Updated: Nov 25, 2018
As myself and X left the squatty dive that was Slaggers with the vague idea of getting taxis to our separate homes, I paused in the hall - it was an actual house in reality so it had a tatty cabbage and BO smelling hall leading to the front door. I glanced at X who was preoccupied with trying to do his jacket up. I have blue hair by the way, I said - which was my that-week colour - to X apropos of nothing, but with a vague feeling this student lad in his rust coloured chenille wide welt shortie jumper, Northern Soul denims and clip-on mini-star earrings might not quite have got the principle of who he was chatting to. Oh, ok he said smiling, his jumble of random teeth, some missing, belying his fairly posh southern accent and look of a forest spirit that got lost at Wigan Casino. Really, I have, I persisted, noting that information that did not directly concern him appeared to slide off him and slither away disconcertingly.
We tumbled into the freezing night, breath plumey in the iron cold. I stopped under a street lamp for him to catch up. You have blue hair, he said wonderingly. Yeah, I said, as he stared at my head, I did say that. Oh right, he said, I thought it was blonde, you know, in the disco lights. There didn't seem any reason to pursue this further as he didn't seem freaked out, just bemused. Later I found out he told his family he was dating a woman with blue hair and as they were, with one exception, extremely straight and religious, they thought for months he was seeing an OAP. Being as they were, I doubt they said anything but instead hoped piously he'd get over his sudden fascination with Mature Ladies. I was, I am, an Older Woman in that I am a year older than him, so that much is true, our birthdays falling within a day of each other's but a year apart. Both Aries. Spring babies - full of wonder, full of energy - and no attention span.
We headed for the taxi rank in front of the town hall, talking non-stop as if we were picking up a discussion we'd left off yesterday, not total strangers who'd hooked up in a club. There was no adjustment period, no awkward silences filled with hopeful smiles, no fumbling for what to say. Just that stream of talk about everything and anything, the world, politics, music, poetry, funny things we'd seen, where we'd been, where we wanted to go. It carried us on a wave of connection, surfing down the dark frosty streets into alleys and out into empty streets. We had to keep moving otherwise we'd have frozen to death, it was that cold. But the icy wind and the night evaporated as we slid together like jigsaw pieces completing the puzzle.
I knew I loved him then, somehow, without it actually fully forming in my brain in words. I just felt it. A love that wove itself into the dense fibrous tissue of my congested broken heart. It was not the love I felt for the blessed noodle, or my first boyfriend, or my first crush, or the crazy desire that bursts like hot fireworks in your brain and drives you mad. It was as if I had been half of something, but now I was whole. This painfully skinny, rather grubby, oddly beautiful boy was the other side of me and I was the other side of him. Apart we were less, unfinished, but together we made one reasonable human being.
He knew it too. He said so. It's so weird, he said, I feel as I've always known you. You have, I said, but we kept missing each other. Well, he said, we got here in the end and he smiled his rare smile that broke the stern sculpture of his face in light. And we walked on, giving 'going the long way round' a whole new meaning as we avoided parting.
But, eventually, we had to go home and as the white winter sun rose in translucent muslin swathes of palest pink and iced yellow I sat in the taxi to my moorland village and thought I'd come home.
Which all sounds dead lovely and like a romance novel. Which it partly was, because this was Romance, not romance. This was Romanticism, a great wave of exhultation, a wild outburst of the spirit, not the normal romance of a red rose and a stolen kiss. So it was romance...but it also wasn't. It was two fledgling artists crashing together like winter waves to form a union that couldn't be broken. As X said - weird. Well you try living it, never mind explaining it. It is unusual, sure, but not unknown especially amongst artists. It's a welding together of two minds - look at Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo - they lived separately in adjoining houses, had many different partners, rowed, parted, made up, but they couldn't be parted. Their minds were locked together. They needed each other not in order to create their art but so their souls had company on the journey.
Obviously at first, since we were young we thought this massive and sudden connection meant we were lovers. It had to - what else could it be? We didn't know anyone else or had even heard of anyone else with such a bond who weren't a couple in the normal sense. So we carried on as if we were boyfriend and girlfriend albeit I was in fact still married to an outlaw biker and unbeknownst to me he cherished a thing for a fellow student woman I shall call Madge who had recently dumped him after using him as a handbag holder for a year or so to run off with a New Age guru called Rowan. Which I personally do not believe for an instant was his real name.
At this point I have to ask - how the fuck did any of us manage a new relationship prior to the age of phones? X didn't even have a landline in the poxy hovel he shared with a bunch of other indigent outcasts and students. I know we wrote to each other, and I madly once sent him a telegram just because I could. I remember we just used to go to the same pubs and clubs and say - see you Friday. Or if you had arranged to meet in the Vaults at 8 on Saturday you had to be there, or be in disgrace for letting your mate stand about like a lemon. The bar staff might pass along a message if you rang the pub - but they might not. But we were so free in comparison to nowadays.
