I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of my very oldest friends over the Christmas holidays, and for some reason I didn’t get around to writing it up, quite possibly because it was the evening before I went away to see The Prof.
He ought to have a name, really, given that he was my best friend for years. He can be The Musician. Because he’s phenomenally talented, as is his charming wife.
It turned out that I hadn’t seen them for nine years. Nine years! They had a photo of me holding their eldest son, who was a baby, at his parents. And then, somehow, nine years have shot past.
Good old Facebook, letting you know when people are back in our home town for Christmas. “Fancy a drink?” he asked “what pubs are decent these days?”. “Errr, let me have a think…most of them are shit!”
So I met them at the least shit pub I could think of, and to my pleasure neither of them had changed a very great deal, despite now being the parents of two school-aged children. The only thing that has changed is that his hairline is fractionally receding, just the tiniest bit. But we laughed and chatted like it had only been last year.
It was a joy to see them, and it was only after we’d been there half an hour that it occurred to me that I’d got divorced since I last saw them… which Mrs M hadn’t known until half an hour before coming out, upon enquiring whether Ex-H would be there too? It’s always interesting to talk about a split with someone who knew both of you from the off. Let’s say they understood perfectly his quirks.
After we’d drunk up and said goodbye, I had time to reflect. I was so glad they were still together, and obviously happy and content. Mr M still had all the mannerisms I remembered from when we were at school together, and it made me rather nostalgic.
Mr M and I came within a hair’s breadth of moving from “just best friends” to “being boyfriend and girlfriend” when we were seventeen.
Where to start?
We’ve known each other since we were maybe three or four. We went to the same playgroup, we went to primary school in the same class, our birthdays were in the same month. He was someone I had always known.
At high school we were in the same sets (cough, top sets), and again he was just someone I’d always known, one of a group. I had a set of girly best friends and the four of us were pretty inseparable from Years 9 to 11 (apart from when I snogged one of the others’ love interests on a drunken night out after too many Archers and lemonades and was persona non grata for two weeks).
On the geography field trip in Year 10, we worked in the same little team. On the coach back one of my other chums from primary school told me that Mr M had said something had happened between me and him, which it hadn’t.
Despite it not being true (and frankly I suspect teenage Chinese whispers were the case), it suddenly made me think of him in a rather different light.
I can’t remember when we started hanging out more, but we did, lots. Maybe it was in the Lower Sixth, maybe it was in Year 11.
We’d go off to the cinema together (e.g. The Lost World) and mooch around the shops. We’d go to the pub together because we looked older than we were, and meet friends there.
I don’t think anyone thought we were a couple, we weren’t. I used to snog other people now and then (because I was, looking back, actually rather pretty and slim when I was a teenager (ignoring the permed hair phase…). Oh the things we lose), and he snogged my best friend at one of my parties (she said he wasn’t a great kisser; she had previous for being known as snogging like a washing machine. Who to believe??).
We’d hang out at home, playing the piano, him playing my dad’s guitars. We’d go out in the snow with his older brother and his brother’s friend (who was in fact the snogger of the persona non grata incident…) and have snowball fights around the abandoned “spooky cottage” by our old middle school. The four of us would hang out at his and his brother’s house, being musical – the three of them being astonishing musicians, and me being able to sing fairly passably. (It was a slightly strange dynamic: I liked Mr M; his elder brother took me out on a couple of dates and I dodged a kiss both times, and his friend was the one I’d snogged before. Oh the joys of being a teenager. I don’t think any of us thought that much of it.)
We’d listen to Pink Floyd, sit on the wall at the back of the police station on the way home from the pub, having a cheeky cigarette or two, and we’d never ever ever run out of anything to say. He was my best friend and I thought the world of him, in a very undramatic, unhormonal way.
One evening in the Sixth Form, we’d been hanging out as usual. I think I’d got a bad two-tone short haircut at the time, and I definitely had some trainers with orange in them. I can’t remember anything special about that day. We were in my room (he was allowed, my parents had known him forever, and he was Mr Reliable), and he was reclining on my (single) bed.
I can’t remember how (and this annoys me, as I am Miss Details), but next thing we were cuddling, my head on his shoulder, arms around each other, neither of us saying anything.
I could hear his heart beating. I felt safe and happy, and rather like I’d come home.
We stayed like that – just like that – for a while, until it was time to for him go home.
He got his bike from the garden, and climbed onto it by the back gate. I remember standing across the front wheel, with it between my knees, and awkwardly leaning in for a kiss, because surely that was the next thing?
It wasn’t. No kiss. Something mildly embarrassed must have been said, and off he went.
He was still my friend. We’d hang out with our friends, notably two other chaps from our year, one who had learned to drive and could borrow his mum’s car. We’d stay over, I’d be granted the sofa bed as the token girl; they would all sleep on the floor next door. (Another strange square! I still liked Mr M; one of the other guys I’d snogged on and off, and the other chap who drove was, retrospectively, somewhat in love with me as we’d go out for dinner and he’d try to hold my hand and persuade me that I’d like him to be my boyfriend. Which I didn’t want as I didn’t fancy him. Confused yet?) (again, this didn’t stop us all hanging out in great harmony)
Some six months later, I got together with Ex-H at the Sixth Form Christmas party. Was this a slight rebound after nothing happened with Mr M? Yup, to a degree. They were both smart, but apart from that, couldn’t have been much more different. Perhaps the attraction was that I could make Ex-H like me and want to take that next step with me. Who knows.
Anyway, I went to university with Ex-H, married him, bought a house, divorced him, and now I’m here.
Mr M went to university, and dated a girl who apparently looked exactly like me, to a degree that scared the friend who met her with its blinding obviousness. This friend also got a confession out of Mr M as to why we didn’t get together the night of the cuddle, and apparently he said that he was about to, and then he thought, if we do this now, then that’s it forever, there won’t be anyone else. And he got scared.
Which is fair enough when you’re seventeen. After all, I married the guy I got together when I was seventeen, and look how that turned out. So will never begrudge him his fears.
But when I see him now, and he raises that one eyebrow just like he used to when we were young and carefree, it makes me nostalgic for a tiny moment, just thinking about what could have been.
Fortunately he then met his lovely wife at university too, who looks nothing like me, and is a kind, funny and wonderful human being (possibly also unlike me!). I couldn’t wish for anyone nicer for him, and it fills me with quiet pleasure that they’ve made such a success of their life.
And he got me through my Grade 5 piano too, the second time, so I shall always be in his debt for that :o)