Why Can Boys You Knew in High School Still Make You Feel Like a Teen?

I’ve written about him before, and some of those times I’ve changed details about him so that he might not know it’s him. We’ve known each other a long time. I remember him in the corridors of school, dropping to his knees and screaming in pain when some Year 7s pushed past rushing to class, and how they ran away because they really believed his prank. I remember when he used to call cigarettes “cancer sticks,” and when he used to smoke. I remember him at university in a bunny onesie outside a club, remember his dorm with the acidic white light of a kebab shop. I remember him picking me up during the holidays and driving me to The Beach, this small patch of sand near the river that we never should have swum in because apparently it’s full of sewage. I’d tell him about things I’d learned in my philosophy course that I definitely didn’t understand, like Plato’s “The Cave,” and we’d stay chatting until it was so dark you needed your phone flashlight to retrace the path.

We were meant to go on a walk together over Christmas, to Brimham Rocks or maybe Ilkley Moor, where there are rocks in the shape of a cow and a calf, and all this heather crawling over the hillside that someone always sets fire to in summer with a disposable BBQ. We were meant to talk about things we used to talk about, me trying to remember something clever about The End of History and why no one makes anything new anymore, something that he might not know, grasping for the details of it, the whole of the valley stretching out underneath us, kicking stones, cold water sinking into the broken rubber of our shoes.

When I saw the word “Annie” pop up on my phone screen, I knew he was bailing. He had a fair excuse, so it shouldn’t have bothered me. But it did because I’m not just me when I talk to him, I’m also the me from when I was young too, so I got upset in ways I wouldn’t normally. Nowadays, if men cancel, I don’t care; I think about the laundry I need to do and the drawers I have to organize. I think about how tomorrow I’ll get more work done because I won’t be hungover, the friends I could see instead. But when he bails, it makes me want to punch my mattress or go for a long walk with my hood up, one where I fantasize about something narcissistic and stupid like how upset everyone would be if I went missing. He brings me right back to who I was when I knew him, a teenager with split ends and battered Doc Martens who wore denim shorts cut to the size of knickers.

I always find funny stuff when I’m at home over Christmas. A photo of me in a red sequin dress screaming over the Beanie Baby I just got as a present. My old cuddly toy dog Bones that I used to take with me everywhere. This time I found a diary from when I was about 16. It’s full of Lord of the Rings quotes, like “Not all those who wander are lost,” and Carol Ann Duffy poems that I thought were really deep. I’ve scribbled love hearts all over it and taped cut outs of flowers from magazines into it. Around the margins are all these slightly deranged notes which say things like “He doesn’t care about you, stop caring about him. STOP!” and “I’m being a depressed bitch about wanting male attention.”

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