Step Eight: Make a List of All Persons We Have Harmed, and Become Willing to Make Amends to Them All by Hannah Austin

  1. Jess

I’m sorry I bought you strawberries. I fed you their scarlet hearts on summer-scorched grass, transfixed by your trembling lips. I’m sorry the femme in me saw only the butch in you, discarding the rest like the seeds that snagged in our teeth. I’m sorry I took you home.

In bed, toward the end of the playlist I routinely used to seduce women like you, you told me I was only the second person you’d ever slept with. I pretended this wasn’t my average Sunday afternoon, either. I’m sorry I lied, and for my silence ever after.

  1. Alicja

We straddled a bench in a pub beer garden, your eyes the bluest flame, and you told me stories of Eastern Europe, your Catholic family, the Church trying to pray your gay away. I’m sorry I made you feel like you could talk to me about anything.

You were more feminine than my usual but had the requisite swagger – belt snaked low on your hips, pushing me down, fucking me slow. I liked you because you wouldn’t stay the night. When you started wanting to, I stopped answering your calls. I’m sorry I couldn’t face the intimacy of sleeping next to your perfect, exorcised body.

  1. Helena

International Women’s Day. You were convening a panel; I was there for work. I liked your stage presence, your easy control of the discussion – not for your professionalism but for what you might do for me. We ended up in a bar drinking whisky that burned my throat. I’m sorry I followed you to the bathroom, sat on the edge of the basin, hooked my ankles behind your back.

I didn’t know you were engaged until you told me the next day you were leaving your fiancée. I’m sorry the entirety of my desire resided in the chase. I’m sorry I blocked your number. I’m sorry she kept the cat.

  1. Joszef

I’d developed a friend-crush on you after weeks of feminist protests in our city. You played guitar; I led the chants. One night, swaying under a streetlamp, you kissed me. We laughed – you and me, boy and girl – ridiculous.

At your bedsit, not quite too drunk to fuck, we crashed into each other’s bodies like waves against rock. You fell asleep smiling, your head on my chest. I’m sorry I disentangled myself, dressed silently, sneaked out to a club. I’m sorry we had to have The Talk.

  1. Sian, 6. Jade, 7. Louise, 8. Aoife, 9. Emma, 10. Amy,

and the others, so many others, all the china shops and red flags I charged through. I’m sorry I don’t remember your names, or never thought to ask. I was a black hole absorbing all light – ravenous, cavernous, desperate to be filled. I’m sorry I swallowed you whole and spat you out.

  1. You.

You were the only one to call me out on my bullshit bravado, my ‘You’ll never guess what happened last night,’ my ‘It’s not my fault all lesbians want to get married on the second date.’ You stuck a pin in my ego when I least wanted you to.

I’m sorry I laughed in your face when you told me I should look up sex and relationships addiction. I’m sorry I said it was a made-up thing for philandering men: ‘Poor me, I’m a sex addict, it’s out of my control.’

Later, unease seeping through every greedy pore, I read stories online describing the aching void I’d felt all my life, the burning urge to fill it with chemicals, strangers – anything. I’m sorry I never told you I’d looked into it. That you might be right.

One of your favourite AA aphorisms: ‘We’re only as sick as our secrets.’

I read somewhere that the saddest two words in the English language are ‘too late.’ I know now that I was a coward then – and for that, I’ll never not be sorry. I just wish, with every jagged, insatiable shard of me, that you were still alive to hear it.

Hannah Austin is a writer and editor based in southwest England. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Moth, Mslexia and elsewhere. She was recently awarded an Arts Council England grant to write her first book.