Notes to my thirteen-year-old self and an apology that is thirty-four years overdue

This post will not be to everyone’s taste. Some may find it too long, others may simply find it too boring. For this I apologise, however, since it is a genuine memory, I was not prepared to embellish it in order to make it more amusing/appealing/entertaining to my readers and I was not prepared to skip any bits just because they seemed a little mundane.

It is what it is, an early chapter of my life………

I’d like to start by saying that being a ‘parent’ is difficult.

It’s difficult because despite your very best efforts to nurture, nourish, protect, support, advise and relate to the children in your life, once they have reached the dreaded teens, they undoubtedly think you are a total knob and this generally continues until they have reached adulthood themselves, which is not simply the point at which they turn eighteen, but the point at which they demonstrate a conscious responsibility for their own actions in life and display, at the very least, a modicum of capable independence.
For boys, this intersection can run on indefinitely!

I’m sure my step-sons think my childhood was a silent black and white movie;  that I played in the street with a stick and a hoop and that I had to sweep the occasional chimney, this is how ancient they find me.  I am almost completely unrelatable to their modern, social-media driven generation.

“No mobile phones?” I see a mask of horror appear on their pale, sun-deficient faces as they look up briefly from their devices

“No Internet!!!” they shake their heads in absolute disbelief, as if the concept is almost inhumane, barbaric.

This can make the dispensing of pearls of wisdom on life experiences quite difficult, since to them, I am merely the equivalent of a Diplodocus or some other poor plodding creature, grazing on vegetation and stopping every now and then to look blankly around at the chaos of the ever-changing world around me, what could I possibly know about what they are currently going through?

Following another recent ‘girlfriend’ ordeal, experienced by my teen step-son, and the ensuing fallout, my husband and I retired to bed that night, the many thoughts about his current turmoil undoubtedly running through our minds and finally falling into a fitful sleep full of strange dreams, I awoke the next morning with a name and an event from years passed freshly emblazoned in my mind. 

For several decades now, I have laboured under the illusion that my ‘first’ boyfriend was a knuckle dragging Neanderthal. A reckless, unpredictable, bully of a boy who was desperately trying to be a big man but at eighteen possessed neither the intelligence or the maturity to match even my fifteen year old self. He was good looking and somewhat charming in a rough-honed kind of way but in short, he was unequivocally no good for me and despite my various pained attempts to make him appreciate me the way I absolutely deserved, suffice to say, he never could and eventually I saw sense and took him at his final words on the very latest of so many occasions that he decided to unceremoniously dump me!

“We’re finished!” he would snarl.

Indeed we were!

However, my vivid dream of that night reminded me that this was not the case at all.

It’s true that my first long-term boyfriend was all the aforementioned things which made overall for a rather miserable experience but there was, in actual fact, someone before him and my dream had served to remind me of this startling detail that I had long since forgotten.

His name was Tony and he was a very tall, good looking, polite, well mannered and well educated grammar school boy. The polar opposite of my later abysmal coupling.

I met him on account of my friend Sally.

At the time I was mid between the age of thirteen and fourteen and, as such, had practically zero experience with boys apart from the immature flirtations with the various foreign boy students who would stay for two weeks at a time before departing my life forever.

My friend Sally was a little older than me at fifteen and she lived in Ramsgate and attended an all girls grammar school. She was very mature for her age.

Bright, young, intelligent, attractive and sharp. She was very classy, which one would naturally expect from a well brought up, young lady but she was also the epitome of cool and I was absolutely delighted when she had decided earlier that year that I was to be her new friend and she was to take me under her wing and introduce me to a far more grown up world than the one I currently shared with my third-form school friends.

We had spent many weekends during the summer holidays together, listening to favourite songs on the radio, reading teen magazines and perfecting our make up routines. Sometimes I would stay at her house which I loved, because we often had the house to ourselves and it felt terribly grown up, but sometimes, if we had a particularly good looking set of foreign students staying with us at the time, she would insist on staying at mine.

