When I Was … Nineteen
by David Heulfryn

 

1989
I was really looking forward to this weekend. It was the first weekend that Jack was coming to visit since we both started university. It was coming to the end of the first term when Jack rang and suggested we get together. It was only by coincidence that we went to universities that were quite near to each other. I was studying Physical Sciences at Warwick, and Jack was studying Geography at Aston. We were only about half an hour apart, so it wasn’t such a hassle for him to catch a train to Warwick.

I waited excitedly on the platform for his train. It was late, but that wasn’t unusual, trains always seemed to run late these days. My eyes darted from one door to another when the two carriage shuttle train pulled up. It wasn’t very full, and I saw few people alight. Jack must have been dawdling as he was the last to get off. I felt like skipping over to him as I was so excited seeing him after three months, but instead, I walked fast and gave him a manly hug, something I’d never done before. I’d told Jack over a year ago that I was gay and it didn’t bother him one bit; it was the usual case where he’d already suspected. He was so supportive and would often encourage me to meet others and get myself a boyfriend. But I thought my studies were more important and left finding a boyfriend on the back burner.

Jack looked very nervous when I met him and was eager to leave the station. I tried to get him to tell me what was wrong, but he insisted that he wouldn’t tell me until we were alone. He declined to go to the pub for a drink; instead, he wanted to go straight back to my dorm room.

I lived in what looked like a short and squat four-storey brick block. Each floor housed four single dorm room for students, and each room was small, with only a bed, desk and wardrobe. There was also a small kitchen on each floor and a large toilet and shower block. It was single-sex on each floor, but it never stopped others coming and going into rooms for parties or more intimate arrangements.

My room was one of the few that saw no action in the first term. But I had a mate, whom I met at the University’s Lesbian and Gay Club, who seemed to have a different bloke in his room each night.

A few mates saw me take Jack into my room and called out. “So you’ve finally pulled. Good going, but just keep the noise down. I’ve got a headache.”

Turning, I flipped him the bird and shut my door.

Jack had put his bag on the floor and sat on my bed. “Who was that?”

“Just a mate, he’s in a few of my lectures, and we occasionally hang out.” I pulled out the chair from under my desk and sat down. “So what’s wrong?”

“Nothing really, uni’s great, lectures are ok, got some great mates and a new girlfriend, or had one. Things are really good.” He looked at me but cast his eyes downwards when he mentioned his girlfriend.

“Oh.” I sighed. “So that’s it.

I sat next to Jack and put my hand on his shoulder. “Was it serious?”

“Not really.”

“So why has it got you all in a funk?” I asked.

Jack was hesitating. I squeezed his shoulder to remind him I was there and wasn’t going to go away until I got a reply.

“Come on, mate. It’s alright. You know me, and it won’t go anywhere.”

He still hesitated but then drew a long and deep breath. “You remember how you felt when you came out to me?”

How could I forget? From the moment I made my decision, it took me over a week to tell him. That week was hell for me, I was nervous and very anxious; I hardly slept a wink. He kept asking me what was wrong, but the time or place was never right to tell him. I had to get him alone with no distractions, just like we were now.

“You’re not telling me you’re gay, are you? You can’t be? You’re as straight as a die.”

“I don’t know.” Jack sighed and explained how the break up with his girlfriend came about.

It happened a few weeks ago, he was drinking in the Union bar with a few mates. Eventually, they all left, and it was just him left with a mate of a mate. They got on well, and when the bar closed, Jack invited him back to his hall of residence where he kept a bottle of whiskey under his bed. The drinking continued back in his room, and as Jack put it, ‘one thing led to another’, and he stayed the night. They squeezed in the single bed together where they fell asleep after they had sex.

Jack told me the embarrassing part was the following morning when his girlfriend burst him on them. They were both naked and about to start again when they heard an ear-piercing scream, and she ran from the room crying and yelling that he was a ‘fucking queer’.

“She told the whole fucking campus.” He spat.

Removing my hand from his shoulder, I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him close. “Just give people time, they’ll come round.” His head had dropped to rest on my shoulder, and I rested my cheek on his short, fine hair. It smelled clean, the scent clearing my nostrils.

“So how do you feel about the experience? Have you had these feelings before?”

“No.” He was emphatic. “I suppose I enjoyed it, but I can honestly say I have no idea why it happened.”

I supposed it was just the alcohol that relaxed him so much that he found himself open to a little experimenting. We talked some more and Jack became more comfortable and became determined that his first gay experience wasn’t going to take over his life.

Boundaries become blurred when you leave home to go to university. You are on your own for the first time, and you are also free to act as you please for the first time. Jack fell victim to this without consciously knowing it. He had a freedom that meant he could be someone different each day of the week if he chose, to try out new and alternative lifestyle and personalities. That night he just met someone who led him down one particular path, and he found himself comfortable enough to stay on that path.

After talking with me and putting that night into perspective, Jack realised he was not gay, not even bi-sexual. I was not tempted to let him know about the things he had done to me while he was asleep, I didn’t think it would be fair and would only confuse him more. Besides, I really didn’t think it was relevant. He never showed any signs of being interested in me while he was conscious, so I felt I should let his unconscious remain with me.

We left my room and went to the bar in my hall of residence. Neither of us felt like the long walk to the union bar or going into the nearest village to find a local pub where we would be sneered at by the residents who were suspicious of all students. Some of us are quite sensible and don’t go about stealing traffic cones and ‘For Sale’ signs and putting them in other peoples gardens. So it was the hall bar, with its warm beer and plastic glasses, but at least we could sit and carry on talking while enjoying a pint.

The bar was busy to start with but soon thinned out and by nine o’clock was almost deserted. Most students had left to go to the Union Bar or into the city to a bar before going clubbing. Jack and I sat quietly talking while everyone around us went about their business. It felt just like old times when it was just him and me, but before we knew it, our table had collected ten empty glasses and two more that were only half full.

Thankfully I had been the medicine Jack needed and seemed almost back to his old self. I only hoped it would remain when he went back. We even laughed about how awkward he found some of the positions.

We both staggered back to my dorm room somewhat worse for wear and just wanted to crash. I fumbled in my wardrobe for the extra blanket and pillow and threw it on the floor for Jack.

Stripping down to our underwear, we went to bed, me on my comfortable mattress and warm quilt, Jack on the hard floor with the itchy blanket and old pillow. Fortunately, Jack was so tired and drunk that he fell asleep before I had even turned off the light.

Later that night, I was woken by Jack climbing into my bed and pushing me over a little so he could fit in. Half asleep, I grumbled, but he just shushed me.

“You are a great friend to me.” He whispered. “I love you.” And he gave me a hug. His skin felt cold from lying on the floor, and I didn’t care about the cramped conditions, only that we were both warm.

“I love you too,” I told him and kissed his forehead. “Now go to sleep.”

 

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