Yesterday the past came hurtling into the present at full speed, aided and abetted by a small party bag, zero kids and a festival arriving on our doorstep like a new world arriving at the top of the Faraway Tree.
We courted at festivals, Tom and I, fell in love, really, off our heads in tents, once we were past the strip club phase of our relationship – where he was the client and I was taking him for everything I could get – which I ironically inherited in credit card bills. That’s karma for you, as is a bloke who at 32 had never been to a festival becoming a full on rave head in his forties, when all I want now is a cup of tea and my feet up in front of the telly.
But as life passes you by and fun ceases to become a priority, or even possible most of the time, it’s easy to forget quite how much of it you used to have together, and we did, way back when.
With the kids safely dispatched, I trundled off to Roman Road to get myself a festival outfit – a tye dye tee shirt with slits down the back, since you ask, all for the bargain price of a tenner. I returned to an empty house, save for the dog, and pottered about until Tom returned empty handed and clearly up for it. He sat in the garden with a beer, while I fussed about my face and the roll of fat that has appeared over the top of my cutoff shorts, purchased, I may add, as jeans while still at uni, so I must forgive myself a little extra flesh. The sun had come out full flush and I was beginning to think I had better things to do (like lie in it) than go to a field full of under dressed twenty somethings and dance to music I don’t know.
But knowing how awkward I can be, and how much Tom deserves to dance his socks off, I made the reasonable decision to deploy a gentle livener, dosed and measured in the comfort of my own home, washed down with an ice cold bottle of Tiger.
So, fixed and dilated, Tom and I headed off, street beer in hand, to join the throng pouring down the street from the tube to the park.
The familiar bubble of joy reached the pit of my stomach just as we reached the gate and we took each others hand and wandered blissfully into the field, transformed from our local recreation ground to a rustic arena for hedonism. Tom and I lay blissed out in the sun for a bit, snogging like teenagers before realising we really ought to go and get involved in some dancing. But newly sociable, I found it was more fun to go round spraying sun cream on people’s burning shoulders, providing a convenient icebreaker in the midst of the heatwave.
Thus emboldened, we got chatting to two Essex girls, a surly one on the marching power and a pilled up poppet, all blonde clip ins and new boobs. In the hour we spent hanging out chatting effusive nonsense, the poppet had told us she’d grown up with a lesbian mum, her father had deserted her, she’d bought her tits from the fall out of a bad relationship, and her son lived with her mum because she parties too hard, yet she works, despite all that, as a nanny to the stars.
Counselling her with the wisdom of eight years and half a pill, I told her she needed more confidence, that she was a beautiful person who just needed to have more faith in herself, but then, don’t we all? It’s easy to feel wise and sorted in a chemical haze. Later we got accosted by the familiar face of Maisie off of BB, another fragile sort who was on the sniff for a pick-me-up, managing to caroll the poppet into selling her some of hers in plain sight in the beer queue. She was sweetly dismissive, if beautiful but damaged, in the way of any semi-famous person who knew there was fun to be had with more exciting people, once she’d found her chemical confidence. I didn’t mind when she disappeared as quickly as she’d arrived.
Then began an even weirder blip in normality. We lost the Essexes romping past the stalls and the casualties on the grass to the opposite stage, our park bearings totally lost to see a band whose lead singer I’d had a fling with in uni – back when he was a clean cut public school boy with lovely teeth and floppy, well brushed hair the colour of demerera sugar. Three years younger than me, he was charming, although even then slightly off kilter, a fact I attributed to his wealthy background – his mum owned a high street chain – he told me once his parents had bought books by the yard to furnish their library – and I realised, in the end he was from a world the likes of me would never properly be admitted. Nonetheless his homemade Valentine’s card sent anonymously some ten plus years ago, in which he told me I was fit as fuck -caused my deeply insecure younger self to break up with my eminently sensible boyfriend and embark on a heartrending affair that was doomed from the beginning. So much so pathetic.
We stayed in touch sporadically as we found our feet as adults. He called me up one day when I was five months pregnant, asking what I was up to “these days”. I met up with him, bump unavoidable, and we talked about his plans for his band – he’d previously only DJed CD decks at posh kids’ birthday discos while we were at uni, a fact I’d somewhat scoffed at during my hard clubbing phase. It sounded like a pipe dream – Spanish opera rock. The next time I saw him, he was on Jools Holland.
