Kiss Your Past Goodbye
The month was April, the year was 1973, and I'd been revving up for Angie's eighteenth birthday party for weeks. It was going to be a fabulous do. The venue was this dead posh hotel on the outskirts of town - Angie's father had money, and no expense would be spared for his darling daughter. I'd sneaked thirty quid out of our savings for an extra special new dress - not from Etam or Chelsea Girl, where I usually did my clothes shopping, no; this time I went to a select little boutique called Flirt, and the dress was a dream. Floaty, wispy clouds of pale blue, a handkerchief hem, a tight waist with a tie back. I felt wonderful in it. My little sister said I looked like a princess.
I hadn't shown it to Jack yet. I wanted to knock him dead when he came to pick me up. Mum was going to help me do my hair in loose, shaggy waves, and I planned to have it falling over my shoulders so that when I opened the door to him, in the dress, he would be stunned speechless. I wanted to make him proud of me. I wanted to make him gasp "WOW!" and fall back in amazement.
Jack and I had been together since we were fourteen. Met him at the bus stop, where all the third and fourth year flirting went on. We just clicked. Ever since then we'd been JackandZoe, and our friends looked up to us, as if we were older and more sensible. We were the established couple. We weren't running around having disastrous dates or making fools of ourselves over people, or facing the shame of being the only one at the disco with no-one to dance with - we always had each other for the slow dance, because we were JackandZoe. I was fair and pretty, Jack was tall, dark and handsome. We were born to be together, the perfect couple. I was safe, I didn't have to worry about how far you should go on the first date, or losing my virginity to some idiot who would dump me straight afterwards - I had Jack.
Lots of people (mostly our older female relatives) expected him to put an engagement ring on my finger soon, but we didn't want to jump into marriage - no, the plan was to go travelling straight after our 'A' levels, and for this we'd been saving for eighteen months. When I was younger I'd wanted to go to university, but Jack said travelling would be a much better education for us both, so I didn't even apply. We hardly ever went out, putting every penny of the wages from our Saturday and holiday jobs into the travelling fund - which was why Angie's party was such a big event. Even though we had great times ahead, we were bored with staying in all the time. Jack had seemed so restless, irritable, in the last few months, and I hadn't got properly dressed up for ages.
"Oh, wow, you look fantastic!" Jack said, when he arrived. "Bugger the savings - that dress was worth every penny!"
Something was missing, though, something in his eyes. I couldn't work out what it was. Whatever it was, it was missing all the way to the hotel in Dad's car, and it carried on not being there all the time we were wishing Angie happy birthday and sneaking vodka from my handbag into our coke because we weren't old enough to get served - back in those days it was easy to get alcohol in the pubs when you were under eighteen, but Angie's Dad was hovering by the bar keeping a check on everyone.
We didn't stay joined at the hip all evening, not like some couples - we didn't need to. The wonderful thing about being JackandZoe was that we could have fun doing our own thing all evening, larking about with our friends, but still have someone for the slow dances, someone to go home with. We even danced with other people - never the slow dances, though. That was an agreement we had - and we had this other thing we did, too, when we were at a party. We'd be talking to other people but we'd blow kisses from over the other side of the room.
That night, I danced with my girlfriends - and Craig, and Stu, and Paul. It was just as I finished dancing to Bowie's Jean Genie with one of them (I can't remember which) that it happened. I'd looked over and seen Jack dancing with two of my friends, Pam and Suzy. They were mucking about together, the three of them, and I knew Jack was a bit drunk - he'd had more of the secret vodka than me. I caught Jack's eye and blew him a kiss, but he just turned his head, as if he hadn't seen me. I knew he had. My dance partner melted away as soon as Jean Genie finished, and the DJ put on something slower: Me and Mrs Jones by Billy Paul. I looked over at Jack; I wanted to dance with him, because it was one of my favourite records. Pam had melted away, too, leaving Jack and Suzy.
And Jack, my Jack, was dancing the slow dance, but not with me.
I didn't do anything, I just stood and watched them. They were talking as they danced, laughing, it wasn't like they were smooching or anything, but he had his hands on her waist and she had hers round the back of his neck and he was looking into her eyes, not mine. She was very pretty, Suzy; I wondered if he fancied her. Inside I was torn apart with rage and jealousy, but I said nothing. I didn't want to make a scene at Angie's party.
The next day he came round to see me as he always did on Sunday afternoon, but he was later than usual. We went straight up to my room; he had something he needed to tell me, he said. I felt sick with fear, really sick. Had he kissed Suzy, something like that? Had he done more than kiss her?
No, he said.
It was much, much worse.
He wanted to call it a day. Finish with me. Pack me in. End our relationship.
You can imagine how I felt, can't you? I was in a terrible state, crying, begging him. He had a wall around him, though. I couldn't believe that nothing I said would make him change his mind - but he admitted he'd been thinking this way for a long time. Reckoned we'd got together too young, and everything had gone stale.
