The Drinking Game
I’m going for coffee this morning. Yep. I know you would have laughed. I can almost hear it, through every doorway I pass on the way up Rose Street. I’m ignoring you though, the echo of you, how you laughed at me and then screamed after me to come back. I turn into Castle Street, thinking to avoid you in Costa. I don’t want to see you, to think about you.
The thing is, I’ve known you for ages. I mean, it’s not like it was a passing fling. We met when I was what, fourteen? That sounds about right. At home we listened to Hole together, holed up in my bedroom writing angry adolescent poems and tearing up pictures from Sugar and J-17 to make collages. Glaring red lips and long black eyelashes, perfect stomachs and white teeth all shredded and pasted into what I thought was a mirror.
Remember the games we played? The Tube that time, you, me and Alice, off out on the pull at Popstarz where we passed for eighteen and tried to blag our way into the beds of students. That particular night didn’t turn out too well. You left before I reached King’s Cross, away with the last train. Why didn’t you wait? After our fun and games my lips turned blue and I woke up at the UCH. I didn’t know where I was but I don’t think I was even scared. I just blinked up into the jaundiced white lights and wondered if it was some kind of disinfected heaven. Alice’s mum drove me home in the end but I never really forgave Alice for telling me I should stay away from you. She and I fell out months later. I remember the lenses of her glasses cracking under my trainers. Your influence. I can’t pretend I didn’t regret that one. All my friends told me to stay away from you but I drowned them out, raging, ’til they wouldn’t speak to me at all. I lost so many of them. I don’t remember caring.
I can’t believe you got banned from TFL. It’s sad to think we might never get on the Central Line, Victoria Line, or N38 together again. Monopoly, we called it, counting off stations on journeys we made with no planned destination. But then… that was a whole different time, a whole other city. I don’t think it’s coincidental that we met again in others. It’s happened so many times I am starting to think it’s fate.
We were in Edinburgh together for a while. When we met again after that “trial separation” (ha!) in some bar at Picardy Place, I was relieved. I felt so tired, folding back into you. I have to admit, I never got such a good sleep as when I was with you. You cradled me after dreams of before-I-met-you. But then, despite all appearances (and the reputation) I never really slept with anyone else while we were together. I never felt them. I could always only feel you, still closed around me. It made me close off to them. The numbness welcome. It was so much easier to wrap up in you than let someone else poke their way through the layers. Sometimes afterwards, I’d wake feeling panicky, reach out for you, any part of you. And then when you weren’t there I felt like crying. I would go out to find you, in the streaky light of Too-Early-For-This.
Sometimes I found you in the smallest hours, as the sky weakened to a sucked-Smartie blue. I would take you home in my jacket because (I’m sorry) sometimes I was ashamed of you. I would try to wait, hold out as long as I could to show I didn’t need you. I didn’t. Need you. It was a lie. The thought of being too late, of not getting you back, was too frightening. I always caved in like I knew I would. I couldn’t help it. I asked after you in pub after pub, down claustrophobic side-streets and embarrassing main ones, getting closer as different people tried to help. I kept going until finally you were there. I felt the relief like a shower after a four-day festival. Tiny welcome pinpricks. We spent whole days together making it up. The sun went up and down and we lay flat and I thought I didn’t want anything else. I thought you were everything and felt I could be anything. It’s dangerous, that feeling; my edges and your edges got softer and softer. Ages ago, in an almost-different life, I used to do chalk sketches. I’d rub the horizon with my thumb so the sky and earth mixed in with each other. That’s what we were like: crumbs of colour mixing together until I didn’t know which crumbs were me. I knew then that I had lost myself, that it had gone too far. It was a slow process but I started to let you go.
I surrounded myself with papers and ink and I exorcised you in a mess of colour. I convinced myself it was good because it was nothing to do with you- because you hadn’t helped with it or (I told myself)- inspired it. I drank herbal tea and read the Guardian with the best of them. I “did” lunch on the Meadows. I watched the clouds shift and burst and I called it working. But the ink ran out and the papers looked the same. The charcoal got under my nails; the failure crept under my skin. I wanted you back.
When next I saw you, I was just settling into Amsterdam. I had left you behind again. Or, so I thought. One more city, I decided, one more chance to get away. I can do this. I have to. Then you found me again. It was a supermarket this time. I nearly pretended I hadn’t noticed you but something about your stare was so appealing. I walked away, hard as it was, but I started to think you were following me. The next time I saw you in the aisles, all negative seduction, I didn’t resist or even try to.
You stayed longer that time; you were there every single day. Remember? Sometimes you woke me up. It was the gentlest transition from sleep into work, lectures, social life. I was so calm those days and so happy. My notebooks stayed blank but it was fine…we were okay. I remembered how good you were, held you close as clothes, tried so hard to forget the bad times. But sometimes you went away and I woke up alone. Those awakenings were abrupt and yeah, I was jealous. I stormed out along the canals wondering where the fuck you’d gone. The tall buildings seemed threatening. The glare off the water’s grey skin burned my eyes. Anger streaked me like blood across canvas. I hated you. But we were such a good double act… everyone loved us, together.
Remember when Obama got elected? I cared less than I wanted to. To be honest I’d been arriving haltingly at apathy for a while by then. It takes years to get rid of the disillusionment that comesoffA Level Politics. You convinced me to care a little more. I ran down the street in my pants with Ellie and those two Ukranian guys bought us breakfast I wasn’t hungry for. I couldn’t have done it without you. When we got in I was so glad you were still there. I watched the sun brighten behind the stark slim-bodied houses and decided to keep you. I didn’t let you go for four days. We went to the Vondelpark to watch the sky; to the outskirts to cycle unobserved; to the Van Gogh to decipher the stars (they were on loan from Paris). You could be so much fun.
Fun. felt all the anger I’d had balled up in me unscrunching like a rude caricature in a waste-paper basket. You held my coat, as they say, while I took out all my rage on people who didn’t deserve it. Then you’d drop it, the way I should have known you would and as always, I was the one who got in trouble. The police cells were no giggle. They took all my clothes, you know, in case I was creative enough to hang myself with my knickers. I wasn’t. I wondered if maybe you weren’t such a good friend. No- I knew by then that you were not a good friend, only I had known you so long I couldn’t let myself think it. I had to believe things were right between us. For a few weeks I pretended we could be fine together. Then finally, I couldn’t even fool myself.
It’s been months since I really saw you. We’ve passed in the street, said hello a few times. Occasionally, although I keep it to myself, I’ve let you talk me back into it. We’ve had “moments,” as my friends like to say suggestively about other things. Our moments are so, so perfect but after they’re gone they leave imperfect stains. Shame. I have wanted to call you back, wanted things to be how they were before. I know what you mean with your looks and yes, I do, I miss you. The chaos, the fights, lost nights and nasty mornings: all of it. Remembering to forget you still hurts every day. I’m not sure if that’s longing or regret.