Tag Archives: memory

All My Friends: Jo, Jo Jo, Joanna

I’m Joanna now. For at least the last five years. Joanna. No, not Jo. Definitely not Jo Jo. Nothing that you can play back to me across the span of years separating us as we are today, all thirty something and figuring we can get on with things now that we know who we are, and how we were then, nebulous, not quite set, wobbling around in the moulds we’d crafted in adolescence, cooling into the hard and fast people we were going to be. No name, in short, that you can append with any of the rhyming prefixes that marked those years together and which, at the time, I had laughed along with. Blow Jo. The time Richard regaled seemingly the whole campus with a tale about our oral adventures. My oral adventures. He wasn’t one to reciprocate which was unfortunate as his three minute missionary mission hadn’t exactly knocked me out of orbit. Houston, we have a problem. Or flow Jo. A personal favourite; a fairly routine, clumsy mishap spilling the contents of my bag onto the floor one night in the pub sparking tampon related hilarity and an incident in which a pint of snakebite and black was soaked up in its super absorbent layers. Crow Jo. I dressed in a lot of black then, stayed pale, went heavy on the mascara, dyed my hair, listened to the Sisters and All About Eve and the Mission, so I vaguely understood this one. Of all of them this was probably the one I’d been happiest to wear as a label back then; their intentions may not have been entirely good but I wore this one like a badge of honour. I’m pretty sure there were others: slow Jo (always late), go Jo (always first to leave), and various comments on my sexual proclivities or otherwise (no Jo if I batted away some cack handed, groping pass from an unwelcome suitor or pro Jo if I decided to have some fun and it was, in the classic male-female double standard, deemed too soon or, heaven forbid, a one night stand).

Joanna suited me better these days. I think they’d all been surprised that I’d cut back my hair, neat bob, still jet black, and they were a little thrown by the suit. I’d come straight from the office. I assume, perhaps, they thought I’d turn up in the bat mobile or astride a giant raven or something rather than in my standard issue, company scheme Ford Mondeo. It was white, had too many miles on the clock for its age, and struggled to start on cold mornings. It got me from A to B and served as a neat metaphorical expression of where I was in my life. I’d spent a decent part of that first evening with all of us back together trying to imagine what each of the others would choose to drive but had given up after pegging Clare as wanting an Alfa – looks lovely, slightly aggressive, but completely unreliable and will always let you down – but needing a Golf – something steadfast and whilst not that sexy to look at, actually quite exciting underneath if you picked up the right model. One of the merits, or otherwise, of working in a brand consultancy was that I could now reduce almost any emotional expression to a mental exercise that shorthanded human behaviour to car choice or likelihood of being life and soul of a party or best-fit celebrity. Clare would be Jennifer Aniston: likeable but doomed to make terrible romantic choices. At a party she’d be the one flirting and subsequently sleeping with the guy with whom she’s done all of this before, writ large, whilst her old friends look on with quiet pity and the man that actually loves her, is obsessed with her, watches in drunken despair. Oh look, that’s exactly what she is doing. Maybe there’s more to those brand projection techniques than I give them credit for.

My main concession to my past, to the old Jo that they’d all known, was to bring my laptop so that, at the very least, the weekend would be soundtracked appropriately. I wasn’t selfish enough to turn every evening into a re-creation of a night out at Sector 5 but I knew that once everyone was suitably refreshed that I’d get away with chucking on ‘Temple Of Love’ or ‘In Between Days’ or, at a push, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Turns out that I  totally didn’t get away with the Bauhaus. Neil and Jon took over DJ duties at that point to enthusiastic encouragement from the others and played the hits as remembered through everyone’s indie-tinted glasses, presumably with those thick rimmed NHS prescription frames. Some time later, after what seemed like a long discussion, they settled on LCD Soundsystem which I’m not sure was likely to unite the new, shiny us in the same way that, say, Smells Like Teen Spirit united the memory of us. I liked it more than Jo would have: she was a bit more militant about that sort of thing. She would have found it a bit too arch, a bit too knowing. I just danced.