So somehow we found each other again the following week and later in the evening went to a party at a poet's house. Houses in Bradford were cheap, freezing cold and often running with damp but they were huge in comparison to anything you could dream of in London. Sometimes there was a wheezing gas fire in every room turned up to full knacker glowing incandescent orange - Bradford central heating. At the party I was chatting to someone in an upper room when a cheery cove hoyed up saying there was a lad downstairs balancing a broom on his head, the pointy end on his forehead. I just knew without asking for a description it was X. And it was. He had the full complement of student skills - juggling, balancing random stuff on his forehead - and fire breathing as it turned out. Not always successfully. His fire club juggling thing was impressive though, if terrifying.
Of course it was him. Knelt on the floor with a broom balanced, dirty brush head upwards, surrounded by drunks who clapped appreciatively. Proper like the circus, as one commented. Is he with you? Yeah, I said. I found him in Slaggers. As I spoke I noticed something. Whilst he was clowning around with the broom, juggling apples etc., there was a beatific glow on his face. He loved the attention, he loved having an audience. I'd been doing public poetry readings since I was 11. I knew how that felt. I knew how approval made the lonely child inside smile and dance. There was far, far more to this amiable lad that met the eye. There was a dense, dark river flowing through him that held secrets and strong currents in its deep and opaque waters. I knew about that, too. Only X was very, very good at people. He charmed and soothed them. He got them onside before they knew it. It was a genuine talent, one I lacked.
That night - the blessed noodle being away as ever on a contract - X suggested we go back his place. We can walk, it's not far he said, lying in his teeth. It was thick with snow and his place was 3 miles uphill. Still, I didn't want to look a complete wuss, and there was something of a dare in it which I could never resist, so off we trudged. As we slogged through the decayed Victorian Gothic splendour of Undercliffe Cemetery, the blackened angels carrying cloaks of white and the pathways knee deep with drifts, I did briefly wonder if I was following an axe murderer, the Yorkshire Ripper being uppermost in our collective Bradford mind at the time. But X seemed oblivious to the cold, the hike or any physical discomfort, a trait I discovered was drilled into him at his public school. The sons of Empire and all that. Still upper lip. I was freezing my arse off and my thighs had gone numb within ten minutes.
Eventually we got to his house. It was the typical cheap terrace renter, split between various tenants, not necessarily friends, who all paid their meagre rents to chief tenant who's name was on the rent book. It was without doubt the filthiest, dampest, coldest shit hole I'd ever seen. Rats - check. Mould - check. Stink - check. It was horrible. X didn't even notice. He obviously scoffed at doing laundry since his sheets were stiff with actual dirt. He was fairly filthy himself and at that time, working as a plasterer's labourer to supplement his grant for his Peace Studies course, Bradford Uni Peace Studies being the creme de la creme of hippie sock n' sandal conflict resolution studies. There was a lot of corduroy and rainbow jumpers. Still, X enjoyed it as far as he could be bothered to go in to lectures.
So we had tea out of greasy, brown stained mugs, talked, and retired to his room. The snow fell outside in fat, lazy flakes like goose feathers. We lay together, fitting each other exactly even though he was so thin and I'm not. We drifted off to sleep mid sentence. It was warm, stinky and blissful.
Then there was a god almighty banging on the front door. X leapt up and flung his jeans on, hopping from leg to leg. What is it? I asked half asleep. Oh it'll be Pete forgetting his keys again, back in a sec. I drifted off again. Then I woke up. There were voices downstairs, one a woman's - high pitched, demanding. The sound of heavy bags thrown on the floor. I heard X's voice, conciliatory, calming. I couldn't hear what was being said, then X obviously moved from the front room to the hall. I'll get rid of her, she's no one honestly, just someone from town. You better had, I heard woman say sharply, I'm back now.
I sat up and quickly got dressed, confused and worried. As I pulled my boots on X came in, his face drawn and anxious. You have to go, you have to go now, he stuttered. What? I said, why? Who's that? Who's downstairs? It's Madge, he said, my girlfriend, she's back, you have to leave.
My heart contracted painfully. Literally, it squeezed in my chest leaving me breathless. Girlfriend? Girlfriend? You never mentioned that before, fella. It's 2 in the morning, I said, it's snowing, where - what - I don't have any taxi money ... X just repeated I had to go. He looked like a man in a trance, under a spell. He looked like an addict. It was the same face I'd seen on junkies. His normal expression replaced with the look of someone underwater, drowning. He fished in his pockets and threw some coins at me. Just go, he said, and ran out of the room.
I picked up my bag, the hot tears prickling in my eyes, my throat closed and tight. As I went down the stairs I heard X's voice, begging, sounding like a child asking for love and the woman's voice, a jeering note in it that cut me hard. I hated her and I'd never even seen her. I hated the condescending tone of her voice, the entitlement. I hated what had just happened.
But I accepted it. Because I was a royal fuck up with no self worth and no healthy boundaries. Only the knowledge I wasn't a proper girl. I was a damaged and disastrous girl, ruined. I knew it deep in myself like an unhealing sore. This was how girls like me were treated. This was the punishment for letting myself be taken into that park, for what the men had done to me.
I went out into the snow. Tears literally freezing on my cheeks and walked the three miles back to the poet's house.
I said it wasn't a romance, didn't I?