#200, #201, #202, #203. Wasn’t that enough for one night? I woke up the next morning – my homing mechanism had gotten me safely to my own bed despite only the blurriest recollection of the journey home – and pieced things together as best I could. There was something else, I reckoned. I’d met someone else … who was it? Did I make friends with a rickshaw driver last night?
I scrolled through my phone to see if there were any names I didn’t recognise, and eventually found one. It could’ve been there for a while; it happens sometimes. (Who the hell was ‘Mark Australian’?) But maybe it was the mystery rickshaw driver. Finally I caved in, texted the number, asked whether we’d met last night. The mystery rickshaw driver agreed that we had, and said I could give him a shout if I wanted to meet for a drink sometime. “You’re French, right?” I asked, trying to recall hazy details, and he said no, he was Polish. This was the sort of thing I would normally remember, given that I’ve been learning Polish on and off for the past few years.
It seemed that I had a date. I hoped he was as cute as I thought I remembered. I appealed to #184‘s community links: “Do you know a Polish pedicab driver called #204?”, but he denied having ever heard of him.
I met up with him the following Sunday. I was nervous: dates still scare the crap out of me, and plus I had to make sure I was early. I needed him to walk in and recognise me, because I wasn’t confident I’d be able to identify him. We met in a café and quickly moved to a pub, and yeah, he was fucking cute. Two things I can generally count on when I’m being a drunken idiot are my homing mechanism and my beer-goggles.
I asked him to fill me in on how exactly we met. It turned out that #184 and I had both encountered him when we left the party together; #184 had attempted to negotiate a lift home to Leith, and then we’d wound up chatting for a while. #184 apparently went off to pee and just never came back; #204 and I talked for ten or fifteen minutes and swapped numbers. “Do you remember what happened next?” he asked me. “To be honest, no,” I said, “but I can imagine.”
I was delighted to have had such a serendipitous drunken meeting. I felt instantly at ease with him. He’d grown up listening to riot grrrl and Polish political punk, and he used to play in a band. He had a crappy old bike and had been living in Edinburgh for three years, and I really liked his voice. We went back to my place for uncoffee and some making out. I talked really openly, about past relationships and queerness and non-monogamy and sex and panic attacks. He was absolutely cool with my boundaries, which shouldn’t be remarkable, but I guess when you’ve been with a few people who were less so, you notice the difference. At around 1:30am we took a walk around the Meadows and then he cycled home, sending me a text when he got in to say that it had been really nice to meet up. All signs were good.
It was two weeks before we saw each other again, during which time I felt utterly, utterly twelve. His parents were visiting him. He texted to advise “I will give u a touch once theyll be away”; sent “greets and hugs”. Was it ethnocentric of me to find his English endearing?
We finally met again when I’d organised a documentary screening in someone’s flat. I was a little nervous. There was no real reason to be except that I was battling panic attacks a lot that summer and when you have to worry about that sort of thing, all logic goes out the window, so it doesn’t matter a damn that you know there’s nothing to really be nervous about. It was going to be a cool event, and we had a special guest arriving, but I couldn’t shake my anxiety. I sat on the floor by the window with #191 and #200, and they gave me pep talks, and #191 went to the shop downstairs to fetch me some gin to calm my nerves, and I started feeling better. Although I frequently drink for fun, I don’t like the idea of using alcohol to fix problems; but that evening I felt the need to make an exception. #204 arrived late, took a seat on the other side of the room, and we finally got to talk to each other after the screening.
He mentioned that he was going to be meeting someone later, a girl, so far they were just friends but maybe it was going to be more. Oh, right, I said, probably. Okay. He asked me if I’d maybe met any girls or anything lately, and I said not really, actually I pretty much just wanted to see you. He said the same, and I thought, okay, maybe we’re back in business.