One weekend, later in the year, I was again invited to stay at her house and she said we would go to the under eighteen’s disco in Margate on the Friday night. Despite that I lived in Cliftonville, I had never before been to the U18’s disco in Margate. It was to be another year before my friends and I started to frequent the youth disco’s, so this first outing for me was the cause of some considerable excitement, not to mention much consternation.  I was both thrilled and nervous in equal amounts, you see I considered myself a bit of an ugly-duckling at that age. Unlike the ever confident Sally, with her generous weekly allowance from her doting, divorced father, I did not have the money to buy new clothes, makeup and all the latest fashions. Instead, I had to raid my Mum’s wardrobe that was jam packed with decades worth of clothes and find things that I could customise in an attempt to replicate the latest look on the high street. Occasionally my Mum would bring home a bargain from a boot fair that was practically brand new or better still some high street ‘seconds’ from the market stall that just needed a few stiches here or a new zip there. I can vividly remember exactly what I wore that night, since it was probably my one good fashionable outfit at that moment in time.

Sally was a regular to the club and had a large group of friends, including her boyfriend of the time, Charlie, who styled himself on Simon Le Bon. 

Sally and Charlie were quite the golden couple. The leaders of their respective packs.

Tony was one of Charlie’s best friends, shy and slightly awkward, perhaps due to his immense height, he must have been at least 6ft at just fifteen.

Since I did not consider myself cool or attractive and I most definitely was not supremely confident back then, I didn’t imagine for one minute that anyone would be interested in me. I had obviously made an effort to look the part but I certainly didn’t arrive that night with any expectation at all that I would attract the attention of a tall, good-looking, intelligent, fifteen-year-old boy.

Tony’s friends were all whispering in his ear, slapping him on the back and pushing him in my direction to come and approach me. We danced for a while, unable to talk above the music, we drank glasses of generic ‘coke’ at the bar and some point later we were all in the seating area, my friend Sallly and her friends lounging with their boyfriends, most of them necking, entwined with each other, making very elaborate movements with their mouths, their heads making strange almost mechanical circular actions as they snogged, I tried not to stare at them whilst I perched on the arm of the club chair that Tony was sitting in. Sally nodded at me in Tony’s direction and pulled a questioning face. I pretended not to know what she meant and shrugged my shoulders at her, one of her friends caught the non verbal conversation we were having and gave me a slight pitying look and smirked before resuming her tonsil acrobatics with her boyfriend. I knew that Sally meant for me to be a bit more involved with Tony but I was desperately trying to put off the inevitable. I felt a bit foolish and out of place amongst these more experienced, more grown up girls and boys. I didn’t want to embarrass my friend because I thought she was fabulous and having become good friends, I dearly hoped that would continue to be the case.

Sally leaned forward and whispered into my ear “Don’t be such a stiff, he really likes you, sit on his lap or something” she practically commanded.

So tentatively, I slipped onto Tony’s lap and smiled at him, or rather should I say, I perched awkwardly on his knees, trying to make as little contact with him as possible. He smiled back and put his arm around my waist. We sat in silence like that for a while whilst I looked in every direction other than at Tony, absolutely no idea what to do or say next. He played idly with the bangle on my wrist turning it this way and that, before taking the plunge and holding my hand. Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was looking up at me with a big grin on his face and then I heard someone say “So you gonna kiss him then or what?” 

I could have died with embarrassment, I wondered if it was going to be some humiliating joke at my expense, a bet or a dare or some other wicked prank but thankfully it was pretty dark there in that dimly lit club, full of the throb of teenage hormones and thumping bass and my crimson hue went quite unnoticed. I tried to look nonchalant about the whole thing except I was anything but.

The seconds that ticked by since the comment felt like an eternity. I was desperately trying to think of something to say to Tony to break the awkwardness, so I turned to look at him and was immediately met by his mouth and then, shortly after, the odd sensation of his tongue searching for mine. 

Given my lack of experience with boys, I was quite unprepared for such an eventuality. I had French-kissed a boy just once before so I wasn’t exactly what you would call, well practiced in the art-form.

My first ‘frenchie’ as we used to call it back then, was with a boy named Graydon, an unusal name, I’ve never met another one since. It was during the summer holidays following our first year at secondary school. My friend Alex was spending the weekend at my house and we went walking along the cliffs when two boys on bikes started riding passed us, back and forth, wolf-whistling, making comments, showing off. One of the boys was Andrew Smith who lived in the street down from mine. I knew him and thought he was a gobby little git and I didn’t really like him very much but I needn’t have worried since he seemed to be aiming his full attentions at my more developed friend Alex, making various comments about wanting to see her tits.

