'I Married My High School Girlfriend — 11 Years After We Broke Up'

On the same day I bought tickets to travel to India in 2016, I walked into a bar and met the woman who would become my wife. It wasn't love at first sight, or at second sight, it was more like love at 10,000th sight, because we'd been a couple before—a decade prior.

We were together for a year-and-a-half before Asya dumped me, and that first time around it really was love at first sight, for me at least. The first time I saw her was over summer break in 2005 before my last year of high-school, in the underground tunnels beneath Magen David Square in Tel Aviv, Israel.

On Fridays, these tunnels hosted pretentious jam sessions by pretentious jazzmen vying to impress girls with double bass and brush drumming.

I was a pimply 16-year-old with long hair and a t-shirt so tight it made me uncomfortable. Even though my friends and I despised jazz and jazzmen on principle, we went to these tunnels every Friday night, waiting for something to happen.

And then, one Friday, something did. Between the sounds of the musicians jamming and the smell of urine wafting up from the filthy tarmac, I saw her.

She was standing there wearing a white t-shirt and a grey skirt, holding a bottle of Goldstar beer—gorgeous and deeply alien to the urban muck. I gazed at her for what seemed like hours, and then, to my surprise, she waved. It took us two months to become a couple and years for me to find out that she wasn't waving, just checking if I was OK because I was staring at her so much it creeped her out.

A year-and-a half later, she broke up with me. That time is a blur. I don't mean that metaphorically; I couldn't see a thing because I had also smashed my glasses into the bargain.

After she told me we were breaking up, I asked for breakup sex. There is nothing more embarrassing, sadder or less passionate than breakup sex. The predominant bodily liquids were my snotty tears, and although this was my idea, I somehow felt it was forced on both of us. And when I got up from the bed afterwards, I stepped on my glasses, which I'd thrown on the floor.

I learned to f*** around and to lie, I learned "to be a man" in the worst sense.

We walked silently from my mom's house to the bus stop. Asya stood on the curb and I kept my distance, staring at the back of her neck and clutching my broken glasses. She turned around and told me that I didn't need to wait with her, and that maybe I should go to the optometrist across the road and get my glasses fixed.

Literally blind to the situation, I insisted on hanging on. I was trying to protract the moment, waiting on a miracle that would make her change her mind—but just exacerbating the awkwardness, which broke only when the bus arrived.

She held her bus pass in one hand and waved goodbye at me with another. She smiled what I call her "scattered smile"—her eyes go vague when she smiles in a way that melts my heart to this very day. I stared at the bus as it drove away, without even seeing—both because of my broken glasses, and because of the tears.

I took it hard. I got fat, I got stoned a lot, and mostly, I shut down. I learned to f*** around and to lie, I learned "to be a man" in the worst sense. I managed to abuse even my sensitivity. I became the sensitive guy who wants everyone to know how sensitive he is; the most dangerous kind of douchebag—a douchebag in disguise.

I ran into Asya often enough over the years that followed. We went to the same high-school and those from our school year who stayed in Tel Aviv felt the town was so small it was like living in a kibbutz.

But whenever I ran into her my mask would drop, and I would again become the 18-year-old Irmy, the one who'd mouth a shy hello with a dropped head and make himself scarce. I hated it and I hated 18-year-old Irmy.

I managed the pain that surfaced whenever I saw her by convincing myself she was bad for me, that she was my kryptonite.

Wedding, Love, marriage, high school sweethearts
A couple celebrate their marriage. iStock/Getty

The years went by, as they tend to do. But in 2016, aged 29, I felt like I needed a break.
In a highly uncharacteristic move, I bought a ticket to India. Later that night I went out for drinks in Tel Aviv, and ran into Asya. I said a shy hello and prepared to make myself scarce, but she struck up a chat and told me she was leaving on a solo trip to Iceland.

I told her I was leaving for India, and we ended up in a deep, drunken conversation. We agreed to meet the next day and when we kissed, her smell engulfed me. It was like taking a hallucinogenic drug.

There's something so elusive about scent and memory. It's easier to recall the memory of a body, a face, a conversation, a dress or a smile, but smell is something so non-corporeal and the instant I smelled her I fell into a time vortex. Her smell was like a drug, one that had effects similar to a time machine.

That night, 11 years on from our break up, I made my peace with my 18-year-old self.

I came to, eventually, and as we kept talking, it felt like being with Asya was flicking switches "on"—reviving good memories I had suppressed to deal with the breakup. She reminded me what a cool kid I was, that I was funny, sensitive and cute, and how much fun we had had together. That night, 11 years on from our break up, I made my peace with my 18-year-old self.

We spent the following month falling back in love, and on the night before she was to fly to Iceland, I told her; "you do know we're going to get married." She said that she did. But we also knew that in reality, we were breaking up again. She went to Iceland. I went to India.

From the moment my plane took off I wanted to turn back, and forced myself to go on. I knew I had to let go, but I could not let go. I spent the entire trip missing her.
When I came back, she was waiting in my flat. I unpacked my backpack and took out a ring.

Life is still complicated. And yet, there is no other person I'd rather be with than with Asya.

It's now been three years since our wedding in 2017 and four years since we met again.

Most of the time we don't remember we were already together once before, long ago, in school.

Today we're both grown ups with careers and concerns and routines and petty arguments about dishes and laundry, and a whole new set of memories. Sometimes it feels like our entire high-school romance is the story of some other teen couple, not our own.

I'm writing this during the COVID-19 lockdown in a flat overlooking the bus stop where we broke up in 2005. There have been moments during the pandemic when we lived as if we were teens on a summer break.

But we're not teens and this isn't summer break. Life is still complicated. And yet, there is no other person I'd rather be with than with Asya. And not the Asya of 2005, but the Asya of 2020, the one I'm with today.

Irmy Shik Blum is a screenwriter, comedian, actor and journalist. He is a columnist at Haaretz Weekend Magazine and lives in Tel Aviv with his wife, Asya.

Translated by Dimi Reider. A shorter, Hebrew version of this story was published in the 23 April 2020 issue of Blazer Magazine in Tel Aviv.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.