When we were in our teens Paul and I invented a game. From halfway down my long garden, we’d climb over fences and hedges into neighbouring gardens. If a light went on or we heard a door open we’d scoot back from where we came as quickly as possible, hiding behind trees or in the midst of shrubs to avoid being seen, hearts beating fast, adrenaline pumping, until we were sure we were in the clear.
In the 1980’s I went out with a girl I’d met at a party. We were together for a year or so until I began to lose interest and ended it. When soon afterward she started dating Paul I wanted her back. It was predictable, needy and indicative of my own flourishing sense of poor self-image. She was happy with Paul and he was happy with her.
My relationship with Paul was never the same after that. I’d let go of a girl but didn’t want anyone else to have her because that meant I wasn’t hard to get over, and I couldn’t get over that.
There was a sense of myself that I always battled. Darkness, something bitter, resentful and selfish, that I shied away from. I would have said I couldn’t see it, and I certainly wasn’t ready to acknowledge it, but denial is a tenacious beast.
My selfishness came from a fear that what I had was not secure. I used it to stave off the threat of loss. Growing up there was certainly no abundance of wealth but I feared the scarcity of love most of all. So I held what I had, and could only let it go briefly if I felt sure it would be still there if I needed it again.
The irony for me was that in my effort to keep everything I wanted safely within my grasp I pushed a lot of it away. Believing that anger and bitterness would focus other people on my pain only made them do the opposite.
In 1986, before I’d had the opportunity to make things right between us, Paul died completely unexpectedly after a short illness.
When I think of Paul my mind is always pulled back to those barmy evenings hopping across gardens for a thrill and, in particular, the night he trod on a rake which lay on a neighbouring path. Unlike in the cartoons, it didn’t flick up and hit him in the face, it went straight through his foot, proving that it’s best not to guard too much against an imagined future, because things don’t always turn out the way you imagine they will.