.
“Sorry Danielle, where am I taking you?” I whispered.
“Oh, sorry. We’re going to Jonah’s at Whale Beach. Do you know where that is?”
Before I could reply, Danielle interrupted with: “Well, I think you’re being silly about this. I asked the Uber driver his opinion and he agrees it is perfectly ok to text an ex on their birthday.”
I couldn’t believe it. Danielle had thrown me under a bus, fed me to the sharks, actually, far worse, she had fed me to Marcus the man mountain.
I almost swerved up the gutter when Marcus responded:
“Oh is that right is it?” he asked in a high-pitched, comical sounding voice. It sounded like Marcus had swallowed a chipmunk. Had he been sucking on helium? How could a man that size sound like Elmo? He continued:
“Well, did you tell the know-it-all Uber driver what time you texted Brairrrrrrrrrrt?” Marcus threw his hands in the air theatrically and said Brett’s name with sarcasm.
“Oh, you’re being stupid now!” Danielle fired back.
“Oh! Am I? So it’s perfectly okay to wait up until one fucking minute past twelve so you can be the first person to text your ex-boyfriend happy birthday, is it?”
“Ooooooooh!” I replied like a spectator watching a cricketer cop a bouncer to the nuts. Why the hell did I reply? They weren’t speaking to me and I wasn’t involved in this. I really didn’t mean to reply. Marcus seized the opportunity:
“Yeah, that’s right! Can you bloody believe that? She told me she deleted his number as well.”
“I have deleted his number!” yelled Danielle.
“Well, how did you get it back?”
“Ohhh for fuck’s sake Marcus. I still remember his number, alright. I dated the guy for a long time.”
“K,” said Marcus turning his entire, massive frame to face the window.
“You know what? Fuck you. If you want to be a petty little shit, why did you like a photo of your ex on insta wearing a bikini on her holiday in Thailand? That was today Marcus. Two can play at this game!”
For the next fifteen excruciating minutes there was complete silence. I was just starting to enjoy the drive to Whale Beach. To my right, I could see the ocean glistening beneath a lilac sunset. I almost remarked on its beauty, before quickly biting my tongue. Then, suddenly, the silence was broken by giggling from my backseat. Had Danielle and Marcus made-up?
“What are you laughing at?” Danielle asked tersely.
The giggles grew louder.
“What the hell are you laughing at?” she demanded, reaching over and snatching Marcus’ phone from his enormous hands.
“Hey! Give that back!” he protested.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. We’re in the middle of a fight and you’re laughing at whatever shit you and your idiot mates say to each other in that group chat. For fuck’s sake!”
As I pulled into the carpark of Jonah’s, Danielle did something unimaginable. She threw Marcus’ phone out the window, before getting out of my car and walking toward the restaurant. Marcus was in a state of shock. It took him a full five seconds before he registered what had happened. Without saying goodbye, Marcus also left my car.
An elderly couple walked by in their Sunday best as Marcus frantically searched for his phone on hands and knees in the bushes. They were tenderly holding hands, laughing, smiling and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. They had a calmness about them. They were here, right now, living in this moment with no iPhone, Instagram and certainly no group chat to steal their happiness.