(November 2005 was a month of firsts. First trip to North America. First threesome. And, at my first Thanksgiving dinner, during my first visit to New York City, a first date with the woman who would go on to be my first big love…)
“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”
New York City, 24th November 2005
I wait in Arrivals at JFK for nearly an hour. I am too tired and groggy to stand, so I slump against the wall, knees hugged up to my chest. All around me, families are reunited for the holiday. Parents reach for their grown-up children; young couples almost leap into each other’s arms. My mobile phone doesn’t work here, and I have nowhere else to stay if she doesn’t show up, but I feel strangely calm – I know she will come.
It’s more than that though. I am 24 years old, and this is the first time I’ve really been certain of anything. It’s as if I’m standing on top of a mountain, looking down over a lush, green valley; I can see everything laid out in front of me like a map, almost otherworldly in its beauty, and I just want to go gather it up in my arms. I’ve been travelling for 18 hours to get here – sleeping on the floor at Gatwick before the indirect flight (via Milan) that I still couldn’t really afford – but in this neon-lit terminal there is a serenity that I neither thought nor hoped to find.
For others that is just the unthinking confidence of youth. I have always envied them that, even as I’ve clung fiercely to my own neuroses; nurtured my blooming scars. I am brittle and skittish at 24; the sudden faith I place in my lack of butterflies is rooted in an optimism I’ve rarely been able to tap into until now.
Where has it come from, this certainty? I am almost afraid to pierce its skin and find out – as if doing so will let the air out of a balloon we’ve managed to inflate together. All I know is that she will come and this thing, this crazy adventure, will change me in ways I won’t understand until it’s already happened.
I see her before she sees me. We have been exchanging emails for four months now, and talking on Skype for nearly two, but it is still a shock to find this living, breathing woman growing larger in front of me as she weaves through the crush of people. My facial muscles are the first to react, and when they pull the corners of my mouth up into a beaming smile it sets off a chain reaction in my cheeks, which flush red with a sort of dimpled, awkward shyness.
I’ve closed maybe half the distance between us when she turns, and I watch the same process unfold on her – god – just radiantly beautiful face.
“I’m so sorry,” she starts to say. “Your flight was a code-share, and I went to the wrong terminal, and…”
The gap between us can be measured in inches now. She is shorter than I expected – this will become a running joke, though neither of us knows that yet – and she smells amazing, all of which I’ll only really register much later, when I’ve remembered how to breathe again. Our hands find each other, and her fingers twist in mine as she talks. I have to bend to kiss her, or maybe she pulls me down, I don’t know, but suddenly the words stop and there is just the wonderfully gentle smush of lips and tongues, cutting through any remaining anxiety – dispelling any last, lingering doubts.
We are already late for Thanksgiving Dinner at her friend’s house, but the walk to her car is still peppered and punctuated with all the stolen kisses we’ve stored up between us. I am drunk on exhaustion and a sudden, giddy sense that I’ve just started living the first line of my obituary (“He married S____ and they lived happily ever after…”). Already our silences feel comfortable, and each smile, each squeeze of her hand is like the plunger on a pinball machine: it sends the blood whizzing round my body – I’m powerless to stop it.
The parking lot is eerily quiet, and so cold that my skin prickles whenever I turn my face into the knifing wind. Over the years, we will turn these last few steps into our own frantic foreplay. I’ll fuck her on the bonnet of my car at Heathrow, our icy breath billowing out across the deserted concrete rooftop as she wraps her legs around my arse and stares up at the stars. She’ll push me onto the back seat of her SUV at Logan and suck my cock in broad daylight, till I come down her throat with a six-week shudder of joy and relief.
Tonight though, we are still feeling each other out; when I lean across to touch her, my fingers are greedy and tentative in equal measure. She is clumsy too, which puts me at ease, even as she is swearing at the belt on my jeans and slipping her hand inside them instead. There is no great intent here, not yet – we are both just caught up in the wonder of doing this in 3D. For the first time, I can take the picture of her that my brain has lovingly formed, and bring each sweeping curve to life. I barely know where to start, until she leans back in the driver’s seat, eyes closed, legs spread as wide as her suede skirt will allow, and I may be 24 but I’m not stupid, not now, not when I can feel the heat from her cunt before I’m even halfway up her thigh.
Dinner is a blur. “Yes, I’m her internet boyfriend,” I say, my voice stiff to my own ears, but everyone laughs and best of all they’re just really nice; it cuts through my natural reserve, and I find myself smiling with them, smiling till my jaw aches with the happiness my heart is only now daring to release. Her hand finds mine under the table, and I don’t even have to look at her to know that she understands this internal conflict – what others see as aloof or emotionally cold, she has brushed past, and gone right to the core of who I am.
Or maybe I’m just different with her.
We hustle back to the subway, sacrificing intimacy for the prospect of relative warmth. I am not dressed for New York in November and the cold is merciless – it bites into me a little deeper with every step. I am weak and woozy on the train, but she strokes my face and nuzzles into my chest, her bleached blonde hair still soft under my fingers.
We’re staying in Hell’s Kitchen, in an apartment she found on Craigslist. It is cosy but stylish; the owner has good taste, and somehow that matters, even if it shouldn’t. The bed is low to the ground. I pull her down onto it, but she wriggles out and rolls on top of me, her teeth flashing in the lamplight. Fuck, that smile. I love it already, and what’s more I tell her I love it, the words spilling out of my mouth before I can stop them.
We love hard when we’re young, I think; harder – purer – than we realise at the time. We’ve not yet been muddied by our wounds – instead the blood pumps through our bodies, rich and fierce, and we don’t know how to stem the flow. In thick, hot gouts, it washes over us, like the thundering rain that chases a tropical storm.
The sex is indescribable, and I use that word in its literal sense. The way her back arches when I enter her for the first time could not be done justice by prose alone, not even now. Not if I live till I’m 100. By the time it straightens out again, we are in too deep to pull back; she is drugged and drowsy, a dead weight in my arms. I swim down with her, each breath shorter than the last.
I wake up early the next morning and she drags me back out into the weak, watery sunshine. “You’re not dressed for this,” she says. I nod helplessly; she just laughs and steers me towards the nearest street merchant.
We cross over 59th Street, into Central Park. It is everything and nothing I expected, all at the same time. On a low, stone bridge she burrows into my body, as if it’s home. There are couples ice skating on the frozen rink below us, but everything we want is up here, in the fuzzy heat of her cheek on mine. It is the 26th November, 2005 – the day after Thanksgiving – and we are no longer strangers. We are woven into each other’s fabric; we are stitches that cannot be pulled out. Not without pain, anyway…