November 16th

Okay. Sunday story time. But this one is different. This is the story of the first boy I loved. It’s a true story.
My name is Damian and I am wholly unremarkable. When I was five years old I attended S___ I___ school. I met a boy with whom I was very quickly the best of friends. We went to each other’s birthday parties, ate lunch together, sat together in class, had dinner round each other’s houses.
We were closer than brothers. And then, two years later, his family moved to France. I don’t know how well you remember childhood, but two years can feel like an eternity. I was devastated. So was he. We cried so much, our last day of school together. Held hands, couldn’t look at each other.
Our parents exchanged addresses so we could write to each other. We didn’t realise it at the time; too busy blubbing. We wrote to each other every month. Told what we’d learned, who was friends, where we’d been. I would get so excited when I came home from school and saw an envelope stamped ‘PAR AVION’ on the mantlepiece. Everything would be put on hold until I’d read it, savouring every word.
And then, there was a very peculiar incident which I struggle even now to rationalize. I can explain what happened, but not why; not to my satisfaction.
A year had passed since N____ left. The family were coming back to England for a holiday, and his parents had arranged for him to spend half the day in school, to visit with his classmates. Bear in mind, this would be the only opportunity I’d have to see him. They had a busy week of family visits planned. I was so excited, moreso even than for Christmas. I felt incomplete, that year without him. The morning passed in a blur. I don’t remember a second of it. Then it was lunchtime. And the strange something happened. My excitement at seeing my dear friend was curdling. I was becoming increasingly agitated, until, as his parent’s car pulled up outside the school, my nerve broke and I ran off. I hid in one of the upper school toulets, sat there in a stall and cried.
N___ was out there. I would be able to see him. Talk to him. Hug him. Instead I was stifling sobs in an effort to remain undiscovered.

I would later learn that he and our friends had wandered the playgrounds looking for me. That the infant school teachers had spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to find me. But I was none the wiser. Nobody could find me; they knew I had to be on the property but didn’t know where.
All I knew was that I couldn’t bear to have to say goodbye again. The notion was so upsetting to me that I was squandering an opportunity to spend time with him. So ridiculous.
I came out, eventually. At hometime. Got into a great deal of trouble for having caused such disruption…
The next letter I wrote was about two-thirds apology and a third trying to explain what happened, although I barely understood it myself at the time. I was about ten years old when I first learned about sexual orientation. That boys could be in love with boys. It made so much sense to me because all of a sudden I understood that I loved N____. Unfortunately, this was in the early nineties and it seemed like how I felt was frowned on, and since I was certain he was ‘normal’ I kept it to myself.
This would turn out to be one of my biggest regrets when, at sixteen, he died of leukaemia.
I really believe in letting people know you care while you can. The alternative can weigh so heavily otherwise, and so unnecessarily.


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