I wasn’t strictly innocent. In fact, my innocence could be better described as naivety: naivety masquerading as uncultured charm. It was very laddy in deep-space Essex. Football dads and Ford factory floor humour that Swarfega couldn’t sanitise. Cars were cleaned on Sundays and Friday night’s alright for Dansak. It was driving me mad. I wanted, needed, something more than the one thousand boredoms that crept from the corners of my bedroom. I was excellent at drama, won a scholarship someplace fancy. Someplace fancy with pedigree human beings.
When I moved to north London I couldn’t pronounce ‘tuna nicoise’ — but I knew the difference between disco-bobulated and discombobulated. I knew that difference every single weekend. It was the early-nineties, house-music-all-night-long. The Ritzy became the Soundshaft. Benson & Hegdes became Marlborough Lights. Dave became Seb. Big logos became no logos. The UCI multiplex became Tate Britain. Not having a bird became not seeing anyone at present, dahling. All of these suburban crimps ironed-out after I stopped pressing the button to open sliding doors on the tube.
The chameleon does change his spots. I learnt to act at acting school and I learnt to act socially. Between the hours of 11pm and 3am on a Friday night, all that pretence stopped on the dancefloor at Soundshaft. The excitement would start when my alarm went off in the morning, become palpable by lunchtime, unbearable by the time we’d set off for the tube. Charring Cross: alight here for acidouse.
The queues, ridiculous — ridiculously good places to drop pills. The bouncers, surly. The searches, intrusive — very probably hostile, met with a grin. No amount of totalitarian bullshit mattered when you were thirteen-footsteps from the record that went dur-dur-dur, dur-dur-dur-dur-dur. The record with no lyrics that said everything and changed plenty.
Obviously, I live in L.A. now. Hell-bent on edamame, I’m not sure I recognise the version of me that karate-chopped poppadoms in Dagenham.
But I do know I miss him.
For a split-second, you couldn’t place him. You’re at Heathrow, just passing through. He’s just clear of security, putting his belt back on. His black studded belt: unfuckingbelievable. He’s holding the boarding card in his mouth, clasping the American passport that bares his name and his picture. The very face you were scared of at junior high, despised by 12th grade. That was nine years ago, in another country, another life. High-voltage recognition surges between you both.
It can’t be?
The airport was conspiring with the memories you tried to rub out with time-zones and single serving meals. Non-descript chicken and eraser cheese. Memories of what happened between him and your older sister. Of the talk around school. Of the talk around town about your family, about your sister’s ways, about you. You shrunk when you saw him. It put it in focus. It put your heart on the front of your shirt, made it pound real hard, a rook flying into a window.
Full speed. Kids talk fast. Kids listen quick. Kids are vicious. Kids take it in. Kids don’t mean what they say. Kids feel victimised. Nicknames stick.
You swapped countries to give that nickname the slip. You swapped continents to wash that stench out of your future. You were never fair on your sister. Not ever. Especially after. But distance made you forget. And then proximity punched you in the soul just after he’d been swabbed for explosives at Terminal 2.
At the seafood bar couples celebrate being together, going away together too. Scottish smoked salmon, gravadlax, prawns and wedges of lemon wrapped in cotton. Bubbly? Why not? Glasses of Champaign on marble surfaces, giggles float to the ceiling. A piano concerto: drifting in, drifting out. It’s all there for you under strip lights. All temperature controlled, all lamented with shame.
Both older than you but still young. They were alternative. They liked experimenting, got out of their depth real quick. It was thanksgiving; your folk’s favourite time for smashing plates on each other and snarling the word cunt. Six months after the gang of prescription meds with marketable names had lulled your folks into monosyllabic’s bed. Un-pretty: and vacant.
Your sister liked him because he was older with scars and A1 with danger and black. But most of all because he made your parents notice her for once. Your sister and him got lost that Friday night, lost in the house party to end all house parties. They smoked the meth after they fucked, before they fucked, while they fucked. It was her idea. Then she took his black studded belt, went to the bathroom and hung herself from the showerhead. He gave her mouth-to-mouth. He saved her life.
But you never forgave her. And he went to prison for 6 years for drugging a minor. She couldn’t live without him: so she didn’t. The look he gave you in Duty Free said more than your parents ever did. More than their religion or their friends or their guilt ever permitted them to say. You lost your shit back then.