“Show us yer tits” was, I believe, the phrase he had chosen to woo her with.

Naturally, she had no intention of doing anything of the sort, but at twelve, this sort of attention from boys is, or at least was, considered to be perfectly normal prepubescent ‘mating’ rituals. These days, it would probably require a full scale social media campaign and a lawsuit!

With regard to tits, I had none to speak of at that age and so it fell to Andrew’s little friend Graydon to fix his sights on me whilst Andrew did his best to charm my friend. Graydon was small and skinny for his age, probably a few inches shorter than me but he had a cheeky grin and deep brown eyes and tanned skin with unruly hair that was streaked by the summer sun. I decided that he seemed quite nice and thus we were cordially invited to join them for the afternoon for an explore around the ‘Queens Dump’.

Well, what girl could possibly refuse such an offering!

The Queens Dump, on the cliff tops in Cliftonville.

In the fifties it was the site for the once splendid Butlin’s Queens Hotel, it was one of five Butlin’s hotels in Cliftonville. I heard that in it’s heyday it had possessed a grand ballroom and wonderful sea views from it’s prime cliff top location, it was even reported to have an indoor swimming pool with underwater viewing panels, but the increasing popularity of cheap package holidays to Spain in the late sixties and seventies saw the end of the Butlins heyday. The hotel was sold and eventually demolished in the late seventies/early eighties (reports seem to differ)  before being turned into ‘luxury flats’ in the nineties at the height of the YUPPY property boom, but in 1984, when I was aged just twelve it was nothing more than a wasteland that was surrounded by boards covered in “Keep Out” and “Danger” signs, hence it was known whilst I was growing up as the ‘Queens Dump’.

Naturally, anything marked ‘Keep Out’ is practically a golden invitation for nosey kids to make their unwarranted entrance to see what lies out of bounds and on this day, we did just that.

We scrambled over the fences before we could be seen by any passers by who might berate us and then ran amok amongst the debris and the crumbling remnants of buildings and rooms. It looked like a bombsite, the likes of which I had only ever seen on TV news reports about the Falkland Isles or the disturbances in Northern Ireland.

Having explored the site for a while it seemed that we were separating as a group and Alex and Andrew drifted off into a separate room. I was next door with Graydon. I remember us talking to each other between the two dilapidated chambers and then it all went quiet.

“What are they doing?” I asked Graydon, suddenly a little bit worried

“Oh, they’re probably kissing” he said all matter of fact, then equally as candid, he said “Do you want to kiss me?”

I laughed nervously, until that moment the thought genuinely had not crossed my mind but I was feeling quite daring so I said “Ok then”.

He put his arms around my waist and pulled me closer to him and then closed his eyes and puckered up. I put my lips against his and held them there for a moment or too and then stopped assuming that was what a kiss was.
He opened his eyes and looked at me quizzically and then kissed me again and this time I felt his tongue against my lips and then in my mouth. I responded, it felt weird but nice. I remember looking at him whilst we kissed, his eyes were closed, so I closed mine too and we kissed a bit longer, but I was also worried that we were being very naughty and that we might get caught and so I stopped again.

Later that day, when Alex and I were back in my bedroom, we compared notes on our kissing experiences and talked animatedly about our little adventure that afternoon. Even if we had no interest in ‘going out’ with the boys, it had been quite the thrill.

So, anyway, that was my one and only French-kiss experience to date and now here I was sitting in the lap of a tall, handsome, boy called Tony.

We kissed a little and again I pulled away, nervous, shy, inexperienced but I think I already knew that he was different from the other boys around us, he was shy too.
I had a distinct impression that he was a nice, decent, respectable boy. That’s not to say that the others weren’t, of course, I didn’t know them but they were certainly more experienced. We grinned at each other and talked for a little while and with the help (aka bossiness) of my friend Sally who was busy playing matchmaker, we arranged to meet in Ramsgate town centre the following day.

