I’m not sure when my crush on #6 began, whether it was that Christmas Eve or earlier.
He was #4’s friend. They’d play pool together in the little amusement arcade. One Monday, back when I was going out with #4, it was a school holiday. A bunch of us were sitting at the old shelter where the crusties usually drank. It was misty and the streets were cold and muffled. I was listening to Mind Funk on my personal stereo and #6 was listening to Pop Will Eat Itself on his. He handed me an earphone and we listened together. The guitar riffs seemed to sear across the sky. It sounded like nothing I had heard before.
On Christmas Eve, I went out and drank peach wine. It was just me and the lads. I liked it that way, it afforded me a kind of validation I couldn’t quite put into words. I felt like I belonged with them more than I did with my female friends, and any time they acknowledged me as one of them, I felt the glow of acceptance. Of course, this acceptance had its limitations. Derek, for example, didn’t like watching porn when I was in the room because it made him feel uncomfortable. Since I was just as curious about watching it as everybody else, I was disappointed not to attend any further screenings.
#6 and I were getting on pretty well, and he was being so tactile with me I thought signs were good. So, with enough Dutch courage in me, I asked him if he’d go out with me. He said no. I swallowed my disappointment, tried to get on with enjoying the night, wondered what was wrong with me.
We wound up down near the yacht club, ran into some other folks. A girl gave #6 a Christmas kiss and I pretended to have other things on my mind, but it turned out I was next in line. Double confusion. He wouldn’t go out with me but he was happy to kiss me anyway. Still. What do you do? You take what you can get.
At the end of the evening, he and I shared a ham pizza sitting on the wall at the end of Clifton Road. We listened to music again. Get Me by Dinosaur Jr (below) and Tail Lights Fade by Buffalo Tom. It was like my world expanded right then and there. Who the hell were these bands and why had I never heard of them before? These songs were so much more honest than the macho posturing of the rock bands I listened to.
Besides my musical re-education, something strange was developing between us. A few nights later, we went to drink at the house of one of Angus’ older activist friends. #6 and I spent the latter part of the evening making out on the hallway floor, a blurry memory but a treasured one nonetheless. At my New Year party, it happened again, with friends holding aloft mistletoe as if we really needed it.
But he wouldn’t go out with me. One night in January, the two of us went alone to the grounds of Bangor Grammar School to drink a considerable amount of cider. The results were entirely predictable. I figured if we could only get off when we were drunk, then we’d just have to get drunk a lot.
We went to see Pop Will Eat Itself. I remember the colours, so much brighter than the sea of black-clad metallers I was used to at gigs. The energy was astounding. I was still adjusting to this new scene that I was becoming a part of. When the audience went crazy, #6 held me back, stopped me from getting trampled on. He stayed that way with me, arms wrapped round my waist from behind, for the remainder of the gig. We never kissed that night – we were sober – but it was maybe the most intimate moment we’d shared.
Whatever was going on between us kind of petered out. I don’t remember how the transition occurred, whether we just stopped hanging out so much or what. But to my surprise, in the summer, long after everything had happened, it happened again. My parents were away and I seized the opportunity to hold a party. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs talking to him, and suddenly he was kissing me. It came completely out of the blue and it was urgent and it was hot. That was a good night. There was no explanation, no discussion. After that night, it was back to normal.
I saw him in the pub when I was 22 or 23. It was Christmas Eve again, actually. After leaving school, I used to go to Wolsey’s in Bangor every Christmas Eve until I figured out that I really didn’t enjoy it. I’d see plenty of people I’d gone to school with or gotten drunk with, but mostly it wasn’t a lot of fun to talk to them. I’d gone from being an awkward self-conscious teenager to being fairly confident and simply recognising that I didn’t belong here. But #6 reached out to me. “It’s you!” he said. He was with his girlfriend. They lived in Manchester. The three of us talked until closing time and we genuinely enjoyed seeing each other again. There was none of that petty points-scoring bullshit that sometimes happens when you have a reunion. We managed to stay in touch for a year or two, and I would like to be in touch with him again. He’s a good sort.
The odd thing was that, after meeting him again, he visited my old website and read a piece I’d written about that night at the Pop Will Eat Itself gig, how we’d had this weird thing going on together. He told me, “People were saying back then that I should go out with you, and I thought about it, and I don’t know why I didn’t.”
I think I know. I wasn’t cool. I think that’s all it was. But it’s funny how you can look back, years later, on stuff that got to you so much at the time, and be okay with it.