I’m musing on memory, and what an odd thing it is today. I’ve got a reasonably good one, and I’m never quite sure if that’s more a blessing or a curse.
Quite by chance a colleague just started singing an old song, a song I hate: I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues (sorry Elton). “Eurgh, I hate that song,” I protested. “Why?” my colleague wanted to know. And I had to think about it, and after a minute I remembered why.
My first boyfriend had done something – I don’t remember what, or when, only that it was the winter. I don’t mean to trivialise – I was absolutely fuming at him. I remember the hot nausea of complete anger. I just don’t remember what he did. I remember that he followed me around apologising for weeks. He went ahead of me on my walk to the train station one day after school and wrote love notes in the fresh snow that had settled in all of the front gardens en route there. He took a train to my house late at night to leave presents like my favourite chocolate bar on my window sill only to turn around and leave again, because I wouldn’t see him. And he burned me a CD of misery songs (that’s what we kids did in those heady early-noughties days). And track one was I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues; I don’t remember any of the others. But that inoffensive tune subconsciously riles up that long-forgotten anger. It’s funny I can remember all that – I just can’t remember what the bastard did!
I remember what song was playing the first time I walked into a Union night as a Fresher at university; I can never hear it now without being back there in 2004, sticky floor and cigarette fug included. I remember the top I was wearing the day I fell out with my best friends, never to reconcile. I kept it along with the rest of my clothes for years, before finally admitting I could never wear it again and putting it in a charity bag. I remember the perfumes of those long lost friends, turn to look for them in the street if I smell it. I remember my student codes from ten years ago. I remember vividly the first sight of my newborn baby sister in the hospital in 1998 (I brought a yo-yo into a maternity ward, how annoying was I?). I remember a pair of purple jeans I wore obsessively from the age of 6 to 7. I remember how my grandfather always made my tea too sweet and milky.
And I can remember every stage of falling in love with, losing, reuniting with and finally marrying my husband. I remember my first contact with him. I was at university, the summer before my final year, and my housemate and I were using the freezer in our boyfriends’ (plural – we didn’t share one!) house while they were away for the break and their house was empty. We let ourselves in one afternoon to find a piece of paper on the table – one of our boyfriends’ new housemates was visiting for a bit with his girlfriend and he’d just left a note to say hi in case any of his new roomies were around. We wrote back apologising for the fact we would have to keep letting ourselves in as our freezer was broken, and over the next few days there was a little back-and-forth, without ever actually laying eyes on one another. How I howl now when I think about it, wishing I had kept the note!
And when I did finally lay eyes on the man I would marry, a month or two later when term started, I thoroughly ignored him. I was mid-break up with the boyfriend that was his housemate and completely expected to never interact with any of his new housemates. In fact I was there to pick up some text books I needed that I’d left there, so I just stormed past the agog strangers (probably screaming profanities at said ex, knowing me) and stormed back out of the house again precariously clutching a pile of books. In fact, I then proceeded to refer to my future-husband as “Hoodie” for about a month, as I hadn’t been paying attention to the names when said sheepish ex had introduced his three new housemates, and I had to differentiate between them somehow – he’d been wearing a zip-up hoodie that first evening.
You’d think that rose-coloured hindsight would romantic up all that; that the note was flirty, that our eyes met as I charged across the room and it was something-at-first-sight. Maybe if it was one of my books. As it was, it was eighteen months of secrets and lies and trauma and break ups (for more you can see my guest post over at Uncorked Thoughts) before we were in a good place. And the instant that I realised that we’d reached that good place is another moment I remember so well. We walked out of my halls of residence together hand-in-hand, in search of some food. We’d come through the break up back to friendship, and tentatively towards something more again. It was March and the sky was clear and the sun was so bright. And he stopped in the middle of what he was doing and kissed me, just a peck, on the mouth. And it was like a full-stop, relegating the past to the past, and I remember exactly how it felt, seven years later. And I hope I always do.