At about ten o’clock or thereabouts the evening was coming to an end, the staff were busy trying to make everyone leave so that they could prepare to clean the club and re-open it again at eleven for their adult clients.

We all collected our coats and scarves from the cloakroom attendant and made our way outside into the cold, night air. Sally’s Dad was waiting in the car outside to collect us. She snogged her boyfriend goodnight.  I said goodbye to Tony and shyly kissed him again to a good-natured chorus of “Wooh’s” from his friends.

“See you tomorrow” he said grinning from ear to ear.
We waved goodbye as we climbed into the car.
I don’t remember the journey home, my mind was in a complete spin.
Did that really just happen?

The next day I was a bundle of nerves. Did I really want to meet this boy again? I liked him well enough but I couldn’t help feeling that we had been forced together. What if he didn’t like me? What if he thought I was ugly when he saw me in the daylight? What if he didn’t turn up?

Sally tutted and rolled her eyes at every silly question and every obstacle I tried to put in the way and she chivvied me along until eventually I was ready to leave her house, giving me a final once over to ensure, hair, make up, outfit, were all up to par.

We arrived in Ramsgate a little before our arranged meeting time.

We had arranged to meet outside Burtons menswear, which was on the corner of the crossroads at the bottom of the high street.  I was dragging my feet, again putting off the inevitable. We waited, chatting to each other for a few minutes and then suddenly he was there beside me, he looked even taller in the daylight, he looked like a giant compared to my diminutive stature, a shade over five foot. He said “Hello” with a big grin on his face and I smiled back timidly (I positively cringe now to think what a wet lettuce I must have seemed).
Sally nudged me sharply in the back, propelling me forward and I knew that was my cue to kiss him by way of a greeting. We kissed, right there in the busy street, a proper kiss and when we finished he took my hand and we started to walk. He had turned up, he genuinely liked me and the next time I looked up at him, his face full of smiles, I felt very different indeed. I was instantly smitten.

It felt extremely odd to think that here was a tall, good looking, well educated, well mannered boy who wanted to call himself my boyfriend.

I had a BOYFRIEND!!!!  A very delightful one at that. It was quite a lot to take in.

He asked if it was ok if we went to look in Burtons so Sally and I went with him and he bought himself a thin black leather tie that was fashionable of the time. I was very impressed. He said he would wear it next Friday night for me. The penny didn’t drop at that instant but I realised later that this was his way of telling me that he wanted to see me again on the Friday. He already knew that I was returning home that afternoon so we only had a few hours together that day and then the next opportunity to see each other would not be until Friday night, at the club.

I returned home later that day and inevitably my Mum will have asked how my weekend was at Sally’s. Being a teenager, I don’t suppose I told her much of anything.

I’m pretty bloody sure I didn’t mention that I now had a 6ft boyfriend called Tony!

For obvious confidentiality reasons, I can’t include a photo of Tony in this post, not that I possess one anyway, but I can provide an approximation based on someone I said that he looked like at the time.

Mike Lindup, Level 42

That Monday morning at school I made the mistake of telling my little group of friends about meeting Tony. As I said before, they were still very immature (me included up until quite recently) and none of them had boyfriends. They thought it was all rather amusing and made fun of me all day.
I really wished I hadn’t said anything.

Even my best friend was joining in somewhat with the silly taunts. I didn’t really expect any better from the Twins because they were a pair of prim, little snobs. I think at first their reaction was one of total disbelief that a Grammar school boy would be interested in me. They basically thought I was trash because we were poor. For all their seemingly innocent ways, they could be rather disdainful and terrifically cruel when the fancy took them.  I always thought it rather odd that they didn’t seem to understand the very basic fact that just as they were not remotely responsible for earning a single penny of their parents wealth, I too could not be held responsible for my families lack thereof.

I had hoped that I would have been able to confide in my best friend some of the finer details of the evening, but for now it seemed the sensible thing to just keep those to myself. It was times like these that I wished my friend Alex was still part of our little group but she had long since fled in search of more mature company and despite that we both still liked each other very much, we didn’t hang around together a great deal anymore.

I’m sure nothing overtly malicious was meant by my friends teasing, well some of them at least, it was just good fun to them but irrespective of their intentions they had made me feel stupid and undeserving of a situation that I had initially felt happy and excited about.

