My friend Steve introduced me to a boy from his school because he thought we’d be good together. The boy was an indie kid, really into shoegazer bands like Ride. I was a metal kid, or so I thought (actually I mostly listened to dubious hard rock), but this seemed acceptable and gave me my first push towards decent music taste. The boy was also shy, and wore oversized jumpers that he could hide in. He was Christian. He smoked but didn’t drink. He mostly smoked a pipe, which was not something anybody else did.
We met up once or twice, spoke on the phone, and then one Friday night a bunch of us were sitting on the steps near the car park at the marina, across the road from the small amusement arcade where we’d play Tetris. It was September or October. The air felt cold and crisp. “So,” said Steve, “has #4 asked you out yet?” #4’s head instantly retreated turtle-like into his jumper: dumbstruck with embarrassment. I leaned in close and asked quietly, “Will you go out with me?” He said yes.
Later that evening our crowd wound up upstairs in the wool shop owned by Steve’s parents. He had the keys and it was a convenient place for us to go and keep warm and, in the weeks that followed, facilitate my introduction to underage drinking. When we were alone in the room, I turned to #4. He looked kind of panicked. “We’re going to kiss,” I explained, as if he needed a narrator.
“Um, I’ve never done this before,” he said.
He said afterwards that that first time made him feel stoned. Over the six or seven weeks that we went out, we made out at the marina, in car parks and alleyways, in the rain, in the store room at the wool shop. He was a nice boy. I said the L-word to him after not too long, and he agreed, but we didn’t really mean it. We were just sort of following a script.
Finally, one night when I was drunk, I went to kiss him when we were out in a group, and his head disappeared into his jumper again. He was too shy for public displays of affection. I went off with my long-suffering friend Jayne to discuss. It wasn’t just that, although it had made me feel disappointed. We probably weren’t really that compatible, except that we cared about each other. “But I love him!” I wailed. In the cold light of day, I met up with him to propose a trial separation. He was smarter and proposed just plain breaking up. I was sad for a few days, maybe, but it had been the right idea and we remained friends over the next few years.
The last time I saw him, we were in our mid-twenties. He was going to go to Bible school. He called me by my old name and shook my hand. I felt kind of weird about that.