Two babies later, I foolhardily traveled to Spain to see his band perform at Benicassim – in truth I was going already, but knowing he would be there encouraged me to buy my ticket.Watching him, newly dreadlocked and messianic, I got trampled by fiery Spanish girls as I experienced the uncanny paradox of seeing someone you knew suddenly famous – a bona fide rock god. He returned my text, but we never had the promised drink.
Five years on, and he looked out of his mind, although he never touched drugs, save a spliff or two, at uni. He was a beautiful mess; except he looked much iller than previosuly when he’d merely looked unkempt – straggly beard, his once toned squash club body wasted and scrawny. Dressed in robes, ropes and a feather headdress, he barely opened his eyes on stage, as his sea of fans exulted him during his epic set with worship the boy I once knew would have hated. He noticed me in the end, dead centre, front row, screaming his old name, at least giving me the courtesy of a little half embarrassed wave – although I noticed tears in his eyes as he sang; it would be egotistical to attribute them to me.
But afterwards, seeing me behind the security gate, he half-heartedly loped over, still in ropes, skinny limbs swamped by quasi-messianic robes, and Jesus hair; gave me a stiff hug over the plebgate, and asked, with little interest, after the kids. It was awkward no doubt, his once familiar blue eyes now pinpricks, his beautiful straight teeth now yellowed. It’s easier to blame an assumption of drugs and stardom for his vacant apathy, but I was always – I think – more into him. I don’t doubt he had important business to attend to, and more exciting places to be, or simply to get on the plane for his next big gig, but it’s not like I have anything left but a vague warm sense of joy that he’s found success. That’s all I wanted to say. I didn’t want backstage access and to join them all in a spliff. I know my place and it’s not VIP.
But it subdued me all the same and by the time MIA came strutting and ballsy onto the main stage, I was coming down from it all. I left Tom to grind. By the time he found me again, the sun had gone down and I’d regained my appetite. We held hands through the now sweaty, spangly, rambunctious crowd, glad to get to our door in less than ten minutes. Tom made me quesadillas but I ignored his overtures and promptly fell asleep, makeup, clothes and jewelry all still intact.
At four though I woke, head banging and gritty eyed. I got up, abluted, and went downstairs for a calming joint (as an emergency middle of the night sleep aid it’s the business) But, checking my phone – a habit that is nigh on an addiction, I had been contacted by my other rock star- not the one who made it, but the one who didn’t. But I don’t doubt he’d be keeping in touch if he had.
This one, like the first, and the one who followed, it had been an effort of will to fall out of love with, my penchant for moody musicians luckily balanced by a will to have a happy life. But this brooding tattooed giant who, having tasted stardom, hurt himself falling back to earth, is haunted by demons of his own and others’ making: real life is not for him. I’ve time for him still. How could I not?
It must be a year since we last spoke. He’d been awkward at a concert too, treated me as though I was not there, leaving his twin to talk to Tom and I with mildly false joviality. I left, crestfallen and embarrassed, only hurling him a clanger that day when I got the doctor’s letter to confirm what I had always suspected. Unusual cells. Who else did I have to blame? in truth, there had been others, but h deserved my venom more than most.
He’d seen the pic of me on Facebook, relaxing in the sun in my wonky red lipstick and sunglasses hiding my glassy eyes. He was still awake and messaged me as my light came on, despite the late hour, asking how I was. I asked him back. Life has not been kind. I worry he’s at risk. He knew I wouldn’t spurn him. I never do, for \ll I know to leave him alone. We planned to meet, sober, in the day time, to take him to a health food shop for supplements, to sort his sleep out with melatonin, to listen to his woes. But we both know it won’t happen. The crazy in me has been tamed by experience and I know that if I keep expecting a different outcome, I am basically insane.
And I am too happy with the way things have turned out now to let these blasts from the past unsettle me, or this temporary blip in my usually measured existence send me into a fear filed tailspin. It’s only a night out.
But it’s true to say the world works differently at night, a through-the-looking-glass rabbit hole where things happen that can’t take place in the day; where people talk to you who wouldn’t, where things are said that only mean something in the moment they are rashly, drunkenly uttered, until the next time we talk in the dead of night. The night has its own life. I know out how the system works.
But I went to bed comforted all the same, that though I can be so lightly dismissed by one who I cared for, there’s another who, for all the water under the bridge, still knows he can call on me whenever he needs, regardless of what has passed in-between. I drifted off into a light, hungover sleep, where in the morning, I finally submitted to sweet Tom’s unremitting, undefeated, familiar ardor that I always return to, sober, in the cold light of day.