The 2012 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
When you look back at your life, can you pinpoint the one experience that completely transformed you? I can. This blog post is about someone I met when I was sixteen that completely altered the person I was, and for the sake of this post, he shall be referred to as Duckboy.
Let me paint a picture of myself at sixteen: socially awkward, raised in a restrictive family in a strict Presbyterian church. I had just started college when my brother took over the youth group at the church he attended in Hull, and suggested I go. I resisted the idea with everything I had—the idea of meeting a whole crowd of new people scared me senseless. But I was forced to go and so one October Friday evening I found myself attending Linnaeus Street Church’s Youth Group in Hull.
Now, I don’t know completely whether I believe in love at first sight, although I would cite two experiences close to it in my life. One was this, though love is a ridiculous term. I’m not really sure how much of this might be retroactive memory, constructing the events that followed into a narrative, but I do remember picking out Duckboy as the one person in the room I wanted to get to know. What it was I couldn’t say, and still couldn’t. Whatever it was became lost in the overall social pressures of the night, but I remember coming away thinking it might not be as bad as I thought.
About four or five weeks later, the Youth Group took a trip down to the Humber Bridge country park—the area of woodland and at the base of the Humber Bridge. It was unremarkable, and I talked to various members of the group—I had started to settle in slowly by then. And then, as we walked back towards the bridge, I fell in alongside Duckboy and we started to talk. We talked about growing up in the church, about what it was like to be part of this whole culture but to not actually believe any of it—the first person in my whole life who had expressed this to me. We talked about swearing, about our parents, about baptism when we were young. When we reached the bridge, we sat several metres away from everyone else, continuing the conversation. And that night still to this day burns as a vivid memory, because for the first time in my life I had found someone to whom I had a connection, and who understood me. And later that night, texting one of the other members of the youth group, I learned that he was spending the night in a tent with this other person, and a completely irrational jealousy struck me.
Those two things essentially sum up the rest of the story. For the next year we grew closer and closer as friends—it grew to the point where a day was unusual if we hadn’t texted each other (I once ran up a £250 phone bill), where the other members of the church referred to us as a pair, where on outings we would isolate ourselves and just talk. I had never dared speak to anyone about my feelings on religion, on God, and the church, and God knows what a mess my head would be if I hadn’t had him to talk to. My strongest teenage memories are of waiting for my phone to buzz, and the electric punch through my whole body when it did. But on the flip side of this, another side of me grew—I felt so strongly about this friendship that I would experience jealousy when other people were involved, or when, despite the constant text contact and time spent in church, I couldn’t entangle our daily lives any further.
And it’s all so very clear when I look back that my feelings just grew and grew until I was hopelessly I love with him. In the history of my coming to terms with being gay, it’s interesting that it was this love that made me understand myself, and yet it was entirely unsexual; purely love, not lust. But it took a lot longer before I dared place a name to it, and before that was another milestone in my life: Duckboy was the first person I ever came out to. I can remember, sitting in my bedroom, with the text written on the phone in my hand, taking an hour to press the button. The sheer terror that I might destroy the most powerful relationship in my life. The simple reaction, in the end, was ‘oh, right, ok’ and nothing more. And as underwhelming as it might have been, that step gave me the courage to carry on telling people.
And two months later, the truth could be contained no more. I don’t really know to this day how obvious I had been with my behavior, but it couldn’t really be hidden any longer, and I professed my love to him. Not with any hope of reciprocation, but purely in the name of honesty. For awhile our friendship continued on in a unique and, I think, refreshing way, i.e. completely as normal, despite the knowledge that had been placed upon it.
Until fate had it’s twist of irony, and one day, Duckboy decided that his feelings had changed and that he was moved by God to return to faith.
This began the unraveling: it came like a hammer-blow to me, attacking the foundation of the connection I felt to him that so much of my strength fed from. It meant a revolution through his life, new friends and experiences that we had once stood against, and my anger and jealousy blew out of proportion until I had torn apart the friendship I had. It got to the point that my sadness and rage were so obvious that my parents surmised that I was in love and I had to come out to them, and for the first time in my life I was given permission to absent myself from church, which I did. That was when I lost contact with Duckboy, stepped away, and closed myself off.
And then I moved to university and began a new life. My first year of Creative Writing was concerned with identity, and I fed this experience of first love—so vividly joyful and painful at the same time, and constructed out of melodramatic moments (tears in the rain outside church, for god’s sake) until I understood everything I had felt and could value it for what it was: a first love that had burned through everything that I knew about myself and let me construct the person that I would become, secure in myself and my knowledge of my sexuality and my outlook on religion. I would never have become the person I am now without my experiences of those two years.
And what about now? Now Duckboy seems to half live in Hong Kong, which I look upon with a strange sort of pride, even though I’m sure he doesn’t spare a second thought for my life. At university the contact drifted back briefly, at the same time as his religion drifted, and I was gifted with something that has stuck with me ever since: a chance to understand what exactly he felt about me, and whilst it could never have been the kind of love I felt, at least I knew that the connection that was there was not one-sided.
‘You were the other side of me, the side I held in myself until you came and I talked to you about everything I had in my mind, hidden away.’
And that, really, is all.