Island

It’s going to sound strange, but one of the hardest things about working in a school for me is seeing so many groups of children buddying up, being the best of friends and generally having a wonderful time of it. It’s heart-warming, soul-stirring… and also a little sad, when I stop to think about it. It makes you reflect a lot. Of course, there’s the odd kid like me in the ranks, but they’re (fortunately) very much in the minority.

Let me tell you what I mean.

School is a transitional stage. A crucial stage in life, granted, but a fleeting moment in the blink of years. The friends you make at school are, in all likelihood, bound to slip away into the ether over the years, like treasured childhood toys. Those that stick around are the fruit of a particularly strong friendship, and I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to state that that kind of friendship is slipping away too in the digital age, when anyone and everyone is attainable at the touch of a button. Nothing that’s precious is that easy.

Like I said, transitional. Your classmates are seldom your friends for life, especially if you move away. So it’s hardly practical to feel a little envious of the friendships your students have… Right?

Nonetheless, I confess that I do. Teaching brings you into contact with so many amazing, bright young things. Kids that make you laugh. Kids that make your heart melt with their kindnesses. Kids that blow your mind with the things they know. There’s more than one student of mine I’d point the finger at and say to myself ‘I would definitely have hung around with him if I went to school with them’.

This attitude is more than partly my fault. I’ve been a solitary individual since I was tiny, knowing myself better than I ever knew anybody else. That was probably born out of stubborn selfishness, but it’s developed into a keen understanding of my limits, my desires and my needs that I’m truly grateful for. That, paired with a blunt adherence to the honest truth, no matter how painful, doesn’t necessarily make for good friend material. But then, neither does the mindset; the constant searching for a best friend, that most unattainable of treasures. I don’t half wonder whether, like I did with my Princess, I set my standards too early on with the equally fictional Gabriel.

Growing up in a village was a major roadblock, unassisted by the fact that I went to a grammar school miles away, with the result that all of my friends lived on the other side of the county. My little brother managed it. I didn’t. There were certainly no kids in my village that I knew well enough to call ‘friends’; the few that I did know vanished one by one in an absurd streak of bad luck, and those left closest to me in age were the ones who chased me out of town once when they saw me out and about with my camera.

I wasn’t a loner. I always did have a large circle of friends, about whom I could flit easily. But I don’t know whether I ever truly fitted in. A social chameleon with a painful self-awareness. In those circles I usually played the role of second-fiddle, third wheel, the one on the outside looking in. The tag-along to a pair of solid mates. The boy in an otherwise all-girl friendship circle. The singleton in a group of couples. A constant crush of ‘Do you ever feel left out?’, ‘Is it them or me?’, ‘What am I doing wrong?’. I was doing a lot of running away back then. What I needed was a male role model, a camaraderie. Something to glue the works. My dad’s operatic circle and disinterest in outdoor activities hadn’t left me with the best preparation for the masculine environment of an all-boys school, even a long-haired, arty grammar school for boys.

Estranged at the age when sex, cars, football and a dozen other deeply uninteresting things became the talk of the day, I gave up on men and turned to women in search of a best friend. My justification was that the conversation level was generally better. I stand by that.

I guess I messed up somewhere. I surprised everyone by dating a girl and ‘not being gay after all’. I lost her for reasons beyond my control. In that year and a half – two, if you count the moping – I managed to ignore my former companions and lost out on the solidification of lasting friendships. I was left floating and I had nobody to blame but myself.

Here I am, seven years later, still floating. I’ve met so many wonderful people and made so many amazing friends, but that mythical best friend continues to elude me. That person who is always there. The one that makes me laugh. One I can always rely on. One who understands my passions and my many idiocies and can counter them or let me learn from my own mistakes when needed. There are at least three people in my life who answer to that description, and one of them is my mother, but my life choices have separated me from them for the foreseeable future.

My problem is that I think too much. I know me, and so far knowing myself has led me to distance myself subconsciously over the years in the knowledge that one day I’d be leaving England for my grandfather’s country. It’s made me isolate myself for my own good and prevented me from ever desiring or even understanding any kind of relationship that lasts less than forever and involves less than total trust. I’d like to blame a handful of people who openly told me they couldn’t trust me as a kid for that last one. But I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses. Take it away, Gloria Gaynor.

I expect it’s the final hurdle that’s brought on this wave of introspection. What I should really be doing is packing, or better still working out what I can chuck so that I can feasibly get everything else home. Stuff. It truly is the bane of our lives. BB x

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