“And I’d give up forever to touch you
‘Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be
And I don’t wanna go home right now”
On our second date she drove me to a country pub, a few miles from her parents’ house. We ate dinner in the sunshine, then, after it got dark, we found a quiet place to park the car, and had sex on the front passenger seat.
We’d tried to have sex after our first date, on a grassy verge lit up by the moon, but I was anxious and clumsy, and couldn’t stay hard for long enough to put on the condom. I worried about it for days afterwards, certain that she wouldn’t call. Worried as she pulled out of the pub car park after dinner. Worried when she unbuttoned my jeans and pressed her lips against my cock.
Stopped worrying after that.
It was a warm, clear night, and there were no other cars on the road, so we stayed there for a couple of hours. We stared up at the sky and listened to the cassettes she had piled up in the glove compartment. At some point we had sex again, on the back seat this time, and after another break we finally abandoned the car altogether to fuck on the grass, under the stars.
“And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
When sooner or later it’s over
I just don’t wanna miss you tonight”
It was well past midnight by the time we pulled out onto the narrow, bumpy lane and drove back to her place. Neither of us spoke, because there was nothing that needed to be said. I closed my eyes and allowed my body to unfold into the seat, the memory of being pinned to it by her body still gloriously fresh. The stereo was just loud enough to be heard over the car engine, and I listened to her sing along to what was playing. Her voice was soft, and just a little off-key, but at that moment I wasn’t sure I’d ever heard anything more beautiful.
I left her house just as the sun was coming up. Her parents were sleeping and the stairs creaked, so we’d had to improvise. The living room floor. The dining table. Outside again, one last time, aching and spent on the soft pillow of her front lawn, her face slowly coming into focus above me in the creeping daylight.
It was a 50-minute drive back to my hometown, which I did in 40. I felt giddy and cum-drunk as I flew along the country roads, my senses heightened by physical exhaustion. Her scent was on my skin, in my hair. I could taste her kisses each time I drew breath. I didn’t turn on the radio, because I didn’t need it. In my head, I could still hear her voice, singing to no-one but the night.
“And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am”
Singing is one of those things that I love, regardless of how badly I suck. That list is pretty short: like most people, I get frustrated when I can’t do something well, and generally choose not to do it as a result. Singing is different though – dancing too – and I enjoy the activity itself so much that the output is irrelevant.
It wasn’t always that way. I have two very musical siblings, who as children could pick up just about any instrument and make it sound good. They played the piano and the violin. They sang in the church choir. They joined the country orchestra.
I am less musical. After three years of wrestling with the cello I had yet to be put forward for my Grade 1 exam, and was finally persuaded to pursue other hobbies. I tried to join my primary school choir, but was one of only three pupils to actually fail the audition. When I sang at home, my parents covered their ears in mock-horror – which turned to actual horror once my voice started to break and a degree of unpredictability was added to my previously consistent mediocrity.
For a long time, I found it hard to sing in front of other people, unless I felt completely comfortable around them. Or not hard – I just didn’t feel like doing it. Even now, singing is enjoyable precisely because it’s such a liberating, unguarded activity. If I’m not relaxed, I don’t want to sing – the guard stays in place.
Rightly or wrongly, I assume the same is true for other people. When I listen to a partner singing along to the car stereo, or to the music playing in her head as she showers, or just in those quiet moments at home, when the silence is broken by a murmured snatch of song, I feel a warmth and happiness that I can never really articulate. It’s an intimacy small and simple enough to feel completely spontaneous; a way of signifying physical comfort without even touching me. Of letting me know that she feels good.
I really love those moments. I cling to them afterwards, greedy for the flush of contented satisfaction they press onto my heart. The tender ache that blooms and bruises, and never really fades.
In my apartment yesterday afternoon, I heard the first few bars of Iris float out of my laptop speakers. Immediately I closed my eyes and remembered that drive back to my parents’ house, 12 summers ago, when I was 22 and in love – even if I didn’t know it yet. When the road blurred and swam in front of me, and all I had to keep me going was the sound of her voice in my head. I listened to the whole song, and then I went back and listened to it again. The second time I sang too.