It was August, a month after the disaster with #2. A week-long programme of events organised by the church aspired to give the bored teens something to do whilst reminding us about Jesus. It was after a gig at the pavilion in the park that my friend Teresa and I happened upon #3. He was crying. He was crying because he’d just been cautioned by the police for hitting someone (“he deserved it”) and he was afraid of how his stepfather would react, because his stepfather had a habit of battering him. This kind of thing was a million miles from my sheltered, middle-class, generic teen angst problems. Teresa and I walked him halfway home, tried to make helpful remarks. Also, we both thought he was cute.
After saying goodbye to him, we discussed what else we could do. We thought it would be a good idea to write out some lyrics for him to help him through the bad times. You know, kind of motivational stuff. He was into music like Napalm Death, actually, but it didn’t matter. We opted for Nothing Else Matters by Metallica and Under The Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I wrote out a song by the Little Angels (yes, I know) which might have been called something like Feels Like the World’s Come Undone. As an encore I wrote a poem for him. I kept changing my mind about including it in the envelope that we presented to him, but I guess Teresa talked me into doing it. It was called All That Matters and it kind of second-guessed the emotions he was feeling and the basic message was that he should look out for himself and remember that people did care about him. We slipped it to him next time we saw him, and the following evening, after some gig over by Pickie Pier, we all got out of a minibus on Clifton Road and he said thank you for the poem. He said you made me cry you know, and how did you learn to write like that? I was struck dumb. I couldn’t answer except to make the vaguest noises of thanks for the compliments. He walked away and everyone was asking me what that was all about, and I couldn’t believe that my writing had had such an effect. I wanted to tell him that I learned to write like that because I felt like I was on my own for so long, so then I just imagined that maybe he felt that way too. The same but different.
The next day Teresa and I bought a loaf of bread and went to feed the ducks in Ward Park. She said I think he likes you and I said I can’t go out with him if you like him too, it wouldn’t be fair. She said it was okay. I wasn’t going to get my hopes up though, it wasn’t like anything was actually going to happen. That night there was a gig at Hamilton Road church hall, and where was #3? I hovered around the entrance and there was no sign of him, I couldn’t stand it.
Finally he showed up and he was drunk, stumbling all over the place. I wanted to be a mess like him, he made it look cool. I was sitting nervously with him on a little wall to the side of the church hall and there was a girl there who I wasn’t sure if I liked, she was from the same village as me and had the air of one who is popular. #2 was there too and he dared #3 to kiss her, and he did, and I sat there awkwardly pretending not to be affected by this. Damn #2, he was doing it on purpose, he knew I liked #3 and he was trying to hurt me. Next he was daring #3 to kiss me too but I got up and walked in to the gig: it wasn’t going to be like this, I did have some power in this situation. When I came out, I saw #3 disappearing into the distance with the other girl. Great, just great.
I was hanging around outside the door with my friend Amanda when #3 appeared again. “God, I’m so drunk,” he was saying. “I’ve been kissing everyone tonight, I don’t know what’s going on.” “Well, here’s one more for you to kiss,” said Amanda, and left us to it. I was mortified, although really you had to hand it to her for getting out of the way. I looked at him, I didn’t know what to say. He straightened up, said “I’m going to sober up for a minute. Will you go out with me?” I wanted to say yes straight away but first (thanks to the #2 fiasco) I had to check if he was serious, and then we both said yes, and then he said now he’d get drunk again, and moved in close. His hands were on my waist and he was kissing me and he tasted of smoke and cider and I was pinned against the wall kissing him back until someone asked us to please take it elsewhere because the vicar was on his way. We walked round and found my best friend Angus miserably picking an old carpet to bits, he gave me a piece and told me to keep it forever, and then he left us alone too and it was just me and #3. Eventually, we went down High Street so I could call my parents and organise a lift home, and my mum said to call back in five minutes so we killed time by making out in the phone box.
