I was trying to decide which pronouns I’d use for #116 ever since I started this project. Should I use male pronouns because that’s what were used at the time? Should I use female pronouns because I think #116 went on to transition, except we’re not in touch these days and you never know if that plan might’ve been derailed somewhere along the way? Or should I use non-gender-specific pronouns even though (confession time) I find them clunky, and anyway I’ve no idea how #116 might feel about them?
So I’m going to go with female pronouns. When we were seeing each other, #116 alternately identified as a straight boy and as a transgender lesbian. But let’s start at the beginning.
It was the night that I went to DKY with #53. I think it was maybe the only time I actually made it to the club, even though I knew a few people who were involved with it. I’d never met #116 before. She showed up and greeted me with something like “You’re Nine, aren’t you? You’re really cool!” So, predictably, my head swelled up and floated out of the window.
And then #53 and I had our moment when we kissed, and then #116 was hanging around, and then that now-familiar voice in my head said well if you’re already cheating on your boyfriend then how could one more make it much worse, and I turned round and kissed her too. And then the next thing I remember is walking halfway home together, saying goodbye on the corner of Rankeillor Street maybe, and it was daylight by then, and #116 was a few days away from turning eighteen.
I maybe got an e-mail from her some time after that, but I don’t remember for sure. I never confessed to #115, because it seemed like a redundant point when we were breaking up anyway.
It was almost four years before I saw #116 again. I was at Disko Bloodbath, a queer alternative club that Edinburgh sorely needed. I didn’t even recognise #116, I thought she was someone else. She was in a PVC nurse’s uniform and was looking very pretty. “You know, we should make out again sometime,” I advised, and she was still around five minutes later so that’s what we did.
We were kind of seeing each other for a couple of months. She was staying in homeless accommodation, waiting for her benefits to come through; she had a mobile but no credit. “Call me when you’re bored,” she said, leaving the ball in my court. So I did. One night she waited outside my door until I got home from my night shift. We talked about gender and sexuality and I shared books and films with her. She was shy, if that’s the right word, in a way I found utterly endearing, and I felt privileged when she opened up to me. Oh, and did I mention she was pretty? Because she was, she was really goddamn pretty.
I remember one night, she was round at my place, I think maybe we had dinner and watched a film, and then I walked her to the bus stop, I think she needed to get back to her hostel before curfew. There was this pre-summer feel in the air and I pressed play on my personal stereo as she got on the bus, and Wave of Mutilation by the Pixies kicked in as she waved goodbye and was gone.
But she was also very 21, and not only that but she had a couple of ludicrously bad ideas that made me want to turn into her social worker or something. And I was 27 and my mother was dying and I thought about how I’d kind of like to hold #116 and cry about it, and I knew it wouldn’t work so I never brought it up.
Then there was another night at Disko Bloodbath and some drunk girl, also 21 or thereabouts, was running around going “#116′s so gorgeous! I’m a lesbian but oh my god he’s so hot!” I kissed #116 that night and it was one of those kisses that’s just so perfect, so well-executed, that you oughta know that the end is nigh, but of course you don’t, instead you reckon things are going really well. Right after that, the very vocal lesbian sat down on the other side of #116 and made out with her in front of me. I don’t know if she knew we were involved or not. I don’t know if she was seeking to start some kind of high school drama, but I wasn’t in the market for any of that. I tried to look casual until she went away.
“Were you okay with that?” I asked #116. My main concern was whether this had been unwanted, because #116 had told me she didn’t usually feel comfortable when people made passes at her.
“Yeah,” she said. She seemed maybe a little surprised that it had been okay. And then I realised that maybe she wanted to pursue this.
“Should I just leave you to it, then?” I asked, trying to sound unbothered. And she said yes, which taught me a valuable lesson about not asking questions if you can’t handle the answer.
My friends were all busy. I left the club and walked home, furious and mopey and confused. For a while I thought that the fact that I was into non-monogamy – I was seeing #148 around that time as well – meant I had no say in what was or wasn’t acceptable. I’d wanted #116 to check I was okay like I did with her. And then I wanted #116 to miss me and to contact me, because I was not going to phone her when I was bored, I was not going to initiate anything after this.
I told my mopey story to friends, wondering all the while why it had felt like such a disappointment, given that surely we’d had no scope for a ‘proper’ relationship anyway. “She’s gotten under your skin,” #138 observed.
“Yeah,” I said, frustrated all over again because I wasn’t supposed to get sidetracked like this. I ordered another overpriced cider and poured the whole story out all over again to #113.
Months later I was at Disko Bloodbath yet again. #116 was there and I managed to say hi to her like a mature adult. She came over and sat down beside me a little while later. A propos of nothing, she said, “I’m sorry. When I really like someone, I run away.”
I thanked her for the apology, I guess. I didn’t know whether I should think about it in depth, whether it would be smart to see if we could go anywhere else from here. But she was still pretty, I remarked to #110.
“Nine, he is FOUR YEARS OLD. You are A HUNDRED YEARS OLDER than him,” she advised. “Get over it.” It should be noted that a couple of months down the line, #110 was tripping over herself to impress a 19-year-old.