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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’

A Parallel Companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health

THREE: Nell and Other Stories

I remember that first time; it is somehow in the muted shades of faded film from that time. Her mother and brothers had taken their leave to other rooms somehow, and we were alone – and allowed to be – in the large living room. The furniture had seen some better days, a modular brown corduroy corner unit, and after our restraint, we flung ourselves into each other’s arms. We kissed long and hard, gasping for breath and licking and nuzzling… then our hands somehow flew across our shirts like spiders; buttons were undone and her white bra gleamed for a few seconds, tight against her full breasts, until – as if magically melted – the clasps were unfastened and the garment fell away.

Half-standing, kneeling with one leg on the sofa, she cradled me to her, and I nuzzled some more… then, she slowly inclined backwards and lay down, gently pulling me with her. I kissed her cheeks, her neck and once more her breasts. We shuffled to another position; I was sitting upright, cradling her in my arms. With more semiconscious movement, our we were kissing each other’s necks, her breasts pressed against my chest, our hearts beating in time within an inch of each other; my hand found somewhere else to be, under some remaining clothes and stroking gently… until she drew back a little and stopped. In the eternity between breaths, before I could respond at all, she cradled my cheek, stroking with her thumb. Looking me in the eye, she whispered,

“Shall we?”

“Do you want to?” I whispered back. She nodded, smiled slightly uncertainly and stood, adjusting her remaining clothes for the journey to her bedroom, then held out her hand to me. We climbed the stairs in near silence, she leading the way until we were in her bedroom with the door closed and sloughing our clothes to the floor – I accidentally left my socks on, but neither of us noticed. We only had eyes for each other, and as she turned around to face me, my breath kind of got a little lost somewhere. Trembling a little – with a tinge of cold, but a lot other things mixed in – we smiled at each other; then she took a step towards me.

She was beautiful to me.

We simply stood in front of each other for a moment; her hands danced full-palm on my body, and mine on hers… then the caressing became embracing, feeling free in our nakedness and savouring the sensation of our full-body skin-on-skin susurrations. A brief moment for me to take precautions – which, somehow, was just part of the natural flow of the moment, causing us to smile and share a near silent conspiratorial giggle. That briefest of asides only served to heighten the anticipation of what we were about to do.

In another embrace, we silently spun slowly, lowering ourselves to lie down… and with near telepathy and some small foreplay, we were there. It was happening; our first time, and we only had eyes and hearts and minds for and with each other. There was no uncertainty, there was no doubt – in fact, even the possibility of being discovered was nowhere in our minds. We were all that there was. We were for each other, for then, for that time.

We shared breath.

We joined heartbeats.

We were quiet – only because we wanted to be: noise would have been distracting.

After a time, we mutually drifted to a breathless stop, then – because we did not want to get caught by her mother or brothers bursting in and ruining the moment – we dressed hurriedly and crept back downstairs to curl up again in the corner of the large, soft and shabby, brown corduroy-covered modular corner unit. There was a bit more giggling.

We did not examine what had happened.

We did not particularly talk.

We just… entwined together, peacefully, clothed; until the clock on the shelf made a ding for midnight – the witching hour, and my curfew. Just a few more minutes of holding. Just a few; then, still feeling connected somehow, I wrenched myself into my motorcycle gear and she stood at the door as we kissed once too often – letting the freezing cold in, and me the chance for a quick hold and caress before putting my gloves on… then ignition, kick-start and away into the night, a cold solo ride home, with traces of Nell still upon me and keeping me warm. Every cell of my body, it seemed, was crying out to be back in the warm with her, back in her bed, back… back… but I had to go forward.

These bittersweet goodbyes and the cold solo rides home endure in my mind to this day. We never really did much except hang out at her house and when alone, we… indulged each other. For me, though – although I was by now completely besotted and using the ‘L’ Word – there was a certain, what now? underneath it all. First girlfriend: check. Virginity gone: check. No disastrous sex: check. The only thing I thought missing was matching sexy undies… even the yearning for Carol had gone. Though proud that I had moved on from that, I still could not help wondering if this was all there is.

A month or so later, at the second party I got invited to in those years, Mark was quite drunk and seemed a bit emotional about something. I asked him why and he told me of others’ opinion of Nell, and that everyone was laughing at me, how they thought me a pathetic fool. I merely drank my drink, and let it all slide until the following Monday, when I cornered him and said,

“You were drunk on Saturday and said something to me about Nell, remember?”

Yes, he remembered. “Do you still stand by that?” He sighed and said that it was true. “Right,” I told him. “I don’t care. People have been laughing at me all my life, and I’d prefer them be laughing at me in this way – because at least I have a girlfriend, so I just don’t care.” I walked away. That little nagging whisper returned though, asking almost continually why I was with Nell. We never really went out – a shortage of places to go to – and I was beginning to wonder if I was sticking with it all simply because she allowed me to. Was it all… just a habit that I had fallen into simply because she had invited me?

