Leonard left the UK for good a few days into 2006. I went to his leaving do, got surprisingly drunk on not a whole lot of wine, cried, and got hauled back to #110’s place where I slept in my clothes. In the morning I walked into town with unbrushed hair to meet Leonard for a last brunch at the Blue Moon. Then I helped him load his luggage onto the train, gave him an excessive number of awkward hugs, and walked away crying.
I cried all fucking day. I could not believe I was capable of so much crying. I had never experienced anything like it. Maybe it was a bereavement thing, maybe that meant I felt different types of loss more profoundly now, I mean it hadn’t been that long since I’d lost my mum, seven months, and anyway nobody gets to say how long it takes before you feel normal again. Leonard had been my partner in crime for the past year, and he’d been understanding when I felt sad and he’d provided marvellous distractions and adventures as well as some stability while my mum’s health deteriorated. I remembered feeling unsure, back when we first started hanging out, whether he’d really want to see me three days in a row; I didn’t want it to feel like overkill. But we hadn’t run out of things to say to each other, we were always comfortable in one another’s company, and now I was afraid I wouldn’t experience that with someone again. Maybe I would just shut myself in my flat and mope my way through the January blues alone. Fuck.
I couldn’t shut myself in for long, though. The very next day, I stomped off to my first editors’ meeting as #177’s replacement. I did not want to go. They were going to be a bunch of pretentious hipsters, I was sure, and I didn’t want to be a fucking editor anyway. I was going to find someone to take over from me as soon as I possibly could. I didn’t want any goddamn responsibility, and anyway I figured I was just too fucked up right now to do this sort of thing.
Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. Everyone was really nice and friendly. I started to feel like this was maybe something I was interested in doing. I made plans to review films and music, as well as work on my own section. And plus that was the day I met #182.
I thought about #182 an awful lot, right from the beginning. You know when you develop a crush on someone but you don’t know much about them and so you decide that they’re probably, like, perfect for you, and you build up this whole idea of them in your head? That’s what I was doing. I was like, okay, fine. Give me some distraction and this will help me get through figuring out what happens in my life next. Anyway, I had to work with this person so there was no way in hell I was going to risk making things awkward.
So here’s how it went: we fired journalism-related e-mails back and forth to each other, we talked to each other for hours at a party, we went to the This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb gig and later he set his hair on fire by accident and then we wound up at my place talking until 7:30 in the morning. I kept wanting to make a move, but I was scared of provoking disaster. But who the hell talks to someone until 7:30 in the morning and doesn’t get off with them?
Resorting to seduction techniques employed at age fifteen, my next step was to make him a mix CD and invite him for a drink to hand it over. We met at Assembly, waited for an age while the bartenders blatantly ignored us until I said fuck it and we headed elsewhere. I needed to think of somewhere that wasn’t bland, and wasn’t #110’s workplace, and wasn’t #174’s workplace either, and I figured the Holyrood would be good because I probably wouldn’t know anyone there: when you are hanging out with someone on whom you’re all crushed out, sometimes it’s preferable not to run into anyone you know. As it turned out, we wound up sitting next to someone who knew me from a dungeon she worked in.
He nervously chain-smoked his way through the evening, and finally at closing time he asked what I wanted to do now. “Well, I was going to suggest Whistle Binkie’s or somewhere,” I said, “but to be honest” (I paused for a second while my brain caught up with what I was doing and went HOLY FUCK) “I’m more interested in kissing you than drinking.”
And that worked.
We went out together for two years.
I used to wake up next to #117 and feel like I didn’t dare breathe, the atmosphere felt so heavy. I knew before he even spoke that things were about to go downhill, that it was going to be another terrible day. I think I must have been tense all of the time.
I knew that #117 wasn’t a representative sample; I had had enough positive relationships before I got together with him. But that had been my last official one, and now I was scared. It was hard to remember all the good stuff about being with somebody when I had this long list of what-ifs to deal with. There were so many potential problems. What if #182 turned out to think the way #117 had? What if he’d want sex when I didn’t, what if he’d make me feel horrible about my body, what if he’d feel threatened by my being queer or feminist, what if I had to censor myself, what if he’d try to analyse what was in my head all the time, what if I wound up dependent and hating myself? I didn’t want to throw all my baggage at #182 as soon as we got together, and I don’t think I did, but this is what I was thinking about.
I couldn’t help wondering whether I was just incapable of having a decent relationship with a boy; whether I’d just been lucky to more or less bluff my way through previous ones.
And then, one morning, I woke up next to #182 and realised how safe and relaxed I felt with him. Maybe it was a feeling I’d been able to take for granted in my earlier relationships, but now I knew it was something I couldn’t always count on. You don’t get a medal for just behaving like a decent person, but #182 was the best person I could have possibly been with.
We went to see bands and films and we attended late-night pub lock-ins with other folks from the magazine. We went to Northern Ireland and I drove us down to Newcastle to show him the Silent Valley. (We had lunch in a pub that advertised the upcoming herring-gutters’ festival; apparently there would be four whole days of festivities.) My dad said it was nice to see me being affectionate with a partner. He could see when he looked at us that it was a big deal.
We went to Mull and Skye and Arran, and we made a god-awful overnight ferry crossing to Amsterdam to stay with my brother and see the Weakerthans.
I said, “I’m sorry I’m judgemental and mean.” He said, “But it’s one of your most loveable features!” It was like I couldn’t lose. When I got drunk and did stupid stuff he’d describe it afterwards using words like ‘delightful’.
He painted my portrait. I adopted a llama in his name for his birthday.
Sometimes I still got upset about bereavement and sometimes, based on past experiences, I got paranoid that he would stop wanting to be with me despite all evidence to the contrary. He was patient through it all. I wrote, “All the fuck-ups I’ve had before, all the people I’ve been afraid to open up to even though we were going out, all the paranoia that they multiplied tenfold – why did any of that have to happen? Why don’t people have relationships like this one more often? Good god, I had been worried about letting him know I felt sad. No more. I am lucky.”
I still felt excited whenever I was going to see him.
He was clumsy and accident-prone, but persisted in believing he wasn’t. He was excellent at conveying undercurrents of contempt, and his accent was perfect for words like ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’. He had a fridge full of musical instruments.
I said, “I don’t want this to end, but if it ever does, I think I will look back on it with affection.” I do.
So why did it end? Because, ultimately, we were very different people. We’d done so well for so long and I guess it ran its course. I had noticed myself taking him for granted, getting irritated at tiny things, and I didn’t like myself when I was like that. From past experience I knew it would do no good to try ad infinitum to recapture how it used to be. We wanted different kinds of lives, and it was smart to call it a day, and it was kind of the nicest break-up ever. But you know what, I still get wistful when I think back to how it was, the best relationship I ever had. I hope I made him as happy as he made me.