In my head, the picture is of me sitting looking at the sky, curled up cross-legged on a wall somewhere between his flat and mine, late at night, taking a deep draw on the cigarette in my right hand.
Except I never smoked, not like that. Perhaps I was just trying to suck in the late summer air, trying to displace the feeling of unease permeating my body with the fresh breath of the warm night. Dragging in oxygen, cleansing, trying to relax, to stop my heart beating quite so fast.
I was confused but yet not surprised. I’d have been a fool not to see this coming, but yet it had wrong-footed me: I’d thought it would be me to end it. But I hadn’t had the nerve to see it through and now I was here on a wall outside my old school, of all places, inhaling the night. I’d taken measures, perhaps subconsciously, to lessen the blow in advance, indulging my natural introversion; this mostly meant reading Joe Orton plays and listening to Bauhaus for days on end.
The summer had started badly, illness, death, injury, descent into a ritual of mutual misery which doubled as an excuse to close ourselves off from the others. That was fine as far as it went, but soon it became claustrophobic and I needed space. He just needed continuous stimulation, and if I wasn’t there he’d seek it in a bottle or a packet. I couldn’t compete so I found my own escape.
We saw less of each other.
Breathe, don’t crack, don’t cry.
After all, we’d been doing this dance for a long time, the tango of the long distance relationship. Here (two three four). There (two three four). Intense but in bursts. Time and effort invested, in practical terms alone. I didn’t really know where it was going if I was being honest with myself, but that hadn’t mattered until now. Now, decoupled, I felt small, ugly, exposed and terribly young yet old at the same time. Still young and naive, but too old and scared to start over.
Breathe. Tears started to tumble.
Out of nowhere Steve appeared. The flatmate. Spidery and sensitive, quiet Steve.
“Hmmmm. Not really.”
“He’s… gone a bit mad. He’ll change his mind tomorrow.”
“When he sobers up you mean?”
“Well, yeah, but.”
I needed more air. It was finally dark and the lamplight stretched our silhouettes over the grass.
“It’s better like this, Steve”.
“He’s not in a good place”.
“Neither am I. I can’t…”
I uncurled myself. I gulped more air.
But I need him more than I need air,
Yes I need him more than I need air.
“I’m not going back. It’s better…cleaner this way.”
I reckoned that was what you were meant to say, if you were a grown up. In truth I felt like a child.
Tears smudged kohl down my face. I was glad it was Steve, he wore as much make up as I did. Steve understood. Steve and I always laughed together when we weren’t being miserably goth. He’d made mixed tapes up for me, like you did. We used to dance, even in the flat. We used to muse endlessly over lyrics, looking for the meaning amidst the pretention. Searching for Satori.
Now he was stuck in the middle of a post-teenage drama.
“Don’t say anything to him. Please.”
“Do you want me to walk you home?”
“Thanks, Steve, I’ll be ok. It’s only five minutes.”
“Sure? Give me a ring when you get in, I’ll wait by the phone so he doesn’t answer – if you like. Just so I know you’re OK.”
“OK – thanks. I will.”
If this had been a film he’d have kissed me, and I’d have healed in the arms of gentle Steve.
It wasn’t a film. I ran home, plugged myself into my music and cried until I fell asleep.