|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
30. The Romantic Obsession (1975-1978)
The Au Pairs
|Adrian (not his
real name) was in the year below me at boarding school. I hadn’t even
paid much attention to him - until one afternoon, when someone told me a
highly indiscreet story involving him and another boy. To the person
telling the story, this was probably just routine gossip. But for me, it
Aged thirteen, I was becoming
increasingly aware that my feelings of same-sex attraction were probably
never going to disappear, and what few feelings of opposite-sex
attraction I had were fading fast. I had been nurturing crushes on other
boys from around the age of ten – idealised, romantic crushes, as yet
unsullied by more directly physical desires. I was already well aware
that these feelings had to be kept entirely secret. But suddenly, there
was now a possibility that someone might have the same feelings as me. I
was both thrilled and fascinated.
I started secretly observing Adrian -
looking for clues, finding none, but also finding nothing that would
directly refute the possibility that he might also be…well, I didn’t
really have a word for it then. Homosexual, I suppose – the word gave
me the creeps, though. “Gay” meant someone carrying a banner down
the street. The other words were all insults.
The more I observed him, the more he
fascinated me. All my most daring hopes of romantic fulfilment started
to wrap themselves around him. He became my lifeline. Theoretically,
there was just the faintest glimmer of a hope that he and I
might…well, fall in love with each other, I suppose. Because sex
didn’t really come into it. Sex to me meant my father’s secret
collection of “girlie” magazines, with their stark, vaguely
threatening photographs and their mechanical, brutal prose. Sex both
disgusted and terrified me. Romance, however, filled me with hopes and
dreams – for a faithful companion with whom I could share everything.
And so, in the space of only a couple
of weeks or so, I fell head over heels in love with Adrian. This emotion
was easily the most powerful I had ever felt. It took me over entirely.
I felt its presence constantly, throughout every waking moment. The more
I secretly gazed at him across the common room, the classroom, the
dining hall or the TV room, the more beautiful he became to me.
To begin with, I openly courted his
friendship, and for a while there did seem to be a particular spark
between us. However, rather than capitalise on the rapport we had built
up, I instead shrank back in fear. I was standing too close to the fire.
There was too much at stake. If I gave him any hint of how I felt, I
would be facing not only rejection, but possible exposure, ridicule and
public humiliation. For being a “queer” at school was completely
beyond the pale. The homophobic banter and teasing (with the accent
firmly on “phobic”) was constant. So I settled for three years of
unrequited obsession instead.
In those three years, I never quite
gave up hope that Adrian was also secretly in love with me. In fact, I
analysed every last detail of his behaviour towards me for possible
clues. In all that time, I found just three, to which I ascribed
enormous importance. They are as follows.
1. Walking into Cambridge city centre
one afternoon, I pass Adrian coming the other way. We greet each other
and carry on walking. I count a few seconds, and then steal a look
behind me. Just in time to see the side of his head, in the process of
turning back to face the other way. He too had taken a look behind him,
and I had missed him by a split second.
2. Our house Christmas party, towards
the end of the evening. The whole house is asked to link arms for Auld
Lang Syne. From right across the other side of the room, Adrian comes
quickly pushing through the crowd. He comes to a halt beside me, far
away from his usual gang of friends. He looks up at me with a warm
smile, and seizes my hand.
3. Walking down to the far games
fields, one sunny afternoon. No-one else in sight. Adrian appears in the
far distance, a tiny figure. He sees me. He breaks into a sprint. He
catches me up, a big friendly smile on his face, and we continue the
walk together – still no-one else in sight – talking, and joking,
and smiling all the while, and generally acting like the close friends
which we never were.
It wasn’t exactly much, but it was
still enough to keep the feelings burning inside me. Feelings towards
another human being, which only served to push me still further inside
myself. Endlessly hopeful, and yet utterly hopeless. The stuff of which
self-pitying adolescent poetry is made.
Adrian eventually left the school, and I had no choice but to get over him. A year later, the cycle of obsession began again with somebody new. It was a pattern which I was to maintain for several years to come.