In reality, it's all of those things and none.
Unlike traditional retrospectives, there's no order to things. it's just as the images and memories hit, helped at the start by the random bits of music in my ears. I'm not walking this, but I can see the scenes I get with such clarity I don't need to. Not entirely. Some of this, especially the ruminations on old girlfriends, has gone before. Deal with it.
Teenage Kicks takes me back a long way. The Psycho Ex, my first real girlfriend, me and her curled up and half-dozing, whispering half-truths to each other, then dressing to head into town and cause havoc, wandering and being weird to people. Things I say in jest being taken seriously. Me watching my snark everywhere I turn, even though I am but young. All this culminates with a series of disappointing series of nights out in the Waterfront club in Hull on the Thursday nights I stole to head home to be with her. Not because I wanted to, but because she needed me to.
Zombie hits me back before then. Going drinking after work with Luke and Paul, where I ran up about three hundred pints of debt to them and cemented my love of alcohol. Nights in the fake Irish pub in town before another disappointing night in the local shit-chart-club, trying to be better than all that but failing because we didn't know any better, not really. The first chorus kicks in and I'm overwhelmed by the blur of feeling, of emotion. The dulled loss of leaving without closure, with so much potential left unfulfilled, all the regrets burning in my chest. This is the song of the last night of a university year, realising that it's all over, perhaps just for the summer, but perhaps for the rest of your life. Every single time, all at once. It's not a nice feeling, but I didn't come here for nice memories.
Creed, though I'm ashamed to admit it. This is easier to remember, in a way. One or two in the morning sometime in the second year of university, living down Alexandra Road, getting pissed off with the way my whole social life is spiralling messily out of control. Going for a half hour to walk like I had before, storming out and taking my anger out on the walls and hedges that lined the Wolverhampton road. I walked and walked until I ran out of pavement and my hands were black and blue and green with bruises and sap. I walked until there was no pavement any more, all the way beyond the town. Then I turned around, lit a cigarette, and answered myself as I walked back. I couldn't answer everything, but it gave me a starting point. Sometimes you go so far that you can't go any further, just backtrack and think things through again.
I'm wrenched back to the memory of playing Quake 2 deathmatch in halls, then going out and getting drunk with Scotty and Steve, not because the club was any good but because the whole thing was gloriously underpriced and cheesy and good for a laugh. Some cokehead nearly knocking my teeth out then going for a vodka to calm my nerves. Scotty puking every time he sat in a taxi, so we bundled him into a shopping trolley and pushed him back to halls. Steve with a gash on his leg from trying and almost succeeding to jump the fence. A random moment of hyperactive first-year madness.
A quiet cigarette out the back of the house in Cramer Street, the third year, a couple of streets from where we had lived in the second year. Wishing I could be back there, when things were easier and there wasn't the time crunches or the looming spectre of the end of university. Back when a week was a long time and there were people and I didn't have to worry about things in the long term. Wondering when I'd stopped being popular and living in the moment and started being a grumpy old bastard who pushed most of his remaining friends away. I stubbed out the cigarette and went back inside with more questions and no answers. The first pangs of going back somewhere I'd left.
Watching England play Scotland at football in the first year, sat in Steve's kitchen with some of his friends, drinking tequila sunrises with lemonade instead of orange juice. A massive joint getting us all stoned without having to smoke it. Stacked beer in the fridge and no need to do anything but enjoy the night. Enjoying the moment for what it was, rather than what it represented.
Alexandra Road again. The girl in Seattle, my rebound kick into an internet romance, has vanished without trace and I'm doing my best to ignore it with Stella (the girl, not the drink). For the first time I get that twisted feeling inside that wrenches my guts, pointing out my own subconscious line between merely being overly friendly and outright cheating. I act like a cunt to cover it, being practically bipolar to disguise my own insecurities about who I am and what I'm doing. Germany looms in my future, and that really doesn't help. I start to dance with real misanthropy, hating a lot of the people I've called "friend" up to that point and a hell of a lot of other people besides. Only a lucky few escape, and even then I'm distanced from them. I start smoking again, my first since shortly after my sixteenth birthday, killing myself by small increments to deal with the conflicted shit going on in my head. Part of me knows that this isn't right, but the rest can't see any other way and goes along with it.
