(Originally published February 2016.)
Do you remember the first time?
The first kiss in a nearly empty cinema. She had Greek blood, warm brown eyes and exquisite curls. She was dressed entirely in black, even down to her immature knee-high boots. You wore whatever you could lay your hands on that looked vaguely fashionable in a wardrobe of market knock-offs and stuff that, literally, fell off the back of a lorry. So you roll up on your first date in slightly too big jeans that are still damp from the previous night’s wash, and a football shirt that still smells musty around the armpits because you wear it all the time. When you arrive she looks you up and down and laughs, but after that she confidently takes your hand and leads to you the screen. By the end of the film your mouth is dry from the taste of a cool mint mouth. You’ve lapped your tongue around hers and felt the peculiar texture of millions of tiny buds. Your cock is sore from unrequited attention, trying to stand up but pressed down by the tight hem of a stitched zip fly. You can’t remember the film but who cares? Fifteen years later, drunk and depressed, you’ll be channel hopping at two in the morning and watch the film again. Properly this time; no kissing, no warm brown eyes. Just alone, with a swimming head and the first creeping tentacles of a monster hangover.
Do you remember the first time?
When you sat in a guitar shop and breathlessly held an instrument across your lap under the sympathetic gaze of the shop manager and the confused but smiling faces of your parents. You look down at the strings as though someone looking at the Rosetta Stone; infinite, untranslatable possibilities. You twang your way through a few notes that sound nice together, and even perform the whisper of a famous riff completely by accident. You like it simply for its shape and it goes on to be a good friend – albeit not a long term one. Years later, with damp eyes, you’ll hawk it to a pawn shop when desperate for cash. Even worse than the act of selling such a prized possession, every time you return to the pawn shop you notice that your guitar is still there – still with the notch in the neck from when it slid off your bed and crashed against your desk. Still with the scratches from your studded belt when you posed and preened, still with the faint outlines of glue from the stickers you placed on it. After a year, you stop going into the shop because you cannot bear to see your cherished memory hanging pathetically from its gibbet with a price tag that you still cannot afford.
Do you remember?
The first fuck, crashing against a bed that was on the verge of collapse, barely glued together in a moment of parental crisis. A grinding toil of mere minutes, perhaps even seconds, as you looked confused at her eyes rolling back and her mouth agape and you thought back to the brief glimpses of pornography that you’d viewed and wondered why this seemed so different. But then, in the porno’s, the woman never cradled your shoulders and softly sang ‘Silent Night’ into your ear in German.
The first time you felt scared and thrilled at the same time, you stood on top of an extinct volcano and dangled your legs over the shelf of a 600ft sheer drop. In that moment you felt, in your stomach, a celestial hook that lifted you above such nonsense as gravity. You knew that, should you fall, you would be instantly yanked cloudwards into a cold sun. You looked down at your mud-encrusted boots and you could still feel the warmth of your first taste of whiskey dancing on the rungs of your oesaphagus, numbing your bones. When you think no one is looking, you place your palms either side of your hips and lift yourself off the ground, just an inch or so. When it is time to go, time to descend the zig zag path from whence we came, your old teacher gives you a lingering look. It may be a smile or it may just be a thought passing behind his eyes but nevertheless he squeezes your shoulder and pats the top of your back. Later that evening you read a magazine about Indian men who have held their arms up for decades or grown their nails to be as long as buses whilst he tells you about your former art teacher who disappeared one morning to be replaced by a carnival of eager substitutes; sectioned for being a potential danger to herself or her students.
Do you remember the narrow road, where you spent hours with that Coke can scoring every World Cup Final goal ever scored? It still glows and hums now with the vibrations you left behind. Like a perspex ruler bent over a desk, the molecules continue long after it appears to be silent. Certain places envelope you in an eternal sunset, perched agonisingly on the precipice of endings without a solution. I find more comfort in the optimism of a sunrise than the reflection of a sunset. Sunsets are always too late. Tomorrow is always too late.
Growing up I seemed, quite by accident, to surround myself with creative people. All these individuals had their individual dreams – writers, painters, sketchers, musicians, poets, wits, vagabonds and delinquents. I find it disturbing now how many of these people – friends and acquaintances (whose only crime of distinction is distance multiplyed by time and divided by memory) – have fallen away from their original dreams and decided to passively sit and observe the fruition of others. I talk to them now, abstracted by distance time and memory, and when I enquire as to their past passions they tell me apologetically that it is all in the past now. Haven’t done it in years. Too old for that shit. Time to start having a real life.
I know they still cling to those teenage dreams so hard to beat. I know that the wannabe artists still crawl the galleries, the wannabe musicians stare forlornly at the stage during gigs, the wannabe writers still plough through their libraries spitting bile at the trash in hardback. I’ve met so many middle aged and elderly people who have lamented the passing of a hobby for the sake of A Normal Life, and it scares me to see so many people that I’ve grown up with, whom I honestly thought would make it – and probably still could – falling like so many jumbled race horses over the fences. Most of them I was convinced would make it well over and above my feeble creative efforts. And yet, in many ways, I cannot blame them. Who wants genuine heartfelt music in an iPod generation of auto-tuning? Who wants penetrating writing in an age of ghost-written celebrity lifewank and E.L James’ prose that would fail a GCSE exam with only the laughing tears of an invigilator smearing the D-?
Which leaves myself and a decreasingly few other horses frantically hammering the turf, approaching every new fence with fear. One of my worst fears, and I’ve always been a habitual worrier, is being so disillusioned with creativity as to abandon it altogether. The thought of never creating anything ever again, whether it be a pleasant riff or a piece of Artwank, is anathema to my purpose of being here.
I’ve always felt different. Partly this is because I’ve always been made to feel different and it is something that I struggled with during my teen years but which then blossomed after leaving the sociopathic viper’s pit that is school. Ethan Hawke’s character Jesse, in the sublime Before Sunrise theorises that, because he was an accidental pregnancy and was never meant to be born, he’s gatecrashing a party to which he has not been invited and thus doesn’t have to abide by any rules and can govern his life as he sees fit. I’ve always suspected I was something of an unwelcome surprise, piecing together the fragments of my early childhood. My parents were not exactly wealthy and my biological father took off when I was not even two years old. Years later I found a note, signed by my biological father, waiving all his rights to my upbringing and care – basically the opposite of a father fighting for custody of his son. And although this event has never cast a long shadow over me – my mother soon remarried to the man I would call, and always call Father – Jesse’s little theory does provide a succinct blurb to my thirty-two-and-counting years alive. I like the idea that I am not supposed to be here.
I hope my fears are never realised. Today, my one day off from a week and a half of Hotel Hell; I burned a lot of incense, did two small abstract paintings experimenting with oils on canvas, finished one ink sketch and drew another pastel piece, played some guitar and wrote this entry. Aside from good friends, sex and long walks it was about as perfect a day as my mind can conjure. It was not an effort, it was easy. I woke up and I realised that I had a day to do whatever I wanted and I did just that. I hope it continues. I need for it to continue.