It was after band practice, one Saturday in ’72. I was breaking down the kit, ready to carry it back down the hill to our house. We practised in Chris & Steve’s house (guitar and bass) on most Saturday afternoons. My brother Phil & I (guitar and drums) lived at the bottom of the hill, on the same road. Anyway, as I was unscrewing the bass drum pedal, I became aware of someone standing next to me. I looked up. It was Steve’s girlfriend, Angie. She smiled down at me, her blonde hair falling across her face.
“Do you want any help?” she asked.
They hadn’t been going out very long, so I didn’t know her too well. She was tall, slim and incredibly pretty. And she had a smile to wrap yourself up in. It lit up her face. And she smiled a lot. She was a really happy kid.
“Thanks. You could undo the nuts on the cymbals for me.” She nodded.
At 16 I had the most severe acne that one doctor at the hospital had ever seen. I am 61 years old now and am still taking daily pills to keep it in check. It has defined my life, fuelled my depression and accentuated my natural shyness. Since I was 14. I was having some kind of radiation treatment at the local hospital. 30 minutes in front of a green lamp, every 2 weeks. My GP now says that it probably contributed to the various skin cancer scares I’ve had, including last week’s op. Anyway, as Angie helped to dismantle my battered, second hand kit, I was aware that the spots on my forehead were throbbing. This was partly because my head was down, but also because I was blushing, profusely. The blood rushing to my head made the huge spots throb, the pain so intense that it was hard to concentrate, hard to function.
I looked up, shaking my head to distract myself from the pain. Angie was smiling down at me. Oh, that smile.
“Where were you?” she asked. I grinned, sheepishly.
“Sorry, miles away.”
She crouched down, looking into my eyes. She had the most intense blue eyes I’d ever seen. She handed me the wing nuts and felt pads. As she put them into the palm of my hand, her other hand held mine steady, from underneath. When the half a dozen parts were in my hand, she held on. I looked up. She was gazing into my eyes. It probably only lasted a few seconds but it felt like a lifetime. I was spellbound, transfixed, hypnotised. I couldn’t move. 45 years later, I can still remember the intensity, the heat, the electricity.
Then, she let go.
That smile broke out again. That close up, it was mesmerising. It was the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen.
Two months later, she was outside our house. I had looked out of the bedroom window (I have no idea why) and there she was, under the chestnut tree, in a white, cheesecloth smock, blue, flared jeans and platform sandals. She smiled up at me. I’d have beaten Usain Bolt down those stairs.
“Hello.” I had no idea what to say, or what was about to happen.
“Steve and I have split.”
How do you not whoop, punch the air, do a lap of honour, shout, scream, yell? How do you suppress your emotions, your hopes (and fears?) and your elation? How do you keep a straight face?
“Can we go for a walk?” she asked.
We walked for an hour. We walked up onto The Downs, behind the road our house was on, talking, talking, talking. By the time we got to The Tree (it was always just called The Tree when we were kids. It was the rendezvous tree, where we met,) she was holding my hand.
She leant back against The Tree, pulling me in close. I was a spotty, shy, scared kid. I had no idea. I had never kissed a girl before. I was terrified, excited and elated, all at the same time. And then I remembered that moment, kneeling on the floor, her hand holding mine, those eyes.
I took her face in my hands, stroking her cheeks with my thumbs. She closed her eyes. I leant in, caressing her lips with mine. She parted her lips and I tilted my head, and we kissed.
We went out for two and a half years, until my depression reared it’s first, evil, bastard head, the night before my 18th birthday. After that, I could see the fear in her eyes, the uncertainty, the responsibility. Those beautiful, blue, blue eyes. Six months later, she had found someone else and dumped me.
Today, 43 years later, I am ecstatically, happily married, 17 years in, nearly 22 years together, we have the best fun. In between, there was a 17 year relationship (15 years married) that took me down a very long, lonely, dark path, and ended with 300 Paracetamol and a bottle of brandy, on the back seat of a Citreon Xantia, Intensive Care and a weeping, hand-squeezing Mum.
But some days, I think of those blue, blue eyes.
And that smile.
And I drown.