On the Monday evening, I met up with #3 at the marina. We were both early, which was a good sign. We walked around the coastline together, his arm around me, and compared notes on our lives. We sat down on a bench and looked out to sea and kissed. He let me listen to Napalm Death on his personal stereo, it sounded like someone being tortured on a train. We trailed around town together lazily.
The next day we sat in the old shelter that got demolished a couple of years later because it always had crusties there drinking Buckfast and the council figured we could all do without that. I was with #3 and his friends; someone broke a window and found some porn mags and everyone was having a good laugh over that, and there was me and #3 sitting at the end of the bench kissing each other and laughing, in a world of our own. I felt so cool being #3’s girlfriend. I knew it was going to open me up and soon I would be able to be really myself, not this awkward guarded quiet person with issues. See, all I needed was someone to come along and lift me out of the rut I was stuck in, and then you’d see how much potential I had. #3 described himself as a one-man posse. I liked that he was sort of on his own at the same time as having all these friends, it seemed like something I might be able to relate to.
On the Wednesday night I was at the youth café and he was drunk again. He was with all these people and they were out in the car park and my nerves were kicking in again. I didn’t think he wanted to be with me, I thought he was going to be like #2 and ignore me, this was it, it was going to end and it had barely even begun plus it had started off so well. I was beside myself. Well if that was how it was going to be then I’d just keep out of his way. Someone came to me and said, #3 wants to see you, and I went around the corner into the car park thinking this is it. There she is! #3 staggered over to me and hugged me and kissed me. I had never felt such relief. That taste of alcohol again, it was really growing on me. He was standing with his arms around me, just silent in a moment, and someone said “Ah, young love” and I said “More like he just needs someone to hold him up”, and they laughed and that was also a special moment for me, because I wasn’t used to being funny. Someone smashed something and everyone decided they’d better get out of here but #3 and I stayed on, alone together.
The next afternoon was sunny. I saw #3 sitting on the steps of the amusement arcade. I went over to surprise him and he didn’t see me until I was standing over him; he burnt his fingers on matches. “Did I do anything wrong last night?” he asked. No. He walked me to my bus. There was a moment of awkwardness when my alarm bells should have gone off but then he kissed me and I got on board.
But that night back at the café it was everything I had dreaded the night before. #3 with his friends and not with me, my friend’s twin sister unimpressed at my boyfriend’s lack of attention to me. It wasn’t long before closing time when he came over to me and asked if he could talk to me outside. I got up and went with him like someone being led to the guillotine.
“I don’t want to go out with you any more.”
Just like that. He was standing in the street looking uncomfortable, like maybe he was ashamed of himself for being an asshole. His eyes weren’t really meeting mine. My throat was dry all of a sudden and my heart was thumping. I had a sense that this moment was very important and maybe if I came up with the right words he might change his mind, but already I felt as if all was lost. I managed a strangled-sounding “Why?” All I remembered afterwards was that he said it wasn’t to do with any of them, and he gestured towards his friends back inside, who seemed to be oblivious to what was taking place out here, didn’t know that my heart was currently being ripped out. I was looking at him and not entirely taking in what was being said, I was kind of wishing he’d finish talking so that we could kiss again, and then everything fell into place and I understood that the whole point of this was that we just weren’t going to kiss again. I said okay or something, because there was nothing else I could do, and I went back inside. Amanda asked me what happened and I said we split up and she asked if I was okay and I said no, and now I could feel the tears just behind my eyes. She said did I want to go and I said yes, and she got up right away, gathered up all her stuff and we left the café without looking back. #3 was still hovering around the door by himself, maybe smoking, definitely looking very guilty, and I said hi or something and went past him, and Amanda and I walked down the street together. Amanda and I turned the corner and as soon as we were out of his sight I crumpled sobbing. We crossed the car park, found a wall to go sit on and I sat with Amanda and cried and she hugged me and said concerned things.