Memory leak is a problem these days. I remember the awful stuff, of course, in full Technicolor with dolby surround sound. All that stupidity and unplanned cruelty is faithfully preserved, along with the torment of never really having got it right to this day. Take, for example, the blond boy, a friend of Sam’s, who told me he loved me outside the Student’s Union Bar behind the bus station.
I think he must have been the first person ever to affix the ‘L’ word to what he imagined he felt for me. Nothing I’d encountered had prepared me for his declaration. I had had quite a lot of sex by then, but didn’t discuss the feelings that impelled me to seek out physical relationships with anyone, let alone my sex partners. The 60s had happened in London, but in Buckinghamshire, where I grew up, my parents’ generation were still following the route they mapped out for themselves in the 50s as post-war survivors. They wanted to ‘get on’, to make something of themselves, to have a nice home a car and kids. For them, just being alive without having to speak German was a miracle. They didn’t want to smoke pot or take acid. They already had ‘their’ music, the big bands and the crooners, and they were too busy paying the mortgage to wonder if Hinduism would suit them better than faux-Christianity. Their opinions, or at least my father’s opinions, were set in stone, and therefore conversation and debate as I now know it, didn’t exist in our house. As for talking about personal feelings out loud… well, it was beyond my experience.
My cultural or emotional education came entirely from books and the telly. My mother didn’t, and doesn’t, watch films, but my father was a big fan. For many years, he and I would watch the black and white reruns that were aired on Sunday afternoon, and he knew them all. That’s how I learned that men were supposed to be taller than women, dark men were strong, silent and desirable, blond men were spineless and over-sensitive, or worse, Aryan supermen, and women were only ever seen in full make-up with hats, gloves and matching hand-bags. Although I never quite grew up enough to adopt the personal grooming tips, I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that early conditioning.
Anyway, when this boy, who was at least a foot shorter than me and blond, told me he loved me, I laughed. I’d only heard the word ‘love’ sung in pop songs, or by accident in a film just before my father dragged himself out of his chair, angrily mumbling, “Namby-pamby rubbish”, to switch to the war film on the other side (we had two channels in those days). I had no idea what to do or say. I definitely didn’t love him at all and my literary role models, Elizabeth Bennett, Anne from the Famous Five, and Golden (mate of the White Brumby), hadn’t prepared me with a compassionate blue-print for rejection. Worse still, I couldn’t imagine any of them standing behind a corrugated-iron roofed prefab reeling from countless vodka and limes with a bag of home-grown stuffed in their knickers. So I laughed.
The boy ran off, close to tears, and Sam hardly spoke to me again. One day I plucked up the courage to ask her why she didn’t care for me any more. She lowered her dark-lashed eyes and wouldn’t say. And all I’m left with of my friendship with her is the vivid image of the upturned face of the blond boy’s sad, round face and the awful gut-wrenching guilt he inspires which I quite sure will accompany me into the bardos. What to do?