Was Tony too good for me? I started to wonder if the Twins might actually be right.

Mid that week, I arrived home at about six-thirty after being out with my best friend after school and my Mum announced that Tony had rung for me and had asked if I could call him back.

Who’s Tony? Was the first question. For some reason, at the age of thirteen/fourteen it is a strict rule that you never tell your parents the whole truth, even if there is no reason to lie to them. I could have just said “Oh, well he’s a really nice boy that I met on Friday night and he wants to be my boyfriend” and I daresay that my Mum would have been pleased as punch for me and my Dad would have said something disparaging and that would have been that.

But, like I said, when we are that age, we feel that it is necessary to pretty much deny everything, so I think I played it down, I certainly never gave them the impression that he was my ‘boyfriend’ and I definitely never asked if it would be ok if I went out on Friday night to meet him!

I called Tony a little later on, my hand over the receiver and speaking in such hushed tones that it was barely more than a whisper. On several occasions I had to repeat myself.

He asked excitedly if I was looking forward to Friday and rather than me simply saying that I hadn’t yet discussed it with my parents and that there was a good chance that I might not even be allowed to go, instead I decided to try and sound casual and make it sound like I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go or not, like it would be the most tedious thing in the world to have to go ‘again’.

He sounded crushed and I instantly felt bad. Not only that, but I really wanted to go because I genuinely liked him. He said if I didn’t want to go to the disco that maybe he could come over to my house instead. Bless him, he was terribly keen, but my immediate thoughts as to that scenario were “Christ No! That would be so much worse!’. Having to first tell my parents that I had a boyfriend would be mortifying enough, but to then have to tell them that he was coming round to see me and him having to meet them and actually SPEAK to them and see where I lived in my home-come-museum-come-crap-palace. NO WAY! I would literally die of embarrassment. So I finished the call promising that I would meet him at the club on Friday night.
He sounded happy and for a while I too was happy, idly lost in that fantasy, there was however, the small issue that I still hadn’t broached the subject with my parents and it was now already Wednesday evening.

To this day I can’t remember if I actually asked my parents and was told No, or if I just assumed that the answer would be a resounding  ‘No’ and that, therefore, I didn’t even ask in the first instance.
My parents were very strict and coupled with the fact that we never really had much money, generally the answer, whatever the question, was always ‘No’.
Sometimes my Mum could be worked on until a ‘maybe’ was forthcoming and she would have a quiet word with my Dad and bend his ear until he came round to the idea, but my Dad was pretty impossible. The answer was ‘No’ and if you dared ask again, a clip round the ear would follow with the implicit understanding that you absolutely didn’t ask a third time.

Either way, I didn’t go out on the Friday and neither did I tell Tony or Sally that I would not be there.

The first phone call came shortly after seven o’clock that evening, bearing in mind that there were no mobile phones in those days, that the person who wanted to call would have to leave the place they were at, walk to a public phone box and make the call and then return, it was no small thing.

It was Sally asking where I was, how long I would be and should she wait outside for me.

It was only at this point that she learned that I wasn’t going. Again I couldn’t just find it in myself to tell her the simple truth, that I either wasn’t allowed out or that I just hadn’t had the courage to even ask, because it didn’t sound cool, so instead I said that I “didn’t feel like it”. She told me that Tony would be really upset, that he was really looking forward to seeing me. She tried her best convincing tactics to get me to change my mind, she said they could all walk up and meet me halfway, or maybe Tony could come over and pick me up but none of them worked because I wasn’t being honest with her. She finished the call not best pleased with me.

The next few hours passed slowly. I was in a miserable mood, I wished I could be spending the evening with my new ‘boyfriend’ but I realised that after tonight, I guess he wouldn’t be my boyfriend anymore. I had definitely screwed that up. I could have cried!

Later that evening, sometime between nine and ten o’clock the phone rang again and my Mum answered it. She said a few brief words and then told me it was for me…… my heart was thumping in my chest.

“Hello?” I said apprehensively, relief washed over me when it was Sally’s voice that I heard and not Tony’s but it was short lived.  She was on the other end of the phone sounding really panicked, telling me that because I had stood him up Tony and some of the boys had gone to the off licence and bought alcohol and now he was drunk and threatening to jump off the cliff and was there anyway I could go and meet them and tell him that it was all a misunderstanding and that I would still be his girlfriend.

