Tuesday, 30 June 2009
I've just finished reading a book which has really affected me. Just then, just there it had me in tears.
Have most people had a 'When Harry Met Sally' type of relationship? This book is all about one, a weird kind of love story with all those invisible lines which if crossed take two people from being friends to being lovers. I definitely had one of these bittersweet kinds of friendship and that, combined with listening to my entire back catalog of blur albums since watching them play Glastonbury on tv, is probably why this book hit me, tight in the back of my throat.
It all started when I was at school and supposed to be on leave studying for my exams. I met him in the local library, but I had known who he was for a while before then. R was one of the boys from the Catholic school, particularly pretty that year and far more exotic in comparison to the boys in my class who I'd grown up alongside and had to suffer them pinging my bra. The Catholic boys were unknown and that year more often than not, my friends and I would find ourselves loitering at their school bus drop off point casually around 4.45.
I'd decided that there would be less to distract me from studying in the library than at home, but how wrong could I be. He was there the first day, and the second day, until gradually it became obvious that he was looking out for me too and we gravitated together outside puffing surreptiously on a Marlboro Light. We started spending all our days together, quizzing each other in my garden in the spring sunshine, smoking in the nearby park, watching films under a blanket in his room, my heart crying kiss me, kiss me, kiss me . He was handsome, tall and beautiful that summer and I'm sure I would have gotten better exam results if he hadn't come along. When we eventually did get it together after an extremely drunken evening depleting his parents drinks cabinet and the homebrew hidden under his bed he disappeared. Literally. No calls, no sightings, nothing. I engineered to bump into his big sister (now one of my oldest and best friends) who said he'd gone off on tour with his band. A few weeks later, which seemed like months, he showed up at my house, and without really talking about what happened our friendship resumed. He became my best friend.
We were as thick as thieves for most of my late teens and early 20's. Boyfriends came and went, but he was always there. When I went off to university we wrote to each other, long, funny rambling letters accompanied by silly cards. He was working in an office in a tiny little town bored out of his mind, I was unhappy on a course I wasn't enjoying with people I didn't have a lot in common with. He'd come to stay for the weekend, and tried to teach me to cook curry, and we'd drink beer, and flirt and fall asleep in my single bed always the unsaid remaining unsaid. He even pretended to be my cousin on these weekends, so as 'not to cramp my style'.
It couldn't really continue. I dropped out of my course, he left his job and we were back in our home town, in limbo, undecided, searching for direction and a shape to the future. That New Year's Eve a group of us went out clubbing, as the clock hit midnight and the bells sounded I searched for him in the dark, but was pulled into the arms of another. "Where were you?" he asked, "I was looking for you everywhere for the bells" and I can remember his face, crestfallen when he saw I had someone else holding my hand. That someone else turned into my first serious boyfriend. He felt threatened by R, and R in return was unimpressed and we started to see less of each other, although always talking, always on the phone, and whenever I was upset it was always R I'd turn to. I split up with my boyfriend just as R became embroiled in a relationship. She didn't like us seeing each other, especially as she had overhead R talking about me one night, a drunken conversation with his best friend about how much I meant to him. I started a new course in a new city, and he too went to college. We made new friends, did more apart than together, but the pull was always there. I have a picture of my 21st birthday party and it's him I'm stting next to.
I graduated and on the eve of my move to London he said he always imagined us, grown up, sophisticated, getting together over dinner and wine. I became ensconsed in my London life, he got on with his in Scotland. I hadn't seen him for years but I remember him calling me at work out of the blue to tell me he'd proposed to his girlfriend on a Goan beach on New Years Eve "You can't say I'm not romantic now!" and when we both married our respective partners a few years later we didn't invite each other to our weddings.
So strange how two people can fit, but not fit. Perhaps it was our age, just children really when we first made friends with so much changing and growing up to do. Or maybe it's just that a man and a woman can never really just be friends? Drifting, drifting away, drifting apart. Moving on. So many, many years ago. The gap between the way we were and how we are now.
And this book captures the essence of all that and reading each page brought it all back. Emma and Dexter meet on their graduation day and the next day they go their separate ways. The book documents what happens to them on that same day, every year for the next 20 years. But unlike me and my BFF from old they stay in touch and their relationship continues with many twists and turns along the way. They are great characters, not always likeable but always real. In some ways it reminded me of the Time Traveller's Wife. It's the funniest, most bittersweet book I've read in ages. Each page is true, cringingly so. I loved it.
One Day by David Nicholls