The dilemma ended a couple of weeks later, when Nell told me that she wanted to start seeing someone else. She was sorry, and they had not started anything, but… well, that was another thing off the list then. First breakup: check. However, this caused me another strange dilemma/problem: I was extremely upset and cried myself to sleep for a week, despite being able to be very cool about it and friendly with her in school – I had learned from the fallout of the Carol Incident that the best way to be about stuff like that was just to get on with getting on (allowing for a bit of wistfulness – which even Nell seemed to have). It was a bit painful emotionally at first, but not only did I get used to it, but it did not feel weird to me. It was something people of our age did: we would ‘be with someone’ for a bit, then stop and maybe fall in with someone else – sometimes it even worked out that it was mix-n-match swapsies… it was definitely a novelty for me to be in that position.

It was the only time that such an event was actually civilised – so civilised that not only did we manage to get on well with each other in school, but our infrequent encounters over the next few years were cordial and… intimate, I suppose. Certainly for me, there was a feeling that if we had found each other at the right time and both been free, we may well have continued where we left off in some way. It always felt like we never quite closed the doors of our hearts to each other.

When New Year turned and a new term arrived, another new girl turned up, and again, a snatched conversation turned into a coffee in a café in town at lunchtime… and I thought I spotted those tell-tale signals. Nell even took my hand one day (which felt both like a natural thing to do and brought back… urges…) and told me that she thought Gill was ‘very nice.’

Gill was slender and gingery, somewhat academic, but… she was an urban/suburban middle-class girl, who had moved to the area with her father who had a new teaching job at another school in the area. I could not help wondering why she was not at that school… and while they were spending the week in the area, they ‘went home’ at weekends, so doing anything at these times was impossibility.

All I had been used to was a basic variation of the small town/village girl, who at the time had a simplicity about them; a directness… an honesty. Gill was something new to me. Somehow very girly yet also with a maturity which sometimes comes along with intellect; she referred to Biology as ‘Bilge’ – obviously some sort of private joke there, not a comment on the nature of the subject. I suppose the easiest way to describe it is as a sort of knowing innocence; for her, there would always be a bus to go to a shopping centre café in town – and ‘town’ would only be about a quarter of an hour away. Out in our neck of the woods – apart from the specially-commissioned school buses – the only bus anywhere was once a week… and sometimes, it did not make a return trip…

One lunchtime, we were in a tucked-away from everywhere quiet corner of a churchyard, and she pulled back from our kiss, looked me in the eye.

“Touch me,” she whispered, yet as I undid her jeans, she grabbed my hand and did not let go, stopping me. I stepped back, puzzled. She apologised immediately, telling me that she wanted me to, but if she let me, “we’d probably end up making love soon, and…” Somewhere during that little speech, I zoned out; it was not that I did not care, I was simply very confused regarding what this was all about. It was not a, ‘make your bloody mind up, girl!’ thing more of a, ‘let’s set the boundaries and stick to them,’ kind of thing.

After that, things started to get very strange to me. Gill did not want to be my ‘girlfriend,’ but still wanted a touchy-feely friendship… the sort of thing I suppose are in dreadful American sitcoms about a heterosexual and a homosexual of opposite genders flat sharing. I just did not know what to think about this. Then she disappeared, and word filtered through that she had ‘gone home with glandular fever.’ She did not make any effort to phone and tell me. I phoned her – and had a very awkward conversation with her father. In the end, I decided not to think about it at all, it was too confusing and she seemed to be gone. However…

Gill returned a week or so before the end of term and she seemed a little distant, until a couple of days later, when she invited me for a little walk so we could ‘have a talk’. It was our final conversation, and she closed it all off in a very cordial and civilised manner… but was as if she had never fully engaged with me, as if I were just someone to pass the time with.

There was no awkwardness between us after that; she left the school before the term finished. The whole episode left my head spinning; had I imagined it? Who had she been, where was she from… and just what had all that been about? I was sitting in the empty common room one day, trying to get my head back into shape to go to my next lesson when Nell came in. She sat next to me and held my hand for a short while, kissed me on the cheek affectionately. I surrendered gratefully to her, knowing also that this was pure friendship and comfort; it did not mean that we were back together again. I knew the rules and boundaries – although, given the opportunity I would have loved to get naked with her – but that was more out of a desire to return to an old habit as opposed to anything particularly personal.

Again, I puzzled over exactly why I had been with Nell in the first place. The only reasons I could come up with were that she was not unpleasant a person, was really quite pretty and she had ‘let’ me… and I had thought myself more than that, better than those superficial things. That deepcore of emptiness I had felt in the middle of our time together was still ringing its bell-like sound, causing confusion. Had I simply succumbed to what people my age are supposed to do, and had I done it badly? So many questions, so few ways to get any answers. Especially with the Gill Thing. What, exactly, had that all been about? Although, there did seem to be some kind of side effect of all this; I was being perceived differently – I could tell. Nell had clearly given a good account of me, and Gill had obviously been attracted to something. There was only one thing I was sure of… my heterosexuality.

After the holidays, it was all mad-dash-rush preparation for the ‘A’ Level exams themselves, and preparation for the aftermath, and on to college. I could have checked on opportunities to go and study drama somehow, somewhere… but for some reason it simply did not occur to me – in fact, it is only in the writing of this that I realise I could have done that. Perhaps I should have, but I felt that my opportunity had gone, been taken away from me two years previously, and that I would never have another like it again… That is something else I was wrong about.

FOUR: Jane

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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’ is a parallel companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health‘.

If you would like to connect with Jeremiah, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.