I first see you in September, leaning against the bus stop. You have long, black hair. You’re wearing a leather trench coat. I instantly like you, but you look at me as though I’m the same as every other girl who walks out of those gates. I wish I hadn’t worn my faded lemon shirt; I roll up my sleeves to reveal the Slayer cuff around my wrist. You don’t see it.
It’s the end of the day, I’m leaving the Science building. As I walk down the stairs, you cross the corridor. You see my band t-shirt, Slayer of course, and you do a double take. You walk backwards to make sure you’d seen right. There’s a subtle nod of approval, and then you walk on.
I’m at the bus stop, and you turn up. You walk right up to me. No hesitation.
“Finally, someone in that place with taste!” You introduce yourself to me and declare that you are the muffin man. You chase my sister and her friends around, playing the Scary Metalhead. I laugh, but I can barely speak to you. I don’t know how to act around boys.
A few weeks later, I see you again. We’re in Stairways. You’re asking me where I’ve been, why you haven’t seen me around for a couple of weeks. I’ve been away. You offer to buy me a drink and I feel silly asking for my usual alcopop, so I order a vodka and coke. You compliment my new Megadeth t-shirt.
You’re chatting me up, a lot. Line after line. I like it. You ask me if I’m single. Of course I am. You act like you don’t believe me, you have this whole routine where you ask if some other guy will come and hit you if you were to make a move. It’s just more flattery, not that you needed it. You put your arm around my shoulders and you kiss me. It was a good kiss. My first.
Our second kiss is at the bus stop the next week. You kiss me in front of a lot of people, girls from school. I don’t care. We joke and we kiss and I love every second of it. It’s late October and it’s freezing outside, but I can barely feel the cold.
We’ve been seeing each other for a few weeks. I am completely smitten. I stay up late most nights just to catch you on MSN for a few minutes. I get butterflies when you sign in. Tonight, I ask you how your weekend has been. You tell me that it was great. You went to the pub with your girlfriend.
It hurts me that you were seeing other people. It hurts me a lot. I still want to be your friend. A few months later I get a boyfriend of my own and you seem kind of jealous.
You break up with your girlfriend. You’ve been a little down for a while, with everything going on at home. I see you in Stairways and something is wrong. You’re losing it over something, screaming at everyone who tries to help. You lash out at your best friend. They leave you to it. I can’t leave. I let you scream at me. I scream back. It feels good to shout at you. I shout that I love you, that I’m staying no matter what you do. You finally stop screaming. You collapse onto my shoulder and you cry and cry. You get snot on my top.
Simon’s been cheating on me. I’ve broken up with him. We’re back in Stairways and we’re sitting in a dark corner of the stage. You kiss me and it feels like something has fallen into place; like I haven’t been a whole person for a long time and suddenly that missing piece has been found.
It’s been a few weeks and Matt’s been on at you to ask me out properly. It’s early May, we’re at the bus stop. You tell me that he’s threatened to kick you in the balls if you don’t do it.
“Fuck it. Will you go out with me?”
I know you’re not ready. You’re not doing this for the right reasons. But I am sixteen and I am so very into you. Of course I say yes.
It’s Saturday night and I’m missing you. We sit on webcam to each other for hours. We aren’t even speaking, you’re playing a video game. Sometimes you look into the camera. I’m just watching you. I could never tire of your face. I watch for hours. It makes me happy, but for some reason it also makes me sad.
I’ve just arrived at your house. I walk into the kitchen, you’re standing at the open window. You turn around and you hold me. You tell me about a dream you had the night before, you lost everyone you loved. You lost me. I tell you it was just a dream, that I’m here now. A cool breeze drifts through the window and raises the hairs on my arms.
You cheer up and we make lunch. You kiss me with your mouth full of chewed up Wotsits. You transfer them into my mouth. You know I hate them, you burst out laughing at my horror.
We’re leaving Georgia’s house on her birthday. Your dad picks us up and drives me home. It’s only a little after 8pm and the sun has just set. Your hold my hand in the back seat and lean in close.
“I think I’m falling in love with you,” you whisper. A lump catches in my throat and I can barely get the words out.
We’re on the bench by the bus stop. It’s late May. The sky is summer-blue and the clouds are few and lazy. I lean against you and you buzz teasingly in my ear because a few minutes ago I ran away from a wasp. We’re laughing and you’re holding me. I feel so at peace; so happy.
It’s the fifth of June. I’ve just sat my business studies exam. Sarah and I have been laughing, all that stress is just floating away. I feel giddy and light. I’m meeting you, so I go and sit on the wall and wait.
You show up and ask me if I want to get a drink. We go to the Horse and Jockey across the road. We sit by the window and I give you money for the drinks. You have to order them because you’re old enough. When you get back we talk about our exams and how we think we might have done. And then, out of nowhere:
“Do you think this is working?”
My honest answer is no, but of course I don’t say that. You’re such a big personality and I feel overwhelmed by you a lot of the time. I can rarely think of anything to say to you, because I feel so boring around you and your family. You’re loud and you’re confident and you have all these routines prepared to make people laugh. I’m just quiet and shy.
“Yes,” I whisper.
You break up with me. It’s not me, of course, it’s you. It’s not permanent, it’s just a break. You’re not comfortable in your own head, you can’t deal with the silences. That doesn’t make much sense to me, we don’t see each other much, so why is it so much worse to be silent with me than by yourself? I don’t understand, I want to ask why, but I can’t find my voice. I just concentrate on getting to the bottom of my glass. I don’t fight.
I get the bus home and you kiss me goodbye. We’ll stay friends, of course we will, I have to seem okay with that. I let a few tears escape on the bus. When I get home I tell my mum I have a cold. I go to bed but I don’t sleep. I don’t sleep for three days. It feels like someone has punched me in the chest. It hurts to breathe.
I’m sitting at my laptop in mid-July and I see a picture of your and the girl you took to your prom. Is she why you ended it? I feel sick.
It’s November. I’ve barely seen you since you broke up with me. You’ve been avoiding me, but today you ask me if I want to get a drink after college. I say okay. We are friends, after all. We drink and drink and drink. We catch up. We leave. I’m seventeen and I’m drunk and I still love you. It’s my turn to lose it. I shout at you, curse you for calling it a break just because that made the conversation easier for you. I cry. You cry. We kiss.
A couple of weeks later you ask me if I want to get back together. We’re halfway up the stairs in Stairways. I say no. I’ve been seeing Matt. Georgia ended it with him over the summer. We tried to mend our broken hearts together. I loved him before I loved you. But for years I regretted the words that came out of my mouth.
“You only get to break my heart once.”
Really, I’d probably have let you break my heart again and again. But really, nothing had changed. The end result would have always been the same.
I don’t think that love is ever the same twice. Looking back on this now I could say that I never loved you. I could say that I was just a young girl who was infatuated with a boy. But just because I’ve loved since, and loved differently, doesn’t make those feelings any less. When I look back I still feel all of it. I feel the hormones and the paranoia, the innocence of being in love when you’ve never been hurt before. That part of me will always belong to you. I love being back there. The explosive happiness of that first kiss; the calming warmth of your arms around me; the Earth-shattering pain when you ended it. All fond memories of a friend I will always hold dear.