To an awkward fourteen-year-old with dreams of being a rebel, he seemed ideal. I saw him kicking around town a few times in the summer of 1992, with his floppy blond hair, cut-off combats and Megadeth t-shirt.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Bangor at that age. Youth groups were all Christian-run, so even the tough kids hung out there for lack of alternatives. That’s where he showed up, in the youth café the first night I went to it. We were trying to watch a pirated copy of Jurassic Park, and he was the most disruptive kid there. He had a knife and he had a lot of confidence. I guess I laughed at his jokes. He said, “I know you. I went to primary school with you.” I looked at him. I didn’t think so. “Don’t you remember me? My name’s Michael Keaton.” And his friends waited for me to fuck up so they could laugh. Teenagers sometimes have really weird ideas about what constitutes funny.
I was back there the next night, with my friend Ian. #2 and his friend joined us at our table and shared drinking stories. I was still law-abiding, I couldn’t contribute. But what I appreciated was that #2 looked at me when he talked. I was so used to being part of the background. I felt that people saw me as boring and awkward. Now I felt included and sort of respected. It kind of blew my mind when I realised the difference.
And then suddenly he put me on the spot. “I asked Ian if he was going out with you,” he said to me, “and he said no but that you really fancied me and that you never shut up about me.” (This last point was not strictly true.) “So will you go out with me?” I said yes; this was a weird way for it to happen, but I wasn’t about to lose the opportunity. Then he asked me my name.
One of his friends came over and asked me my star sign. I could never give a shit about star signs, so I shrugged and let him guess. “Aquarius? Libra? Virgin?” I paused. “Yeah, but not the star sign.” This was hilariously funny, he had to go get #2 and repeat what I just said. I started to wonder if I should have said it. I was fourteen, was I really expected to have had sex now as well as be cool and everything else?
#2 said, how about a little kiss, and lunged towards me. Everyone was watching. I hoped that I did it right. Closing time was imminent, and Ian had vanished. #2 gave me another kiss as I headed out the door, and then I was walking down the street on my own. I didn’t want to look back, I wasn’t sure if I should. He materialised beside me on his bike.
“I thought I should give you a proper kiss goodnight,” he said. We crossed the empty street and then he wrapped his arms around me and it was a long, uninterrupted kiss. And then he kissed my forehead, said “Love you”, and cycled away. I did not like being kissed on the forehead and I thought it was ridiculous to say that he loved me, but I decided to overlook these two issues in favour of generally being happy.
I let myself in to the friend’s house I was staying at. I had her twin sister’s bedroom while she was away in France. I couldn’t sleep, so I read the whole of Forever by Judy Blume. I thought: So this is what I’ve got to look forward to. I wondered whether #2 and I would go out for a long time and if we would have sex. I also constructed plans in case things backfired horribly when I saw him the next day. I was used to things backfiring horribly, so I liked to be prepared. What if he was mean to me? What if he told me he didn’t want to go out with me after all? What if he didn’t show up?
In the morning, I was not only tired, but I felt ill. My friend’s mother gave me milk of magnesia and I threw it up. I went to the café to meet #2 as arranged. I felt horribly nervous. I kept going up to lock myself in the bathroom, pacing, wondering if I would be sick again. It was just nerves, but horrible, disempowering, scary nerves.
#2 finally showed up, said hi to me, and walked straight past me to sit with some friends with his back to me. This was so not good. I thought I had worked out every worst case scenario, but somehow the prospect of him just plain ignoring me had never crossed my mind. Now what?
Early that evening I ate my usual nutritious dinner, a hot dog that cost 50p, on the steps of a toy shop. I could see #2 and a friend of his further down the street, but I wasn’t sure if they saw me. I went back to my friend’s house and tried to sleep on the sofa, but I couldn’t. I returned to the café ten minutes after it re-opened, and he and his friends were hanging around outside, looking at me. “Hi,” I said, and went in.
I wondered what on earth I was doing here, waiting for this boy to bother speaking to me. I’d come here so I could see him, I was clearly wasting my time, and I wasn’t enjoying myself. My friend’s twin sister was back from France now and full of holiday stories. We’d never really got on, and I didn’t want to look like a doormat in front of her. She was saying “So that’s him? He doesn’t seem like a very considerate boyfriend, does he?”
And then some boy came over and asked me if I was going out with #2. The way kids do when they want everyone in the room to overhear their question and your answer.
“As far as I know, yeah,” I said, carefully, clearly, like I was taking part in a press conference.
He went back to #2’s table, and eventually returned to tell me #2 didn’t want to go out with me any more. “Okay,” I said, trying to sound carefree. A bunch of his friends gathered around me to make helpful remarks: “I’m sure you’re just heartbroken.” Finally, teenage sarcasm had stepped in to provide me with some much-needed camouflage. “Yes, I’m devastated,” I agreed brightly. I wonder if they knew that I really kind of was.
So that was it. I was free to leave, nothing was keeping me here now. I waited a decent amount of time so it wouldn’t look like I was excusing myself to go away and cry, and then I went away and cried.
#2 quickly established himself as an obnoxious character who I mostly avoided. Before too long, he’d shaved his head and started wearing bad polo-necks, which made him somehow resemble a rat. I remember he put worms in my hair during a day-trip to Scotland; he watched me drinking from a bottle and announced loudly that he reckoned I’d be pretty good at sucking. But I never reacted to him. Just removed the worms, ignored him. Having figured out that he was an idiot – and with the whole episode being quickly eclipsed by the saga of #3 – I wasn’t bothered any more about what he did or what he thought of me.
However, he unexpectedly showed up again a year or so later. I was at a party in someone’s house, and I’d been drinking Thunderbird, which always led to carnage. This time, I found myself outside, being sick at the side of the house. I was by myself, and the last person I expected to show up to help me was #2, holding my hair out of the way, waiting patiently. Maybe he got me some water. Once I’d finished, we sat by the side of the house. “I heard you dumped me because you didn’t like the way I kissed,” I said. I think he denied this. I didn’t really care anyway, and maybe I even told him that back then, I’d had almost no experience so what did he expect.
And then somehow, somehow, we were in a bedroom in the house, making out and then some. I had zero interest in him as a person. He was good to make out with, I think, but I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him and plus since he’d changed his look I wasn’t even attracted to him. So this wasn’t my idea, but I was too drunk to figure out what was going on and it wasn’t actually a problem as such. All the same, he kept on asking me out. It made no sense to me. I kept saying no and he kept asking and eventually he wore me down to a maybe. When I gave in and told him my phone number, he carved it into his leather wallet with a knife.
After that night, we never spoke to each other again. It was as if it never happened. Which was fine by me. Maybe he’d thought that I’d only get off with him if I believed he was interested in a relationship, in which case he was utterly clueless about me. But we never got any prank calls at my house.