In these dreams it's always you:
the boy in the sweatshirt,
the boy on the bridge, the boy who always keeps me
from jumping off the bridge.
Oh, the things we invent when we are scared
and want to be rescued.
Your jeep. Your teeth. The coffee that you bought me.
- Richard Siken, I Had a Dream About You
In Manchester, in our first flat, in the first home we shared, you told me that I wasn’t happy, and I resented you for it. I resented you because you were telling me how I felt and you were right, I knew you were, but I was too stubborn to admit that.
You know this now as you knew it then and so you waited for me. You waited for me to be ready and when I came to you and told you that I was sorry and you were right (as always), you didn’t try to blame yourself for my unhappiness.
And I think that that is the best thing anyone’s ever done for me.
Because you made me deal with it - properly - even though we didn’t know what was wrong, or how to make it better. God knows, that took us years. But you saw the things that helped when I didn’t care to, because you were there for me and you notice things like that, Phil. You always have. The little things that make a big difference.
We made up a bed-time, we promised we’d eat more healthily, we promised we’d be productive until five pm. Those were our rules.
And we stuck to them.
You made us stick to them.
I remember when I finally made the decision to drop out of university.
It was, what - five in the morning? You’d stayed up with me all night, going through the pros and cons of staying and leaving.You were a shoulder to cry on when it all got a little bit too much.
You made me look further than I’d thought to, to consider what it’d mean for the future, to think about what would happen if either decision didn’t work out.
If you stay, you can still drop out, you’d tell me. If you leave, you can re-apply.
It’s not the end of the world if whichever path you choose doesn’t take you to where you want to be.
I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much it meant to hear that.
I know you don’t like me to think of myself as dependent on you (hell, Phil, neither do I), but back then, at my most vulnerable and unsure, I really think I was; if for nothing more than the support that you never failed to provide.
You were my constant in a sea of change, and I trusted that you wouldn’t falter. You never did.
Maybe you didn’t make it an easier decision. But you helped me to make it.
And in the end, you helped me to make the right one.
There was a night in 2012 that I think of often, at the point when we weren’t speaking but somehow both existing in an intimately shared space, at the height of what I now know was one of the worst depressive episodes of my life.
I think you’d seen me once that day: when I collected a glass of water from the kitchen on my way back from the bathroom. I don’t remember looking at you, or even realising that you were there, but you saw me. I think you saw through me.
I don’t know what I did that day.
‘Nothing’ is too empty a word, because I did a lot of thinking, a lot of letting my mind travel to places I’ve since learnt not to visit.
I think I was about to pass out from mental over-exhaustion from the amount I’d beaten myself up in my own head, when you came into my bedroom without knocking, carrying a plate of cheese and crackers and a glass of Ribena with a blanket around you like some kind of ridiculous super-hero, which I suppose, in a sense, you were.
You draped that blanket around my shoulders even though I was tucked up in bed with the covers almost to my neck, and you told me that you would wait with me until I’d eaten something, even just a few bites, because I deserved better than my brain was telling me I did.
And you were true to your word.
You sat on my bed, swamped in a dark grey sweatshirt I’ve not seen since, and talked to me about nothing and everything, because somehow you knew I needed to hear a voice that wasn’t my own, that wasn’t the one in my head, even though I never responded to you.
When I’d eaten two crackers and didn’t look like I’d be eating anything else, you took the plate from my lap and put it on the bedside table, kissed my forehead, and told me I should eat some more if I could.
You said you were proud.
It was the first time we’d touched in weeks.
I did eat your damn crackers, by the way. I never had the heart to bin them and just pretend I ate them.
It was Valentine’s Day during one of the first times we visited the Isle of Man, and because you know I’d never let you buy me over-priced red things in the name of romance, you took me on a walk.
You told me that if I complained about it you’d push me off a cliff and you’re so impulsive that I believed you enough to put on something waterproof, and follow you diligently out of the door.
I don’t remember what we talked about (knowing us, it was probably a load of shit anyway), or exactly where we walked, but I know where we ended up.
After hours of walking (and yes, it was hours, Phil, because you were very lost), we were at the top of a cliff with the Irish Sea stretching as far ahead of us as we could see. You pulled a picnic blanket out of your bag and made me sit, and you set down some sandwiches and strawberries and a bottle of wine.