I danced and I remembered. It was like I’d always been on the periphery before, always observing, and a flood of memories came back seeing them all again. Jason holding an upside down, empty pint glass on his head, tears of beer streaking down his cheeks, other hand raised in celebration. Neil asleep on Jon’s floor surrounded by vinyl, the two of them sharing music into unconsciousness. Gina in the library with the lead piping. No, seriously, Gina in the library, protesting as me and Clare dragged her out to join us in the Union on a Friday afternoon. Richard, in a rare moment of not being a total dick, buying that nine bar after our finals and initiating the second summer of love in ’94. To be honest I don’t really remember that: June went up in smoke. Lizzie getting us backstage, into the VIP area, at Glastonbury after blagging security that she was managing PR for Rolf Harris. Back then he needed less PR, not sure even Lizzie could pull that one now. All of us eating vodka jelly and opening our hearts to each other as only drunken strangers can. All of us vowing to keep in touch. All of us swearing these were the best days of our lives.

I danced and I remembered. I even remembered Jo, the various versions of Jo that were foisted on me whether I wanted them or not. I think she would have liked Joanna.

 

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Saudade

As her words sunk in the only thought Michael could cling to was: why here ? They’d spent the previous week in and out each other’s flats, out at dinner, caught some art house film she’d wanted to see at the Grand. A myriad of opportunities to break the news; the breaking news that she must have known would break him. Why here ? This was, in the heavily romanticized version of their relationship playing on a loop in his head, their place. He’d brought her here last summer, short sleeves and carefree, idly walking and talking about everything and nothing. They’d kept coming as summer lengthened to Autumn; the Fall marking his own inexorable fall. They’d kissed here for the first time when bare arms still smelled faintly of sun lotion and she’d still tasted of lemons; a bag of penny sweets she’d brought as a gift and they’d devoured like they were kids again. He’d confessed to her here for the first time too. I think I’m in love with you. Something like that. He’d practiced it for days, borrowing words from the long dead and the great wordsmiths, before it had just tumbled out breathlessly, hopefully. I think… No, I know, I’m in love with you. She’d smiled, put a finger to his lips, mouthed that she knew and kissed him fiercely. They’d only stopped as some leaves dislodged themselves from the tree above them and landed on their heads. Falling in the Fall. It had always been their place from then. Their tree. Their place. Their love.

“I’m taking the job in Manaus.” Those six words had hung between them now for what felt like a full five minutes. Why here ?

……

A year on, when he came back, the same thought nagged and refused to let go: why here ? Their place, their tree. Why here ? After all those weeks in each other’s pockets, myriad opportunities to break the news. Why here for the breaking news that she knew would break him ?

He’d brought her here that summer, short sleeves, carefree, idly walking and talking about everything and nothing. They’d kissed for the first time, bare arms smelling faintly of sun lotion. She’d tasted of lemons, her lips still fizzing from the bag of sweets he’d brought as a gift. Or had she brought them ? They’d kept coming as summer lengthened to Autumn – the Fall marking his inexorable fall – and he’d confessed to his feelings for her for the first time. I think I love you. Practiced for days with borrowed words but blurted breathlessly, hopefully, words tumbling out and over each other. I think… No, I know, I love you. She’d smiled, placed a finger on his lips, mouthed that she knew and kissed him fiercely. They’d only stopped as leaves, seasonally dislodged, fell on top of their heads. Falling in the Fall.

“I’m taking the job in Manaus.” Why here ?

……

Five years and this place, their place, still held his memories captive: imprisoned by the bittersweet pull of nostalgia. Less sweet and more bitter with each passing year. Why here ? Why had she chosen here for the breaking news she’d known would break him ?

From their summer, short sleeves and carefree, through lengthening days of Autumn this had been their place. First kiss, the tang of lemons, bare arms smelling faintly of sun lotion, to that initial declaration of love, long practiced but words just tumbling breathlessly and hopefully from his mouth. I think. No, I know, I love you. She’d smiled and kissed him but hadn’t spoken. Leaves had rained down on their heads to signal the end of Summer and she’d told him about Manaus.

……

Just a foolish old man now, thirty long years past those days when the world was so vivid that it had tasted of lemons and smelled of sun lotion. She’d only said six words in the place he’d always hold as theirs – I’m taking the job in Manaus – and summer’s kiss through Autumn’s falling in love melted across the seasons, back through the years, and evaporated. Why had she told him here ?

……

This is the twelfth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Saudade is a rather brilliant Portuguese word with no direct equivalent in English: I have somewhat clunkily expressed its meaning in this story. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/