"But that's only because we're saving up!" I said. "We've got loads of money now - we could spend a bit, have some fun!"
It wasn't the saving up and staying in, though, he said. It was because he didn't want JackandZoe anymore.
"I did enjoy dancing with Suzy," he said, "but not because she was special, just because she was someone different. Someone not you."
Jack did go travelling that summer, but not with me; he went with two friends of his older brother. I didn't even realise until after he'd gone that he'd taken half of my share of the money, too; I was too upset at the time to pay much attention to the balance in our joint account. I was too upset to concentrate on my 'A' levels, too, and I only passed one - but that didn't matter, because I wasn't going to university anyway, was I? I'd given that up because I was supposed to be going travelling and having wonderful life experiences with my wonderful boyfriend. Instead, he took my five hundred pounds and I spent the summer crying.
Only two weeks after he left me I saw him with another girl, and I just stood there and burst into tears in the street. People came up to me and said "Are you all right?" - which was well meant, but I wanted to scream at them if I was all right I wouldn't be standing here blubbing, would I? He finished with that girl soon after, I heard, then took up with another, and another, became a bit of a Jack The Lad, in fact, before he went away to Thailand and India. I was a mess, for months. I didn't know what to do with myself, with my time, I had no idea how to behave as someone on my own. Just Zoe. Everything I'd done and thought was part of us - when Jack left me he'd taken away my whole life.
That was in 1973. I was seventeen.
I'm fifty-seven, now.
I saw Jack, only the other day.
Oh, but first let me give you a brief account of my life, post Jack. It took me a long time, months of despair and blank, grey, lonely misery, but eventually I got a grip. I re-took my 'A' levels the next year, then read English at university after which I started a career in journalism. The London journo scene of the late 1970s was a non-stop party, and I was right in the middle of it. I had a colourful love life (sometimes blissful, sometimes disastrous), a hell of a career, and I married twice; I have two sons, and two beautiful granddaughters. My second marriage has been very happy, and we live in Dorset, on the coast. Richard is the editor of a local paper, and I still do a little journalism - I have regular colums in a couple of national women's magazines. Life is pretty damn good.
Ah, yes - I was going to tell you about Jack, wasn't I? Yes, I saw him last week when I travelled back up to the Midlands for a school reunion. I never expected to see him there, not for a moment - back in 1973 he couldn't wait to leave. No, I was just going there to see 'the girls' - I'd lost touch with everyone when I went to university.
I didn't notice him at first, but Suzy pointed him out. Poor Jack, he didn't look very well. Whereas I have kept my figure and like to maintain as youthful an appearance as possible, he looked as if he'd stopped caring about anything like that many years before. His dark hair was grey and thinning, his handsome features bloated and sallow, and his once lean frame carried several surplus stone.
Suzy had remained in our home town, and she wasted no time in dishing the dirt on my first love.
He'd returned from his travels around the time I went off to university, completely skint and with no way of paying me back the money he'd taken, of course. A few months later he got a girl called Barbara pregnant. The mid 1970s in provincial, lower middle class Britain was a very different world from nowadays; out of wedlock pregnancy was considered shameful, and Barbara had a battleaxe of a mother. Within months Jack had become a reluctant husband and father, and even more reluctant assistant manager at his new father-in-law's stationery wholesalers. Within five years he was a father of three - but still just an assistant manager; apparently Barbara's father considered him a bit of a layabout. He'd accepted his lot and, unable to abandon his children, relieved his frustrations by regular visits to the pub. Suzy was just one of the women with whom he'd had affairs over the years.
"Not that he's had any for quite some time," she said, "but that's only because he's not getting any takers - well, look at him! Barbara's the same - I think they must sit in front of the telly every night and eat and drink away their sorrows! Of course, he's depressed - well, he took over the stationers when his father-in-law died, but he's run it into the ground. They're having to re-mortgage their house - at their age! It's a rotten shame, isn't it - gosh, aren't you glad he dumped you, now? I know it's ancient history, but still, doesn't it make you feel like saying, ya boo sucks? Hey, shall we go over and talk to him? Go on, let's! Oh, I didn't say, did I? You look absolutely a-maz-ing. More like forty than nearly sixty! How on earth do you do it?"
We laughed, and as we did so I had that feeling when you know someone is looking at you. I glanced up. Yes, it was Jack. He must have been thirty feet away but we stared at each other for something like, ooh, all of ten seconds, and do you know what I did then? I blew him a kiss, just like we used to, across a crowded party. He returned it, awkwardly, as if he had not been used to making such gestures for a long, long time, and I saw a cloud of sadness pass over his face; he looked as though he was remembering something, something that hurt him to think about. Then he turned away, and a few minutes later I saw him leave.
Thank you, karma, I thought. Shouldn't have nicked my five hundred pounds, should he?
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