1. … the way my neck stretches up to reach the mouth of this skyscraper boy with the floppy hair, wonky smile, and concerned-looking Polish eyes. It’s the first time I’ve had to climb for a kiss. How simple the prelude had been, some small talk about art and moving to Athens like all the other jaded London artists, a smile, a “you’re cute,” and “you too,” a hand on the waist, and then this kiss in the middle of a dance floor, two femme boys caught in an awkward flamingo’s embrace…
2. … the arched, nervous eyebrow of the beautiful young man in sweatpants who courses in and out of my path at the party. At the sixth hour, as we file out into the morning, I see him again. Standing on the frozen kerb, I gently fall in love with his blustering boyishness, his deep voice, the way the scarf he ties around his neck obscures his mouth but brings into relief the woolen softness of his eyes. We mumble banalities.I tell him he’s cute. He smiles. My friend and I make to leave, and he says “did you want to take me home?
I cannot understand his indecision when I ask “would you like me to?”
He eventually says no, he has a friend he doesn’t want to leave alone, and maybe, I reason, he’s not that into me. But I’ve become drunk on his face. The longer I look at it, the stickier and sweeter the pleasure of it becomes. I teach myself restraint and leave alone.
Over the next few days, I let it float away– his lips, his nose, his softly curtained eyes—sugary pollen in a field of intoxicating flowers, this city and its beautiful faces drifting by in the breeze..
3. … the shy boy off the app who sits on the edge of my bed as we hem and haw around the awkwardness of how to start. He doesn’t look a lick like his photo, which was probably taken years ago. I want to hug the fear from him. He says I look better in real life, and so I pull him in. He’s embarrassed, he can’t get it up, I say it’s okay, I ask if he’s stressed, he tells me he’s had a bad time, he’s been hunting desperately for work. I listen to him. “I just wanted to be with someone tonight.”
We lie there in a quiet hug for several minutes, I kiss his eyes shut.
Later, pulling on his jeans, he tells me he loves my body, its curves, the shape of it. He leaves. I linger in the compliment, the bittersweet novelty of it. The kindness of the encounter, the surprising love of strangers.
4. … dancing alone in a club, watching men catch fire in each others’s arms, I am rudely transported to those difficult nights in my early twenties spent abusing myself in the indifferent glow of strobe lights. I feel the familiar surging of bile and self-hatred. The intervening years have made the feelings sharper and more corrosive.
But this time I stand apart, and I flush the sadness out. I let myself wear some of my new confidence, nurtured by the kindness of strangers. I hold my heart in my hand and take a bite of it, and I savour the taste of it in my mouth; bitter, sweet, tannic, over-ripe, like a black plum. It is an old flavour from a hometown laden with sad memories. The delight of it catches me by surprise. I let its juices trickle down my arm as I dance in a little silo of complicated emotion, simultaneously ecstatic and mournful. I let it pass…
5. I don’t know how to face the barrenness of the past ten years. With regret, or rage? I feel like I’ve spent precious time believing in my own inadequacy, truly and gullibly imbibing it, wearing it in the slouch of my shoulders, and the down-turn of my mouth. How do you come to terms with this, the feeling of having been cheated of a birth-right, ten years of youth squandered because of the incomprehension of others?
6. The pop songs are true. Is there anything more painful than an entire backlog of emotion reduced to a single night of reckoning, you sitting across from me as I feed us both curry in this cold country, talking about the past few years like a movie we once watched indifferently together?
Together, we work through what went wrong like an after-action report, an engineer’s diagnosis. We look for the warning signs, red-flags, leaky valves, broken beams. In conclusion, we summarise that the problem was an excess of emotional repression.I smile when you apologise. What else is there to do? I have always done so, and I cannot bring myself to be upset when you’re so hurt and bleary-eyed, defeated by the weight of the growing up you have to do, and that you’ve had to do like a tree pushing from under a rock in these short months.
7. Is there grief, and if so, for what? Winter is the season of thinking of wasted time, planting the wrong seeds, squandering the harvests, and making the best of what lies ahead.