So it was with L. We met while doing our A Levels, both of us recently released from restrictive Catholic schools into the relative freedom and relaxation of a sixth form college, which among its other melting-pot qualities could could boast an ease in enabling girls and boys to form what were often their first, hugely important opposite-sex friendships. L and I met in History, and quickly discovered a shared love of the West End, non-mainstream music, and old films that was only matched by our shared disdain for Farahs, football, and "funk" (the prevailing mainstream culture of Essex and North London at the time.). We would smoke St Moritz in the refectory and plan our escape, which would always involve a flat in the Kings Road and regular visits to Berlin and Paris. Confined to reality, we made do with lounging around my bedroom listening to 12" singles, and taking black and white photos of one another sucking our cheeks in and looking intense.
Of course I knew he was gay before he did, as did my mother, who worried about his terribly emaciated frame and the fact that his own mother never seemed to have time to cook him a meal. "Doesn't she care about him at all?" she would ask, as he bedded down on the sofa yet again, having "missed" his last bus because we were too busy taping ourselves singing 'Heroes' upstairs. Things were fraught at home and had been for many years; he was not his father's child but the result of a 1960s fling his mother had had with a Greek nightclub owner, and as he grew older and increasingly unlike his macho, stocky 'Dad', his status as cuckoo in the nest became pronounced and unbearable to all concerned. The spare beds and squat floors of friends were a welcome, if uncomfortable escape for him.
His sexuality was seldom discussed directly between us, although once we started hitting the New Romantic clubs I made several unsuccessful attempts to propel him at one or other of the beautiful boys we met, who, more confident than L, were so boldly and so defiantly 'out'. He would panic and cringe, and never short of more definite offers, the boys would drift away and leave him dancing with me to 'Memorabilia' once more. I didn't really mind. Though in an effort to up his nightclub profile, I persuaded him to let me dye his hair burgundy - an experiment which went horribly wrong and left me cramming his orange head back into our sink again and again in an effort to try and rectify the appalling mess I had made, until my mother came in and gave the game away by screaming "Jesus Mary and Joseph, what did you do to his HAIR?". He was angry at me for a day and then forgave me, which given the Heinz Cream of Tomato job I'd done on him, was very generous.
Then we fell out, badly, and something was said by him which I could never forgive. To make my point I marched into the shop where he was working at the time and berated him horribly in front of his customers and co-workers. He had behaved atrociously, and I met and matched him point for point. There was no way back from there. Without L around I fell in love for the first time, went off to University a few months later and my life took a whole other trajectory. Our paths never crossed, apart from once when I ran for a Tube train that closed its doors in my face, just as I realised L was standing on the other side of the door, staring back at me from inside the carriage. We continued to stare at one another as the train pulled out of the station, and I never saw him again.
Ten years ago, he contacted me out of the blue through Friends Reunited (seems so quaint now.). I was amazed to read that he'd married and fathered two children, and horrified to read that his eldest had quite recently died. He was understandably broken and lost, and had become very, very embittered towards the world. We had a reconciliation of sorts, he keen to meet up but me quite resistant, sensing his complexity all too clearly and feeling a reluctance to re-open what felt like an inevitably complicated relationship. I kept it to email, 'listened' and offered support where I could, and always made sure to send a message on the anniversary of his child's death. Contact dwindled, but with the new modern lack of personal privacy I still heard snippets; he had left his wife, he had finally come out, he was living with a male partner, he had a lot of cosmetic surgery, he was happy, he was not.
He was not. And I am so sorry.