Do you remember the first time?
30 June 2003
There's a first time for everything. Which, put another way, means that there are an infinite number of first times, countless events which may or may not ever be repeated, decisions that keep coming back to haunt us, conversations we'll never be able to replay or to take back.
Take you and me. I don't know if you remember the first time you laid eyes on me; if you could go back, like I can, and visualise that room full of strangers, pick out the faces that came to mean something from those that merged into a shallow pool of hazy memories. I don't know if you looked round at each of the faces in turn, rating them, passing judgement, like some imaginary porno Play Your Cards Right - higher! lower! - and I don't know where I fitted in on your scale.
But I do know my own memories. I don't remember the first time I felt attracted to you; but I do remember when I first felt there was a chance we'd get together. Just another night in the bar, when you'd had maybe one glass of wine more than usual with dinner, and the conversation had an edge I'd never felt before, and which remained all through me walking you home and seeing you to your door. And when Steve mentioned it, and I knew it wasn't just my optimistic imagination - I remember a sense of anticipation, imagining how and why and where and when, and just - breathing differently from that moment.
And yet - fate and alcohol being what they are - the memories that should form the cornerstone of this temple in my mind are blurred, indistinct. A party at yours: the sort of noise and laughter and pure sense of joyful freedom that were as essential an ingredient of any early-twenties party as a good compilation tape, and that I took for granted then and miss now. I remember the closeness as I sat with my head on your shoulders while we looked for the number of a cab, then being in a dark, quiet corner all alone with you, until the embarrassment of people reaching over us to get their coats. Somehow moving through the house and ending up in bed, the yes-no-yes-no of a drunken aimless fumble, the rush and release of doing something you'd thought about but never dared to expect.
I know you remember the first time waking up together, how you felt a mixture of surprise and delight to find me pressed against your back, as close as two people can be, your breast in my hand; and I can imagine your reaction to finding us both still wearing our underwear. And you told me how gutted you felt when I disappeared, like I didn't give a damn and it was never going to happen again - when really I was devastated I couldn't stay. I remember us both laughing months later, when you admitted that to me - the first time I could ever be accused of playing it cool.
And I remember the first time we slept together, a few weeks later (and the second and third that night, how I was so keen to prove myself); the first time you told me you loved me, and I had to think for a few days before I could say it back. And the feeling when you told me, drunk but overwhelmingly happy, that you wanted to have my babies - and the embarrassed backtracks and 'not yet, years and years from now's of the next morning, when secretly I was delighted. Your look of joy one time when I walked up to you as we were clearing plates after a dinner party, and gave you the most intense but purest kiss of your life - memories that I want to hold on to.
But then there's the stuff I've been trying to forget. The first few feelings of doubt in my mind. Even before that, the first time I was unfaithful, doing everything in my power to make sure you never needed to find out. Then the other times, as my commitment slowly slipped away and I refused to work harder to make this work. That's the first time I made an active decision not to grow up, not to have an adult relationship which survived its ups and downs, not to admit that I still loved you and would have to accept monogamy as a trade-off for happiness. The first time I broke your heart, the first time I really saw you angry, and I tried to make you hate me so you wouldn't feel it was your fault. But of course, it wasn't your first time in that situation, and I felt even worse for conforming to all the stereotypes I'd been so proud of avoiding before.
And then, not so long ago, the first time I started thinking of you again. The first doubts (not too strong, but certainly there) that, contrary to everything I'd told myself over the last few years, I'd taken the wrong path. The first time I wondered if, given the chance to go back, I'd change anything, anywhere along the line.
The first time I admitted it to anyone, even myself.