Back in halls. Sat in the kitchen with a nice sharp knife, wondering if it'd be easier to drag it down my wrists to get the fuck away from the girl. Emotional blackmail at its finest. It's around this time last year, and that's the first time I really recall knowing that there was something wrong with the situation, that love was meant to hurt but it was also meant to be so much more. She had a history of suicide attempts and I knew that if I left her just then she'd try again. It took a couple of months and my dad reminding me that if she did it wasn't anything to do with me before I dared try. But after that first bout of real, concrete suicidal depression, I had to try. It was her or me, and she was too insane for it to be me.
After graduation, spending a night in a hotel on the outskirts of London. Suit and tie along with me for my first interview. The room is average for my experiences and is entirely devoid of character, just another bland box in a farm of them. A mirror for corporate experience. I decide to ignore the attached restaurant and walk the streets, smoking and looking for a takeaway. It takes a while and I get the impression that all places on the outskirts are urban hellholes, their spirit removed by the vast decentralising force that is a city without character. I spend the night writing bollocks and watching televised drivel, trying to will myself to sleep against the crushing hell of it all.
Slacking off again in the second year. I've had less than three hours' sleep, roleplaying until the early hours with people and passing out, planning on skipping the networking tutorial I should be in. Steve banging on my door, waking me up an hour earlier than I would need to even if I were going to show up. I make my displeasure known by sticking a note to his door with a knife. This isn't the only act of random destruction that we take part in. There's running gunfights with airsoft guns up and down the stairs. Out in the yard, me and John have been experimenting with explosives again. At one point, John sets Steve's door alight with a can of deodorant after a very lucky shot. The whole thing feels as much like a real-life game of Unreal Tourney or Quake 3 as it does anything real. At one point, Steve smashes the glass in the back door when opening it so that we can smoke. The whole thing still doesn't seem like anything of consequence. The Alexandra Road house has an aura of unreality about it, as if nothing matters. The landlord only showing up for his rent cheque once a semester helps. We lose all sense of responsibility, but by fuck it's fun.
Cramer Street just before Matt decided he was going to take his HND and leave the rest of us to it. Thick snow outside. We run to the off-license for beer and clad it in snow for an easy way to chill them right down. Nothing like a cold can of Boddingtons to help clear away the winter blues. We drink our fill and then some, the four of us together. It's a coming-together so rare here and yet so common in the old house we lived together. Just for a night, the world doesn't seem so bad.
Sometime in November after moving home. In the grip of real depression, unable to do much to motivate myself. Sitting around the house in true dole-monkey fashion, watching awful daytime television and pretending to myself that I was looking for a lot of jobs. I was, but I'd lost the burning need to escape. I was looking without seeing, content with a slacker's life on the dole with the family. Trying to recapture the random, freewheeling times back at university, trying to avoid work, avoid set schedules, anything to get my needed late nights and later mornings. Hopping a bus into town once a month because that was all I could afford, wondering if that was truly all that was, and not caring too much either way. Unable to care about anything, really. Drifting by on autopilot. No real reason to face the day, and a lot of reasons to avoid it.
Running Mage at Myth. Both the second and third year. A time spent gaming with real people and real spaces, real ideas and tangible goals. The weirdness of the original plot, and the smell of Chris cooking us lot a big dinner before we started for the latter. Socialising for fun and profit, a rare moment of real enjoyment.
Finally working up the balls to tell Kris how I felt, spurred on by Lydia. The end of too long spent without anyone, the end of trying my luck and failing. Demonstrating that I only have sex appeal when I'm already attached for the sheer thrill of it, going to the local rock night (such as it was) and talking to people and actually having to fend off romantic advances. Then going home, getting online, talking to people, and sitting on the back wall of Alexandra Road with a cigarette as the sun edged above the horizon and the sky came up a glorious shade of blue. Loving life for the sheer thrill of being there. Not all memories are bad.