But when I turned 15 life at school irrevocably changed.
I found myself weighed down by the advent of “the party”.
Not the parties I had been used to... jelly, ice cream, someone who would fail a CRB check stuffed into a purple dinosaur costume... but the full-on, adolescent party with no grown-ups present, real alcohol, and the slight possibility of a snog and copping a feel of someone's tits in the cupboard under the stairs. If you were really lucky they’d belong to a girl.
Great. Something else to be miserable about. Another social situation to fail.
Even back then part of me felt that it would actually be more of a blessed relief to not be invited. Sure it would sting. It would smart. But I could indulge myself in a little self-righteous dudgeon at being left out in the cold. And yet, despite myself, part of me was still unreasonably pleased when I was invited.
I think people felt sorry for me. People felt that out of the nerdy no-hopers I was actually pretty alright. And I had a few friends who were on the fringes of the cool group. So I got included by proxy.
I won’t lie. I’d fool myself every time. Lie to myself.
I’d allow myself to fill with a silly wild hope that (a) I would actually relax enough to enjoy myself, that (b) someone would actually talk to me and include me in what was going on and (c) the miracle might occur whereby a girl revealed that despite my geeky exterior she had seen through to the vibrant, molten, burgeoning bard at my core and wanted to kiss me. A proper kiss with tongues and everything. Gaining access to the inner sanctum of a girl’s bra was beyond my wildest imaginings at that point. It was hallowed ground not meant for trespass by an unworthy like me.
What would actually happen is that I would find myself hopelessly outmatched by my peers. I would not dress cool enough. Would not have the confidence to speak properly. Would not be brave enough to give dancing or the slightly risqué party games a go. And I would hang around the edges of the room – or more notably the kitchen – nibbling at the party food and watching the clock for the official finish time of the party when I could at last slink off home and then be assailed with misery and depression for the following week whilst also fantasizing about all the cool things I could have done if I just happened, by some miracle, to be somebody else entirely.
This routine was so established by the third party I attended it could almost be termed a system. Even a coping strategy.
And since those days I have never particularly liked parties or social occasions. Even though now, more often than not, I do actually have a good time every now and then and, God forbid, actually sometimes acquit myself rather well.
The only difference now is that I have learned not to care one way or the other. I get less worried about it beforehand. Give it less thought afterwards. And during... well, during I refuse to pander to whatever is going on. I am me. Take me or leave me. Either way I don’t mind.
I don’t seek out parties... in fact if I never attend another party that’s fine by me... but neither do I live in fear of them either.
I do sometimes wonder though how different my attitude might have been if I’d been one of the cool kids. If I’d got to play spin the bottle with Debbie Rush or Joanne Clemons (the two sirens of my school years).
Or if, just once, I’d dragged myself out of the kitchen and into the wonderfully humid realm of a girl’s bra.