I joined him when he went outside for a smoke. (And the kissing was great, but it always is when it’s doomed, isn’t it?) He said he preferred to be honest about this stuff and he wasn’t sure where things were at right now and there was this other girl and so forth, and how did I feel about it? I admitted that I felt slightly weird about it but we’d just have to see. And that I kind of wanted to go out with him and that I’d been thinking about him a lot. I was trying to focus on the part of me that considered it refreshing that he was so open about things, rather than the part of me that was experiencing a sinking sensation along the lines of: maybe if you hadn’t gone on about non-monogamy last time you saw him, this situation would not now be unfolding. But other than that our evening together seemed to be progressing nicely. He came to the pub with me and my friends, hung out some more, finally kissed goodbye around midnight. I was going in to a show and he was going to meet that girl. Next week, we said, we’d meet up again.
#184 was never the king of tact. But after we’d walked out of the show, #184 looked at me with concern, said we would talk about it later. Earlier he’d been out smoking with #204. I said, “Do you think you have bad news for me? It’s okay, #204 told me.” But no; he knew what #204 had told me and he knew what #204 had told him, and he’d told him that he actually had a girlfriend. “You’re going to get hurt,” he said. “He’s too young for you anyway, why bother?” (#204 was 23, seven years younger than me, though that’s pretty much par for the course.) But it’s a bit difficult to get talked out of it like that. “He’s really interested in you,” he said, “but he has this girlfriend.” I put on a brave face; stomped home suddenly hating everything.
I felt disappointed, and I didn’t understand why #204 wouldn’t have shared this information since he was talking about being open and honest. He came across as sincere and I didn’t want to think badly of him. Something here was not making sense but I wasn’t sure which aspect was the odd one out. It softened the blow somewhat to hear that he was “really interested” in me, but being fucking interesting was not enough. I felt like I was having a flashback to the microbe chronicles, twelve years previously, when the microbe boy had been considering me and considering someone else and then, surprise surprise, chose the someone else. I was crushed then and I didn’t want to be crushed now. It seemed that #204 and I were both interested in having a relationship, but I was interested in having one with him, and he was interested in having one with someone. And my big insecurity was that I felt that pretty much anyone was better at being a girl than me, so the outcome looked like a foregone conclusion.
I worked things out somewhat with the office punchbag.
I texted #204 for clarification but he basically reiterated what he’d already told me. He didn’t know if it was going to be an official relationship with this other person, but he understood my worries. I figured that my reaction was already sufficiently mopey that I needed to get the hell out before I got properly hurt. It felt so weird to feel so disappointed about someone I’d never known existed until recently.
I put together a two-week mope-like-fuck plan. It was perfectly simple: stomp around a lot, kick stones, get drenched in the rain, behave like an angsty teenager at every opportunity. Exaggerate the moping as much as possible so you can get it out of your system. Basically, turn into a caricature and revel in the melodrama.
For some reason, I kept listening to Left and Leaving by the Weakerthans, even though I’d barely known #204 so it wasn’t like the lyrics fit. I stuck it on a mix CD that was subsequently labelled Music To Mope To. I packed up and travelled to #128 and #141‘s civilisation, on my own because #184, who would’ve been my guest, had gotten himself hospitalised. I was couchsurfing and I felt pickier than usual: I felt too emotionally fragile to stay in a busy flat full of students or put any energy into getting-to-know-you sessions with people who didn’t seem like my type. I lucked out, staying with a woman in her fifties who I got on with perfectly. I tried not to mope too obviously through the civilisation, not wanting to distract from the happy occasion. Having a partner in crime with me would probably have made a big difference. I felt scared, turning up with all my stupid emotional baggage on a day like that.
I read this line in the Doris anthology that I really loved, about having a crush: “Sometimes I think about him so much I think I should just slam my head into a wall.” Such a marvellous summary of what crushes do to you. Only my current head-slamming mood was less giddy and hopeful. I was gradually letting go of waiting to hear from #204 again; and meanwhile it was festival time and surely to god I should be able to find myself someone new to lust after. But I just walked around town and thought: hey, people are really funny-looking. What the fuck happened to my crushing skills? And there were also pedicabs all over the fucking place. It was like my own stupid version of The Jeep Song.
Somehow, the two-week plan worked. After that, when I thought back to the #204 saga, I recalled it as an unfortunate state of affairs, but nothing that had done me lasting damage. I wondered for a while what it would be like if I ran into him again. Wondering this meant that it definitely wouldn’t happen.