One time, I went to a sex shop with #78 and #79 and probably a couple of other friends. I wanted to act cool in front of the staff and other customers, like we came to places like this all the time, but #79 ran around the place shrieking “OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT THING FOR?! OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT!!”
#79 once described a friend of hers as “not so much a person, more a way of life”. That’s kind of what #79 was like too. She was colourful and creative. She was bohemian. I kind of had a crush on her when I met her our first year at university, and then I felt a little hopeful when she came out to me as bi, but nothing happened between us and I quickly figured out that being friends was smarter anyway. One of the first things she did when she moved into my flat for the summer term of third year was to install a wish tree across the road. She cooked good meals and learned languages and moved around a lot.
She was also kind of ruthless. She had very firm ideas about what a friend should be and do, and if somebody let her down she’d disown them. She had reasons, I guess: her past had involved numerous life-changing tragedies, so maybe she was just trying to protect herself from more pain; or maybe that’s just a glib diagnosis from an outsider. Either way, I felt like I was in a precarious position: she thought very highly of me, but I knew I was just as useless as the friends she’d already excommunicated – friends who hadn’t kept in touch enough when they were apart, and so forth – so I felt like I was just tiptoeing around, waiting to inevitably put a foot wrong.
It finally happened when she was staying with me and #117. It was #117 who upset her, actually, not me, but I got blamed by extension, she was raging around our flat screaming and yelling that she never wanted to see either of us again. We hid in a bedroom and waited for her to be done, for her to pack up her things and leave. It was a pathetic, really disempowering episode for me, and I wonder if I would have been different if #117 wasn’t in the picture, if I would have felt able to leave the room and tell her to calm down and talk about it. But I was disempowered the whole time I was with him anyway, and when she talked on the phone for half an hour about how badly he’d offended her, all I could do was apologise, the same way I apologised to him all the time for the things I did and the things I didn’t do. She was the only person who really knew both of us, and I hoped she’d pick up on what was happening. But instead, she left and another door closed.
I mean, okay, for all #117’s faults – and believe me, I’ll have to edit them down to a shortlist when it’s time for his post – I do actually still believe that he meant well that time, that there was just a communication breakdown, that it was an issue of interpretation. And afterwards, when she said it was actually only him she didn’t want to see again, that she still wanted to be friends with me, I decided we should just honour her initial wishes. I had found her behaviour extreme and unnecessary. I guess it was also a sort of relief, given that I knew someday she would disown me anyway, and now it was me who was making the final decision. But it was a weird chapter. Oddly, I’ve never run into her since; I don’t know if she will ever live in Edinburgh again. It’s a small place and I would expect us to move in similar circles if she was here. I don’t know how much I hurt her or whether she (still) hates me.
But when we kissed: that was Valentine’s Day 2000. #78 was not with me and I knew that our relationship was pretty much over, it was just that he hadn’t admitted it yet. And I couldn’t think of being the one to end it – I still wanted to be with him, it just wasn’t working. So I was at a party with #28 and #79 and #80, and we were drunk and merry and I was trying to forget how miserable I was, and so when it suddenly became a good idea to kiss each other, that seemed fair enough. It was all platonic anyway, although it still felt like a grey area, because I realised I had only assumed that #78 and I were supposed to be monogamous; on my last visit to Dublin, a friend of his had expressed surprise when I said I hadn’t kissed anyone new since meeting him, and her surprise made me wonder if she knew something I didn’t know, and either way I felt like I needed a few moments alone, because I was suddenly feeling nauseous.