One day you will be stupider than I would’ve thought possible. You’ll surprise yourself, while not surprising, because every bold-seeming move is a somewhat pre-figured one on your part, an off-kilter step you knew you’d take when needing to force your skin.
But I will stand by you. If it’s illegal, in question, unwise or simple, I’ll take the risks you need to take with you. I’ll die if that’s the route you’re on, if there’s little leg room or leeway.
Once I was stupider than you’d allowed for and you let me be it and told me I was and I wasn’t and played every action to its finish, conclusion. You really love board games and card games and video games and sex games and word play and squash court banter.
I name this cocktail after you knowing what Darwin had in mind with that thesis, the one he tried to retract when he realised what it did to religion. But there aren’t take backs. Take backs are a plethora of swear words that you only need to know that I’m thinking.
I have no idea if the men we met in chatrooms when it was the thing to go in there – this was the nineties – were really men or the age they said they were.
We had conversations on age gaps with our parents, and they themselves had gaps, had dated people with bigger gaps, had questioned their parents about what’s too much and what’s legal.
But the internet’s the leveler. An equalizer. The alternative way to date, where you’re only as powerful as your search engine. Remember when we used Ask Jeeves for our homework and he almost always knew nothing. And neither did the men or the chat rooms.
Message boards ended it for us, created the archaic forms of communication we thought the internet extinguished, and once one had your address it was difficult to sleep, picturing outlines and outfits in pitch dark, and we wished Emma never said our patio doors were like the Scream house, or that it was remote enough for truth.
One day you will be me but you will be better. Teachers expected you to excel but I’ll take time where they didn’t. I’ll put answers in your mouth, destroy relationships you start, make it impossible for you to work other places.
One day you’ll wonder why you worked for so little: cash, enjoyment, satisfaction. Why you let it be enough at the time, when it wasn’t enough at all, isn’t, yet you’re hammering at it like you’ve just discovered tools for the first time and you’re curious about them the way you once were sex, films, pizza. Now, pizza almost always bores you.
One day you’ll ignore mirrors the way I ignore them and you’ll think of me every time you do it, keeping your eyes on the tap or your fingers when you’re in bathrooms, buying clothes without trying them first even though your size is not a standard, fits all in every shop one.
One day you’ll be me, but better. The recipe improved by TV chefs in two hundred years, ready in seconds. Someone else’s skin. False eyes. Elastic shoes. Nothing pioneering about that particularly, apart from I’m dead.
You’ve been using my flat while I figured out steps after your dad got me fired, and your mum said she’d help us, which turned out to be lies, and you got inundated with texts until you were sure we were broadcast, we would be, on Wanted posters in town, blogs.
But no-one revealed the secret. I unveil it now, after so many months, speculation, false accounts, police reports, sightings, harassment filings.
Because if the first time we kiss in public is this, if you don’t count when you grabbed me outside of school the day I left when you really weren’t meant to, I want people to know that it’s us and be used to it. This is not a crime. Or it might be, but whatever.
Jack says, “I wish my image was specific, that there were sets of clothes I wore on weekends, that if photos were taken of me I would look consistent and you could expect certain things about me.”
He’s been looking at the Barton Hollow inlay, wondering if we’ve the sorts of voices which fit unexpectedly, if we should be cultivating our images presciently, if there’s hope for us being self-made successes together or separately.
“You could make a choice now,” I tell him, “to always wear a tie or bow tie, to never be pictured without suit jackets or smart shoes. And there’s coming up with a band name based on Plato or a philosopher you think that we stand for.”
But we did this in school. Made a list in history lessons of what to call our band when we had one, or if. And the best that we came up with? Overeaters Anonymous.
“Maybe this starts with Philosophy Book Club?” I ask, knowing it should start with an accident.