At this point, I feebly told her, as I sat there still in my school uniform,  that I wasn’t allowed out and then instantly wished that a hole would appear in the ground and swallow me up. I was thirteen years old, I wasn’t equipped for this kind of responsibility; emotional, sensitive boyfriends threatening to jump off cliffs. My Mum who had been sat just a few metres away wanted to know what it was all about when I had finished my call.

So instead of my parents hearing about the dashing Tony days and days before, when he was the perfect young suitor for their innocent daughter, they were now hearing about a boy who was not only drunk but threatening self harm because I hadn’t gone to meet him. It didn’t exactly show him in the best light, even if it was all unintentionally my fault.

How could I possibly have known that it would turn out that way?

Rest assured, he didn’t throw himself off the cliff.

Naturally, I’m very glad of that fact but sadly, if I recall correctly, I never saw or spoke to him again and I have always felt rather bad that I allowed him to continue to think that I wasn’t interested in him. Instead of telling him the truth, that I was young and inexperienced and that I was too chicken to tell my parents about him, I let this lovely young boy think that I didn’t want him, that I had discarded him without a second thought.

The point of me writing this is that, as an adult, I of course, fully understand how impressionable boys and young men are. We don’t realise this as young girls, we think of them as tough and lacking in emotion but they are equally as sensitive and emotionally fragile as any girl, some more so.  Their feelings get hurt and their hearts get broken too.

I then started to wonder what would have happened if Tony had in actual fact been my first boyfriend.

If this pleasant, polite, well spoken, well educated boy had been my first proper boyfriend instead of the idiot that I had ended up wasting so much time on.

Would I be a different person today as a result of that?

Impossible to say since it never happened, but one thing I had learned after opening up the box was that I still felt bad about how I had treated him, even thirty-four years later. Regardless of all the other stupid, dumb, crazy or selfish shit I’ve done in my life, I still felt bad for shy, fifteen-year-old Tony.

Fresh off the back of the many conversations with my step-son and how low he was feeling himself and newly reminded of these events in my past life, I hated the idea that I had allowed this boy to think that I didn’t like him enough. I hated the notion that he may have believed that I didn’t want him and I hated that I neither did or said anything after the event to make him feel any better about the situation and whilst I’m certain that he very quickly got over it and has probably never given it another thought since, if I had my time again I would not allow him to believe that I didn’t want to be his girlfriend.

So, to Tony O***** wherever you may be, here is my long overdue apology:

Dear fifteen-year-old Tony O*****
I’m sorry that I stood you up, in truth, I would have loved to have been by your side.
I’m sorry that I let you believe that I didn’t want you to be my boyfriend when the reality was the complete opposite.
I’m sorry that my thirteen-year-old self was not experienced or mature enough to know how to  be your girlfriend. I am, however, quite certain that this was entirely my loss and not at all yours.
Finally, I’m sorry that it has taken me thirty-four years to tell you.

I hope that if one day you find yourself reading this, my memory about us meeting and my subsequent apology has made you smile today.

I may have lived to regret my thirteen year old actions, but I daresay, in some small part, they have made me the confident, frank, direct and honest adult that I am today.
(the girl in the black and purple batwing blouse and black pleat front trousers with purple flecks)

And if I may be allowed a quick word with my thirteen-year-old self.
Dear Becky
1. You may feel like an awkward ugly duckling at the moment, but one day soon you will find your wings and honestly, your beak is really not that big.
2. You will learn over time that kindness costs nothing, yet it can be absolutely priceless.
3. You will constantly hear people saying that honesty is the best policy but it sure doesn’t seem like the world really wants to hear it sometimes. I guess you’ll have to work that one out for yourself, but you will never lose friends due to honesty, only false friends.
4.  You are going to spend eighteen months going out with a boy called Terry who will make you feel pretty miserable most of the time. All I can say is that your choices thereafter are so much better!
It’s all part of the process of growing up. Suck it up, Buttercup! No regrets, just experiences!

If you got to this point, thanks for reading.
Until the next time.

The Virtual Recluse

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