You told me we were going to watch the sun set over the sea, but as it happened, you’d gotten us so lost that we’d ended up on a part of the island that faced north instead of west, and you forgot the wine glasses so we had to drink from the bottle like a pair of very lost pirates whose only treasure was some slightly squashed bread and each other.
It didn’t matter - you know I’m more endeared than annoyed by everything you do - but you insisted on going a little way back down the path to pick me some early-blooming flowers to make up for it anyway. You nearly slipped over when you ran back up the hill and we were both laughing as you collapsed back onto the blanket with a bunch of uneven stems in your hand, but then you slipped a tiny white flower behind my ear and kissed me as you did so, and suddenly I felt like I wouldn’t mind never watching a sunset or drinking from a wine glass again if I could feel that way forever.
At the after-party for the UK TATINOF shows, we slow-danced in the middle of an emptying room to those ridiculously slow songs that always get played at the end of the night.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this as though I’m narrating a story, as if it’s something you could ever have forgotten, but still. That’s what I’m on about now. Buckle up, babe.
You’d pulled me from the sofa where we’d ended up collapsing for a few precious moments to finish our last cocktails of the night, telling me it was non-negotiable because Louise had made you promise to dance with me before the night was over, and what better time than to do it as the crowds thinned out.
I was worried because even though there weren’t many people left I could still feel eyes on us, so you put your arms around me and you told me it didn’t matter, that most of the people in the room knew about us anyway, and even if they didn’t, we had enough dirt on all of them that they wouldn’t dare film it.
You made me laugh but I still couldn’t relax, so you set about changing that, because that’s what you do. You told me to hold your waist while you wrapped your own arms around my neck, crossing your wrists above my shoulder blades and encouraging me to move by swaying your hips beneath my hands oh-so-gently.
I think I must’ve been doing something right because you smiled a little wider and curled one hand into my hair and eventually you had your victory, because I leaned my forehead against yours with my eyes closed. In that moment it didn’t matter where we were or who saw; not when my heart felt like it was about to break out of its space beneath my ribs and all I could think about was how it felt to have you pressed against me from head to toe.
I didn’t even notice when the song ended, or the next three, for that matter; it was only when you ran your thumb across my cheek and I looked up to see you smiling gently,telling me that it was time for us to go home that I realised I was dancing in time with nothing but my heartbeat.
So you took my hand and grabbed our coats, waving at Louise as she winked at us and told us she wanted to hear about it all - and soon.
We hailed a cab and climbed in the back and you told me you were proud, so proud, of all we’d accomplished and of me for facing so many of my fears, for making so much progress that night and throughout the tour. And when I cried because I was still on a post-performance high and didn’t know how to articulate the same sentiments to you, you didn’t mind, and you wiped away my tears, and you never once let go of my hand.
Today, Phil, I woke up in your arms.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about that as an event in itself, because it’s hardly something unusual, but sometimes I realise just how lucky I am to be able to feel your breath against the back of my neck as I watch the morning sunlight push the shadows from our bedroom.
I don’t think that there’s any particular reason as to why I feel lucky: perhaps it’s because I get to experience that with you, or maybe it’s because I get to experience it at all.
It doesn’t matter why.
You taught me that.
Sometimes I won’t get an answer; sometimes I don’t need one.
I’ve learnt to accept things for what they are, and that’s good.
So I guess what I’m trying to show you are the ways in which you have saved me, and the ways in which you’ve let me save myself.
The ways in which the little things you say and do create a larger picture and shapes us and that special entity that is our life together, and mould it into something magnificent.
You know as much as I do that I tend to hyperbolise and sound like a pretentious waffly twat, and yeah, that’s definitely the case here. But I think you deserve to hear that, as much as our story also deserves the soft epilogue of a home that is finally ours to decorate as we please, to house as many dogs as we can physically fit under one roof.
You know that I think Valentine’s Day is a day of largely false and commercialised romantic gestures, but that doesn’t mean that you’re so apathetic.
You deserve more than to be excluded from the occasion because you have a boyfriend who’s a cynic, who doesn’t want to tell you that he loves you through a card with generic and impersonal words, and chocolates in red boxes.
So I decided to write you this.
Because I do love you.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Phil.
- Dan x
P.S. If this whole thing was too soppy, to help you get over it there are three packets of marshmallows which are to be eaten, guilt-free, in the cupboard beside the sink. Just… please don’t throw up. Please.