Thoughts about how we often rewrite reality to suit ourselves, buff guys at work, and a possible case of Terminal Herpes.
I love hearing people tell me stories. Partly because there’s a possibility I could steal it and pretend it was my own, and turn it into a podcast, but also because I love hearing the way people change things, just a little, just subtly, to make them more central to the plot. Or to add a bit more charisma and charm to themselves, or their character. Sometimes, of course, people go the other way and make themselves into more of a victim of circumstances, removing any bits of personal responsibility that they don’t want to admit to.
It’s tempting to do all of that with the stories I tell you, to be honest. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play god, make themselves, the charming, witty hero who always has exactly the right comeback, or sometimes I’m tempted to push things a little the other way, if it makes a joke funnier. I do my best not to, though. After all, this is Probably True, not Everyone Look How Amazing I Am, all the time, because I’m so awesome, let me tell you a story about how awesome I am.
Usually what I tell you is true, or at least very close to. Y’know, I might have a much funnier response to a story because I didn’t think of it in the moment. Then, days later in the shower as I’m replaying the scene for the 50th time, something hilarious pops into my head. And then that’s the official version and I decide that if I ever tell that story, that’s how it’s going to go down. Real life has a lot left unsaid, where in stories, you can give yourself the courage to tell people what you really think, in ways that you most people wouldn’t, normally.
Like the guy who had been pestering me for a shag, after we’d met in the gym, but I’d been away on holiday or something, so I messaged him when I got back and he sent me a couple of the smuggest most wanky messages about how he was seeing someone who was a complete prince and how he hoped he’d never have to talk to me again; and I replied saying that I understood, even if I wouldn’t have phrased it like that, and I hope it all works out for them. Only later did it occur to me to have said something like “I hope your prince treats you well, because you could have had a king” or, or “I hope he gives you terminal herpes” or something.
Or, y’know, the guy who broke up with me because he “didn’t like my penis, but still wanted to be friends”. And I just sent him the cry-laughing emoji and blocked his number, when later I was tempted to unblock him just to explain how not wanting to be in a relationship with me was fine (it wasn’t) because I hadn’t got that emotionally invested (I had), but how DARE he use my body as an excuse to cover up his emotional damage and intimacy issues…
So, yeah. It’s easy to rewrite things to fit the story better. But I do my best not to. For example, I’m not great at making friends. I can be social and stuff, and generally chatty, but that’s not the same.
So, there was this new guy at work last year. Nice guy, bit of a dick in that straight guy way, but a pretty solid guy. And he was buff. Like, proper buuuuuff. And handsome, too. In a scruffy, surf-y, sort of a way. He wasn’t that tall, but he was broad, and I used to take the piss and say it looked like he’d been squashed to kind of play down the fact that I thought he was gorgeous. It’s tempting to tell you we hit it off, and became great mates, but we never really clicked. He seemed cool, but I never put that much effort into getting to know him, because I was busy with work, and he was straight and it always gets a bit weird when I try to befriend straight guys who’re really hot, because I don’t know how to behave around them
So we didn’t talk much, mostly because I could hardly bring myself to look him in the eye. I looked at the rest of him, though. By christ, yes. We’d chat a bit, occasionally, if I found myself in the kitchen making tea at the same time as him, or something.
It was mostly about work, or I’d ask him for gym tips, because he was so buuuuff. just so we had something to talk about, while I avoided eye contact and generally just tried to think of another question to ask him while he was answering my last one so that we’d be able to talk for longer. Proper mature stuff, this. Y’know, I’m in my 30s.. Proper adulting and everything.
So, this went on for a few months, and then at Christmas, I asked what his plans were for the holiday, and he mentioned that his contract was ending, so he was going to take some time off to chill out and that. And I hid my disappointment that he wasn’t going to be back in the office behind a shrug, and stuttered something about how I was sure we’d need him again before too long, and I’d probably see him in the new year.
With it being near christmas, there were glasses of wine at the end of the day, so as I was heading out of the office, I saw him stepping into the lift, coat on, already rolling his first cigarette for when he got outside. On an impulse, I dived into the lift with him before the doors closed.
"Alright mate?" He said, taking his deep blue eyes off of his rolly for a second and smiling that cheeky smile at me that made me knees wobble. I said yeah, and then aided by the desk wine, kinda just vomited words on him. Saying how he seemed cool, and I hoped we could hang out outside of work sometime, maybe get stoned or something, and how it was my birthday soon, so there’d be a big party at mine, and I was going to invite a few people from the office, and he should come too. To start with, like with vomiting, I tried to hold it back, but then after I realised there was no way of stopping it, I just kind of mentally shrugged and went with it and let it all just sort of blergh out.
There was a pause. The word-based equivalent of him picking bits of carrot out of his ears. He tucked a scraggly bit of shaggy blonde surfer hair behind his ear and turned those beautiful blue eyes on me again.
"Someone’s had a bit too much to drink." He laughed, before continuing to roll his cigarette. "Nice though. Is that how you’re going to tell people it went?"
“Well, this is your story, man. You can say it happened like this, if you like. That way, when you hear I died suddenly in February, you’ll have something uplifting to say about the last time we spoke. It’s almost as if, by telling this story, you get to rewrite history a bit, give yourself a bit of closure and a nice little parable about being open and honest with people and making sure you don’t take life for granted, as a way of processing your grief.”
Alright, Jesus. If you’re going to be imaginary, you could at least be naked. He didn’t respond. But then, he couldn’t, because everything he said was true. I wasn’t in the lift, talking to him at Christmas. I was here, talking to you, in March. And he’s been dead a month already.
So I can’t tell you how good it feels to get it all out there and say all the things that you’re afraid to say, or think you probably shouldn’t yet, but one day you’ll get round to it, because right now isn’t convenient, or they might not react favourably, or something like that. I can’t tell you how great it feels to live your life like that, because I don’t know.
Instead, all I can do is tell you how shitty it feels to still have all those things left to say, and no-one to say them to.